An Earthly Paradise

Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to some of Portugal’s most impressive palaces and landscapes. Someone at the last campsite had pointed out that there is a limit to the number of palaces you can visit, if only because they all cost money and, they said, after a while they all start to look pretty much the same.

I don’t know about that, but we decided we only needed to see one and plumped for the Palácio da Pena, set in wooded gardens above the town. Sintra is built on steep hills with incredibly narrow, cobbled streets so isn’t particularly motorhome friendly. However, we found parking in a market square that our map showed was only about 700m from the palace. What the map didn’t show was that those 700m were straight up. We chose to follow the signposted footpath for the palace which took us on a route that was at least twice as long as just following the road (by road I mean slightly wider cobbled path which has the occasional car) and involved clambering over a small landslide where a huge tree had fallen, destroying the footpath and the wall which kept us from falling down a rather scary drop.

Our guide book describes the palace as ‘a riot of kitsch’ and I think that is a fairly apt description. The current palace was built in the 1840s, although it is on the site of a convent which was built to celebrate the first sight of Vasco da Gama’s returning fleet – a chapel and Manueline cloister still remain. The rest was built to the specification of Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, husband of Queen Maria II. Saxe-Coburg-Gotha sound familiar? It’s what the British royal family were called until 1917 when they changed to Windsor – sounded a bit less German.

Anyway, Ferdinand had eclectic taste. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, so can’t show you the vaulted rooms painted to look like wood panelling, or the amazing carved Indian furniture (which has a specific name that I can’t remember now). Or the plaster ‘carving’ in one of the rooms which covered the ceiling and all the walls. Or the Arab room which was painted to look like carved stone – you had to look quite closely to realise that it wasn’t in fact carved. The interior is displayed exactly as the royal family left it when they fled in 1910, following a coup which overthrew the monarchy.

One of the best bits was the ‘Wall Walk’. We only discovered it because we followed the signs for WC, which in itself was a bit weird given neither of us actually needed to use a WC. Anyway, the signs took us into a deserted courtyard (the photo with the pink bit of the palace below) and my curiosity took us through the little arch to the left of the steps – we could then follow the walk around the palace walls, taking in some spectacular views in all directions. No-one else was doing the walk, probably because they didn’t follow the WC signs – the walk wasn’t on the palace map we were given.

We stuck to the road on the way back down. I’m sure all the steep streets in Portugal are great for toning the thighs but they are hell on the knees.










Outstanding photos! That castle was a good choice – hard to beat. That’s an amazing mixture in the gargoyle picture; that column in the background has Islamic tiles and a Manueline belt. (The tortured gargoyle himself appears to have been a fish-murderer in a previous life. Let that be a lesson).

We also did the walled walk bit & that is what I remember most. Did you see the warrior on the rock from somewhere on the wall? Maybe he is in the mist in the header photo ?

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