Portugal was so full of surprises for me. Incredible graffiti across entire buildings in Lisbon, gourmet food with an incredible depth in flavour (not just peri peri) and a very detailed, sometimes confusing history.
Sintra, a small town renowned for its links to royalty through the ages, is about 45 minutes from Lisbon. This town is bursting at the seams with history and culture, and was once the playground of the royals of Portugal during the summer season. It’s easy to see why they would choose Sintra as the the place to visit. Besides the majestic buildings and gorgeous cobbled streets, Sintra is surrounded by a national park and the views over the forests and valley below are absolutely magnificent.
Our visit to the Sintra National Palace almost felt too short. The palace is absolutely massive and sits in the middle of town, a beacon and symbol of the eclectic history of Sintra. Through the ages, changes of reigning kings and growth in various religious sects, the palace was changed, extended and altered so many times that it really feels like a hodge podge of a building. There are original sections dating back to the 1400s, while newer section developed centuries later show the modernisation of society in Portugal.
The mix of architectural styles, art and sculpture and interior design appear as a living organism, still ready to change at any minute. I could liken it to the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, which also shows its wear through the ages well.
What is great about Sintra National Palace is the free reign guests seem to have over it’s rooms. Yes, the velvet ropes stop you getting too close (and taking home one of the gorgeous animal head-shaped soup terrines), but you can take your time wandering through the rooms and taking in all the small details that make up the greater picture of history here. I was on a guided tour of the palace, so didn’t get to take too much extra time looking around, but an extra hour here would’ve been fantastic!
One of the most interesting rooms of the palace were the original kitchens. Massive stone chutes lead up onto open sky in the kitchen, above the massive pots and pans sitting on the coal stoves. Feasts would be prepared here from wild boar hunted down in the area by the guests of the palace at the time, and at meal times, residents and guests alike would gorge themselves on these obscene feasts for hours at a time.
The surrounding cobble streets of Sintra are now mostly filled with souvenir stores, but climbing up into the town’s terraces, there are a few gems including patisseries and lovely little drinking holes. There are also locals about that are willing to try help in broken English should you be hunting for something in particular. Wear comfy shoes, make sure your camera is charged to full and spend as much time as you can exploring this little gem.