Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal is one of the world’s most insane, beautiful and fantastical castles.
Around about this time last year, I scampered off for a long weekend in Lisbon. Not telling anyone that I was off on a solo adventure for the first time in years (the husband was on a boys weekend in Madrid – hilariously in the adjoining country) I girded my loins, arming myself with a tome of printouts + backups on my phone + backups emailed around the world, and settled in for a chilled out break entirely on my own terms.
Solo travel isn’t for everyone – it can be stressful, alarming when you’re left with your own thoughts and a bit lonesome when it comes to meals, but I really loved the change of pace (not that I don’t adore travelling with people). I simply tried to bear common sense in mind (not walking alone once night fell), made my journey to & from the airport as simple as simple as simple (a couple of metro trains) and booked in a couple of day trips where I was collected and chauffeured around.
When we arrived, the sky was grey and dismal. Our ride had wound the way up the tiny, slightly vertiginous roads to an overwhelmingly disappointing view.
But as luck would have it, the micro-climate of Sintra pulled a rabbit out of the metaphorical hat as we walked along the hilly pathway to Pena Palace.
“The whole mountain road is a garden, a wonderful combination of nature and art, the most beautiful walk you can imagine,” Hans Christian Anderson
Even thought I’d seen images beforehand, I really hadn’t been ready for the multi-hued magnificence of Palácio da Pena, or “Castelo da Pena” in the flesh.
One of the ‘seven wonders of Portugal’, the castle’s history started in the Middle Ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the top of the hill above Sintra. According to tradition, construction occurred after an apparition of the Virgin Mary.
“Built on a rock [the Palace] seems to come straight out of a fairy tale ” Richard Strauss
Located in the Sintra hills, the Park and Palace of Pena are the fruit of King Ferdinand II’s creative genius and the greatest expression of 19th-century romanticism in Portugal, with clear influences from the Manueline and Moorish styles of architecture (or so my research tells me). The palace was built is visible from any point in the park, which consists of a forest and luxuriant gardens with over five hundred different species of trees originating from the four corners of the earth (including New Zealand #represent).
Each room inside is a work of art. Built in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II, the palace was meant to be a summer home for the Portuguese royals, and indulged the King in all of his favourite architectural styles. I particularly adored the thought that living there, when you got sick of one style you could simply move your chair 90° and find an entirely new one.
Said to be one of the greatest examples of Romantic architecture, it isn’t hard to see how this dazzling combination of passion and grandiosity has inspired generations.
Those hips don’t lie…
“Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes In variegated maze of mount and glen.
Ah me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen,
To follow half on which the eye dilates
Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken
Than those whereof such things the bard relates,
Who to the awe-struck world unlocked Elysium’s gates?”
And the rest of this UNESCO World Heritage recognized town with two more castles isn’t so bad itself. Having exhausted our eyes, we wandered through the town (holiday speed setting 0.2km/hr)in search of lunch and the cakes that are a Sintra delicacy.
I also made a new Australian friend on my tour who I cruised around Lisbon with for the next day or so. We discovered a few Lisbon highlights at sunset, sampled enough places to compile a ‘where to eat in Lisbon‘ list and talked each others ears off.
Lisbon in November sunshine was good.
Have you visited yet?