Sintra, Portugal is a haven of both palatial and provincial charm. Mornings are for touring any of the five palaces, and afternoons for strolling through the town square. Evenings are for sumptuous dinners and clean wines. 

There’s not an adjective available to describe the impressiveness of these palaces. The exterior details are equaled in splendor by the interior details, furniture and tapestries. Styles range from the whimsical Pena Palace to the Gothic Quinta da Regaleira. The Castelo dos Mouros and the Palacio Nacional de Sintra showcase Moorish distinctions, and the Monserrate Palace dazzles the mind with its intricate carvings. 

Topping it all off, the palace gardens rival the complexity of the estates. The microclimate of these lush rainforest gardens is the unexpected bonus of Sintra. A forest-green haze blankets the outskirts of the city and whisks you away into the mysterious pride of Portuguese kingdoms.

“Pena Palace” is the identifiable Sintra treasure. Whimsical and glorious, it is the peacock of all palaces. Huff and puff your way up the hill to this estate anticipating its pageantry. It adds to the pomp as you see ramparts and exotic trees emerge in the vista. 

Vegetation and trees are not endemic to the area; they were imported. The latter demonstrates the ambition of pure landscaping passion. Verdant trails through the gardens lead up to the palace with their own storied past. A chapel on the grounds was used for monks’ retreats as well as for the palace residents’ enjoyment. 

In the pond by the entrance, there’s a castle just for the waterfowl. The gardens are a horticultural love story. Walking through them is a mystical experience and evokes every fairytale you’ve ever imagined. Moss-covered trails carpet the gardens. Twisted tree branches dangle where they stretched and reached for sunlight. Arguably, the best coffee shop break you’ll ever take will happen on the balcony of Pena Palace. The sweeping views of Sintra and Lisbon in the distance add to the luxury of this experience. Arrive early at 9 a.m. opening time to caffeinate and absorb the magic before touring the castle. Pose in the turret for a touch of regal mischief.

Quinta da Regaleira is the Gothic palace that most Sintra visitors rave about because of stonemasonry symbolisms. Experience the grottoes, secret passageways and tunnels. Descend wells that served the purposes of water storage and initiation rites. They’ll stun you with their symbolisms of alchemy.  Nearby, a cafe with bubbling fountains will entrance you in this Portuguese mystique.  You will truly not want to depart this Arcadian setting.

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Palatial details aside, Sintra also oozes provincial charm. Horse-drawn carriages breeze past the plaza where local artists line the sidewalks with their eclectic creations. Alfresco dining’s ideal in this location facing Palacio Nacional da Sintra and the winding streets of shops. Romantic strolling through muted pastels and mosaics within the architecture propels you into relaxation. Lawrence’s Hotel, the oldest hotel in the Iberian peninsula, housed its famous guest,  Lord Byron, who referred to Sintra as the “glorious Eden” in his poetry.

Quiet nights on patios atop pizzerias and countryside views are breathtaking. Kick off your shoes, open a bottle of vino, and watch the Sintra flags rustle in the wind wafting pride over the hills and vales.

Take a train into Lisbon for the evening for a metropolitan vibe. Another afternoon, drive to Cabo da Rocas, the westernmost point of continental Europe to experience windy gusts and geographical extremes.  Sintra is an excellent home base where majestic palaces by day and provincial charm by night create the endearing combination of Portuguese panache.