Sintra is also the city of legends and myths, and some believe that in the Serra de Sintra there were freemasonry rituals or even more obscure sects. Sintra is a city linked to the nobility and royalty, with several palaces that served as a residence not only for Portuguese kings but also housed wealthy families from, for example, England.
Upon arriving in the city, visitors automatically enter a historic mood. Sintra, despite having followed the gradual growth of urban modernity, still preserves very typical elements of 19th and 20th-century architecture, which can be observed in the houses built in the centre of the city.
During a visit to Sintra it is almost mandatory to visit the Palácio da Pena. The palace combines several architectural styles, from neo-Gothic to romanticism. It is located at the top of the Serra de Sintra in Monte da Lua. In 2019, the National Statistics Institute (INE) mentioned that Palácio da Pena was one of the monuments that received the most visitors in the country. The entire history and architectural beauty of the monument attracts not only the attention of tourists but also of teachers who organise study visits with students, in a way to make students experience in loco the subjects being taught at school. In the gardens surrounding the Palácio da Pena, within the Serra de Sintra area, considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Countess D'Edla's Chalet is also built, built by the Prince Consort Fernando II, the second husband of the Portuguese Queen Maria II.
A rich history
Sintra, which during several reigns has served as the official residence of the Portuguese crown, has always been the favourite city of the Portuguese court. Of course, the king's residence would have to be a highlight and palaces were the preferred buildings. Still, within a route of palaces belonging to the kings of Portugal, it is in Sintra that the Palácio Nacional is placed. Built in the 12th century, it is one of the only examples of medieval palaces in Portugal. The building's highlight is the two chimneys, which were used to extract the air from grand kitchens that can be visited by tourists.
As mentioned earlier, foreign magnates and aristocrats chose Sintra as their favourite place to spend their summer holidays. This was the case of the Englishman Francis Cook, who in 1856 had the Palace of Monserrate built. Around the palace, there is a whole panoply of botanical varieties brought by Cook from all over the world, in a garden with an area of 50 square metres.
The testimony of the Muslim presence in the city is evidenced by the Castelo dos Mouros, a castle built on a rocky peak in the Serra de Sintra between the 8th and 9th centuries. In this location, due to its altitude, it is possible to have a panoramic view of the city of Sintra that will surely enchant everyone who passes by.
Filled with mystery
One of the most mystical places in Sintra is undoubtedly Quinta da Regaleira. The space, made up of various motifs linked to Freemasonry and mythology, benefits from a unique microclimate. It is common at Quinta da Regaleira to have some fog, which helps in the description of the space as mysterious. The space has a dimension of four hectares, there is a palace, lakes, gardens, caves, and the high point of the space: Poço Iniciático. Poço Iniciático is a well that turns out to resemble a tower, as you need to descend nine floors to reach the bottom. At the bottom of the well is the compass rose above the Templar Cross, which dates back to Freemasonry. The well was given the name Iniciático because it is believed that it was at the bottom of the well, present at Quinta da Regaleira, that the initiation rituals for entry into the Rosicrucian Order of Portuguese Freemasonry were consummated. (Iniciático is a word formed from the verb “iniciar”, in Portuguese, which means “to start”, in English). Scholars believe that symbolically the place represents the soil as the womb, where life begins.
That Portugal has vast gastronomy is already known and Sintra is no exception. Going to Sintra and not trying a Travesseiro will make any visit incomplete. It is at Casa Piriquita that the best Travesseiros in Sintra are said to be. The pastry shop has 160 years of history and began as a bakery that sold Queijadas that were the delight of those who passed by. Due to the success of the Queijadas, which can still be tasted, the bakery establishment became a pastry shop and around the 40s the daughter of the founding couple of Casa Piriquita discovered the recipe for Travesseiros de Sintra in an old cookbook. The traditional Travesseiro de Sintra is made according to a secret recipe that has been carried over for five generations. It is known that the pillow-shaped cake is made with puff pastry, which is then filled with egg and almond cream and one more secret ingredient. Nowadays it is possible to taste Travesseiros stuffed with apple or chocolate cream.
Sintra is a historic city, with an enigmatic beauty that links the urban to the rural. With gardens and palaces that will make any visitor go back to the past and even more enigmatic places that go back to urban legends and myths. Sintra is a mysterious place, used to film a Nicolas Cage horror film, “Color Out of Space” and a Portuguese soap opera with a vampire theme, “Lua Vermelha.”
In addition to personal transport, the easiest way to get to Sintra is by train from Lisbon, where you get on to go to Sintra and step back into the past.