My first full day of Lisbon was actually not spent in Lisbon itself but in a town not far away called Sintra. This place is particularly notable for bursting with palaces and villas. I had bought my train ticket the evening before (4.80 round trip!), so I showed up to the station and just hopped right on the train. Now I knew that Sintra was a popular destination for day-trippers from Lisbon, myself included, but I wasn’t quite expecting the sheer volume that I would encounter. Once we’d arrived in Sintra, the line to get on the bus to one of the main palaces was probably a block long (when a bus arrived, I ended up being the first person to not get on, as it had filled up by the time I got to the front). I was ultimately grateful for that as that meant I was the first to get on the next bus, which guaranteed me a seat. It was a long, winding climb up a mountain road filled with other cars bound for the same destination. We eventually reached the top, and I entered my first stop of the day, Pena National Palace and Park (I’d pre-bought my ticket thankfully).
I had read that the park had stables and horseback riding, and I was eager for a chance to ride a horse again (it had been over a decade). So I set off through the park in search of the stables. The park itself was vast and densely forested and had a kind of mystical serenity to it . Thankfully, because of the park’s size, the droves of people had largely dispersed, and I didn’t encounter many along the way. I appreciated the peace and quiet, enjoying the sun filtering through the trees and the sounds of running water and birds, as I made my way to the stables. There didn’t appear to be anyone around, aside from the horses, though I eventually found a couple guys (looked to be farm hands) having lunch. The guy I talked to spoke absolutely no English and explained the situation to me in Portuguese, which wasn’t super helpful. I managed to extract something about needing to go to the chalet to buy tickets, which was a bit of a hike away from the stables. I ultimately decided to forego the horseback riding and find an opportunity back home to ride horses (it didn’t look like many people were partaking in the riding tour, and I didn’t want to be the only one in any case). I meandered my way back through the park in the general direction of the palace. It was quite an uphill trek (so many hills here!), but I did catch sight of the Castle of the Moors, a medieval castle precipitously perched on the neighbouring hilltop.
Panting and sweaty, I eventually made it to the palace. Being a Romanticist palace, it drew upon an eclectic mixture of exotic architectural styles (Islamic, Manueline, Gothic, etc.). It looked almost like a Disney palace, a riot of bright colours and over-the-top style. Being atop what felt like a small mountain when I was trekking up it, it afforded fantastic views of the town and surrounding area from its parapets. The palace walls were adorned with beautiful tile work and intricate carvings, so much time was spent staring up at its grandeur. I eventually decided to check out the interiors of the palace and discovered, to my dismay, that the line to get in extended from the entrance, through a large courtyard, and out around the other side. I resigned myself to my fate, threw in my headphones and waited (I ultimately spent a lot of time, even inside the palace, with my headphones in, as it was an effective way of tuning out the din of all the people). The line moved at a glacial pace, and it was probably a good 30-40 minutes before I actually got inside.
Usually, once you get inside, the hellish line experience is ameliorated as people dissipate to explore. However, the slow trudge of the line continued as people shuffled from room to room. I did notice that people were abandoning the line to move ahead if they didn’t want to see a particular room on the route and so I eventually followed suit, as I really couldn’t stand being in line anymore. I may have missed a couple ground floor rooms, but maintaining my sanity was worth it. The rooms were lovely, lavishly decorated and adorned with ornate carvings. The Great Hall was particularly impressive (as it should be, I suppose), and I spent time admiring its decadence.
Ultimately, the network of rooms wasn’t that extensive, and it wasn’t long before I’d finished my tour of the palace. I felt like I’d had my fill of Pena Palace and Park and so I made my way back to the entrance and hopped on the bus back down the hill. During my wait in line for the bus earlier in the day, I’d noticed another bus line that ran to the smaller mansions and palaces, so I thought I’d try and catch it. Once we’d wound our way down to Sintra’s historical centre, I hopped off and managed to jog and jump on the other bus right away. I’d wanted to see Quinta da Regaleira, a Romantic palace and park that was built by a somewhat eccentric Portuguese millionaire in the late 1800s. It was only a short bus ride away, and it wasn’t long before I was waiting in line again (thankfully shorter than other lines of the day) to get my ticket. My time in line did give me an opportunity to admire the palace’s façade, exuberantly decorated with Gothic pinnacles and gargoyles.
Once I’d gotten my ticket, I set off to get something to eat at the palace café. I hadn’t had anything other than a pastry in the morning, so I was ready for sustenance. I devoured a delicious salmon and cream cheese sandwich in a lovely courtyard overlooking the palace before setting off, energy renewed, to explore the park. I loved the relatively more structured/landscaped nature of this park, punctuated by fountains and turrets (who doesn’t love a good turret?) and gardens. It also had a network of underground tunnels, one of which opens into the famed Initiation Wells, which is actually more of an underground tower lined with a spiral staircase. Its design is supposedly linked to Tarot mysticism, and it did certainly have a kind of mystical quality to it, staring up into the light. I enjoyed my stroll through the rest of the park and eventually wound my way around to the palace.
Mercifully, there was no line to enter, and I was able to explore unimpeded. There weren’t many rooms on display, but they were beautifully decorated. I made way up to the top of the octagonal tower, with views of both Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors. I was also able to get a closer look at the whimsical gargoyles adorning the palace, many of which were animal characters like a rabbit and a kangaroo. Satisfied with my fill of the palace, I grabbed myself an ice cream sandwich at the café and waited for the bus back into town. I made a brief stop in the historical centre of Sintra to take a quick look around the bustling town square area before continuing onwards to the train station and heading back to Lisbon.