Sintra is just north of Lisbon, and its location (in the Sintra mountains) gives it a noticeably cooler climate than Lisbon itself. For this reason many Portuguese royals used to live here in the summer months to escape the heat. It is a beautiful place, and there are a lot of cool old mansions and manor houses with amazing gardens and grounds.
We were originally planning to take taxis to the train station and take the train up to Sintra, but the doorman at our hotel explained to us that with our group size (seven adults and two kids) it would be cheaper to take a big taxi (that could fit all of us) the whole way up to Sintra, and it could drive us around while we were there. So that's what we did, and it was perfect. I'm so grateful our doorman suggested it; there's no way we could have fit as much into our day if we had to transfer from taxi to train to taxi/buses to get to each place (like we were planning), and on top of that our taxi driver recommended this awesome Moorish castle we weren't planning to see and got us to the front of this super long line at the Palacio de Pena.
Our taxi driver's name was David, and he had this really big taxi (like a big van) that we all fit in to. He was great; we all really liked David. He drove us up to Sintra and the first thing we did was stop in the little town of Sintra. It was charming. We spent about a half hour there, exploring the city center and some of the side streets.
|Views from the terrace in front of the Sintra National Palace|
|Part of the town center|
|This is the Sintra National Palace, located right in the middle of town. We didn't go inside because reviews online say it's kind of boring inside, but it did have these two cool, weird white chimney things that you can see sticking up in the back.|
From the town we drove up the mountain to the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors), some really awesome old ruins originally built by the Moors in the 10th century. They were so cool; we took a path through the (beautiful) forest up to the ruins, where we got to climb and walk along the wall that overlooks all the land below. The wall looked (to us) like the great wall of China. It was the great wall of Portugal, I guess. :)
Alyse and I went one way along the wall, leading us up to the keep and then down through some forest into the courtyard, and everybody else went the other way along the wall, leading them up to an even taller peak.
Up the way Alyse and I went:
It was incredibly windy on the top of the wall; I took off my hat so it wouldn't blow away, and I'm glad I did, because I actually did see another man's hat blow away just a couple minutes later.
|This is how windy it was.|
The views from the wall and the wall itself were amazing.
|You can see here on an even higher peak the Palacio de Pena, the place we went after the Moorish castle.|
Walking back down the hill from the keep:
After we had explored the whole castle, we walked back down through the forest to where David was waiting with the taxi. From the Moorish Castle he drove us to the Palacio da Pena. This was a palace that was built in the 1800s, so there's not much history behind it (relatively speaking), but it's a really cool building and a fun place to see.
We ate lunch here and then explored the palace, seeing the outside first and then going inside.
|One of the ceilings on the inside. They were all elaborate.|
We liked the palace itself a lot, but there were way too many people there. It was the only place on our whole vacation where I felt my enjoyment was impacted by the crowds. Just too many people! But the palace itself was cool, and we got some really cute little toys for Ellie and Zelda in the gift shop. We got them this jumpy bug toy and a couple of little animal whistles.
We had taken the Palacio's little shuttle bus to get from the grounds entrance to the the palace at the top of the hill (it would have been a long uphill walk), but Jason, Tanner, and I felt up to walking down the hill at the end. So we did, while the others waited for the bus to take them down. When we reached the bottom of the hill Jason, Tanner, and I walked around a bit in a little garden down there. And as we were walking, Jason and I found a tiny pond. And in the pond, there were lillypads. And sitting on top of two of the lillypads there were frogs. Frogs! Sitting on the lillypads! Like all of the childhood books! I was super excited. We tried to take a picture, but by the time we got the camera out they had jumped into the pond.
|The (now frog-less) lillypads|
When everybody had made it down the hill and we all made it back to the taxi, David drove us to the Quinta da Regaleira, an old estate with amazing grounds. Max had fallen asleep on the way over, so Nan stayed in the taxi with him and Saya while the rest of us went into the Quinta da Regaleira.
The grounds at the Quinta da Regaleira were seriously so cool. The paths went all over, up and down and splitting and coming together and even going underground. We found towers to climb and tunnels to explore. The system of tunnels (which were pitch black in some places and only dimly lit by little light cords n others) led us to the bottom of two different wells and out underneath a waterfall.
|Me and Jason up in the tower|
|Behind the waterfall|
At the bottom of the "Initiation Well:"
And the bottom of the "Unfinished Well:"
After we'd explored pretty much all over, we came back to the taxi. We found out that Max had woken up almost as soon as we'd gone into the grounds. Poor Nan!
Everybody was still feeling up for another site, so we drove to our last place of the day - the park and palace of Monserrate. Again, the grounds were amazing - the grounds of Monserrate are one giant botanical garden. And the palace was amazing too! They're in the process of restoring it (they're almost completely finished) and it is so cool inside. As we walked through the grounds we stopped for some ice cream, made our way to and inside the palace, played on the grass in front of the palace (it was the first lawn in Portugal, and Banks and Tanner were teaching Max how to roll down the hill), and then made our way through the rest of the extensive gardens. I think I loved the "fern valley" the most out of all the different areas.
At some point on the vacation, it became a game between Max and me for him to grab my nose. Here he is coming to get it:
And this same moment from my dad's point of view:
Playing on the lawn:
By this time it was about 6 pm and everybody was worn out. David drove us back to Lisbon, and we stopped at a McDonalds where we picked up food for everyone. We took it back to our hotel and all had dinner in Dad's room, then went up to Alyse and Tanner's room for some card games. They had an awesome room; it had a little sitting area that was so cute. I don't have a picture of it, but Alyse does, and when she blogs about it I'll link to it. That's where we played cards, until we all got tired enough to call it a night. :)