“Once upon a time in Sintra, there lived a king and queen…”

Sintra, Portugal. May 2019. (15 photos)

This is Part 1 of my Portugal 2019 photo series, and also Part 2 of my Europe 2019 photo series.

Recently I spent a month visiting France and Portugal, with a short visit to Singapore for good measure. To start this series I posted about the almost fairy-tale-like location of Mont Saint-Michel. I’ll have another post about Mont Saint-Michel later, but for now let’s move onto another fairy-tale-like location, Sintra in Portugal, just outside of Lisbon.

“The Pena Palace”

In 1838, King Ferdinand II transformed the remains of an old monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. Thus was born the Palácio da Pena; the Pena Palace.

“Something for everyone, architecturally”

The Pena Palace has a profusion of styles much in accordance with the exotic taste of the Romanticism Era. The intentional mixture of eclectic styles includes the Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance.

The surrounding grounds are known as Pena Park, and are a beautiful place for a stroll and wander.

“Above Sintra”

The Pena Palace stands on the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains above the town of Sintra. It is a national monument and constitutes one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in the world. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon, easily accessible by train.

“Glorious Sintra”

Poor, paltry slaves! yet born ‘midst noblest scenes –
Why, Nature, waste thy wonders on such men?
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?

…Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, by Lord Byron.


Once upon a time in Sintra, the Moops built a castle on top of a hill…

“The Moopish Castle”

“Moops? Let me see that. That’s not Moops, it’s Moors! It’s a misprint”

…The Bubble Boy

“The Moorish Castle”

The Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) is a ruinous castle set amidst the forests of the Serra De Sintra. Established during the 9th century by the North African Moors to guard the town of Sintra, it fell into disrepair after the Christian conquest of Portugal.

The castle was restored in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II, who transformed it into a romantic ruin and a major feature of the gardens of the Pena Palace. The castle retains the charm of an ancient ruin, with dense forest surrounding the crumbling battlements that offer views over the Sintra region.

“A commanding view”

The walls are open and able to be walked upon, assuming you have a head for heights.


Once upon a time in Sintra, there were Knight Templars…

“Quinta da Regaleira”

The Quinta de Regaleira estate, which is sometimes referred to as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire” after its best known previous owner, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, consists of a palace and chapel with exquisite décor including frescoes, stained glass windows, and lavish stuccoes. Over about 10 acres, the estate grounds feature lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, fountains, and an extensive and enigmatic system of tunnels that connect to two spiraling wells.

“Only the penitent man will pass”

Via a small entrance in the side of a hill, one enters the largest of the “initiation wells” of Quinta da Regaleira which consists of a ‘9 platform winding stair’ architecture, which carries symbolic meaning including the death/rebirth allegory common to many hermetic traditions. It is said to be “reminiscent of the Divine Comedy by Dante and the nine circles of Hell, the nine sections of Purgatory and the nine skies which constitute Paradise.”

At the bottom of the well there is a compass over a Knights Templar cross, which is said to have been Monteiro’s herald and a sign of his Rosicrucianism. Apparently several of the remaining Knight Templars sought refuge here as the rest of the order was arrested across Europe.

“A test of faith”

Having passed through the initiation well, there is a complex of tunnels to negotiate and contemplate at the bottom. The exit from the tunnels concludes with a walk “across water” with obvious religious symbolism.

I was informed that up to 5 people per day fall into the water. Fortunately I wasn’t one of them.


“Sintra at ground level”

Descending from the hills, there’s plenty to appreciate in Sintra.

“Sintra, Portugal”

Narrow lanes, steps, multicoloured buildings, peeling paint, hanging laundry and cobblestoned paths. That’s Portugal in a nutshell.

“Cork tree”

Heading out of Sintra one finds plenty of cork trees.

“Looking west”

In the distance is the lighthouse of Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of the Portuguese mainland.

In May and June 2019, I visited France, Portugal and Singapore.

This is Part 2 of this photographic series and Part 1 of the posts about Portugal.

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

Once upon a time in Sintra


76 thoughts on “Once upon a time in Sintra

  1. Think I could read a million blogs on Sintra and love them all. Love your shots throughout and reading about your experiences. Such a wonderful place. Quinta da Regeliera remains my favourite it was magical.

  2. The commanding view made me feel a little dizzy, especially in the context of the number of visitors who fall into the water from the stepping stones. I hope they take more care on the walls!

    • The walls of the Moorish Castle were wide enough to allow two to pass, but I always tried to be next to the wall when passing, you know, just in case, 🙂 Other castle walls I walked on in Portugal weren’t wide enough and I saw several people baulk at walking along them.
      The reward of walking along the walls was the exceptional views and it was worth it.

  3. Sintra sounds like a fairy tale indeed. And I can’t help but wonder if those who do fall in the water do it on purpose? You did say something about religious beliefs.
    Did you eat lots of bacalhau?

    • I hadn’t thought of it that way. Perhaps a few might consider it, but I didn’t.

      Bacalhau? Yes, I had it a couple of times, and also tinned fish including sardines. But I do prefer a fresh food option when possible.

  4. We made it to the Pena Palace which I thought needed a lick of paint, but your photos are terrific. We didn’t make it to the castle and seeing that wall and those steps maybe that was a good thing and I would have loved to visit Quinta da Regeliera though I imagine I would be one of the five who fall in the water! Unfortunately on the day we visited it was very hot and very humid. Not a good combination for us so Sintra wasn’t one of our favourite Portuguese experiences.
    The little custard tarts were 😉

    • I was there in May, and though not truly summer yet, it was getting into the 30s on a few days in Portugal. Despite that, even had fog or low cloud at Sintra but it cleared quickly.

      The Pena Palace seems to be the main attraction of Sintra but I think it is best appreciated from afar. I arrived at opening time which is fortunate as the queue to enter when I exited the palace must have been over an hour of waiting time.

      Quinta da Regaleira was my favourite location in Sintra. Lovely gardens and buildings.

        • It didn’t matter, we had a great time in Lisbon and a few days R&R in Cascais, although when it rains in Portugal those beautiful cobbled streets/pavements are treacherous!!

        • On my first full day in Lisbon I did a food tour and remember talking to my guide about the combination of cobblestone paths, rain and numerous hills. It would be bad enough for me but pity the elderly in that situation.

  5. The Palácio da Pena, the Castelo dos Mouros, the Quinta da Regaleira … these are buildings of fairy tales and dreams. I’ve not visited ‘mainland’ Portugal (only some former colonies) so I enjoyed being an armchair traveler here. Honestly, your pictures have given me a whole new appreciation on ‘how to shoot icons’ …as you do with so much love.

    • I hope you do visit Portugal some day, for certainly you invoke its past sea-faring history in your current travels and in visiting her former colonies you have probably already had a taste of Portugal. It’s a relaxed and beautiful country with much to appreciate.

      Thank you as ever for your kind words, but I don’t think you need any inspiration from me for your own beautiful photographs.

  6. Thank you so much for these beautiful photos of Portugal. Our neighbors moved there some years ago and we often have pictured them there (in our minds), and this is much like we pictured, although we are still amazed by its beauty as we see your gorgeous photos.

  7. Your photos take me back to the beautiful day I spent in Sinatra during my trip to Portugal a few years ago. I only went inside the Moorish castle. Such a magnificent ruin it is. I loved the architecture in Sintra, and your images really capture that special atmosphere.

  8. What amazing pictures…such views! Sintra is definitely on the list when I get to Portugal. Such a mix of architecture and history! Love the well photo…and the story behind it. I like to think I would make it across the stones 🙂

  9. Love that shot overlooking the stairs and well. It looks like a magical blue portal to somewhere else. Sad that some fall in (maybe they fell out of excitement), and glad you didn’t fall in 🙂

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