Sintra, Where Fairytale Comes to Life

This post was originally written for my old travel blog Dream Explore Wander.

Dek, you’re not going to wear that to Sintra are you?” asked Febbie to me one sunny morning in Lisbon as we were preparing our trip to Sintra. Dek, from adek, is an Indonesian word for little sibling. She looked at my clothes from top to bottom, a simple tank top and short with red trainers. Almost abruptly, she walked towards her bag and took a tube dress with colourful red patterns.

“I bought this in Bali, isn’t it gorgeous? Wear it, it’s the only dress that can compliment that red shoes of yours. You’re going to SINTRA for goodness sake! You’d wanna look like a princess!” convinced Febbie to puzzled me. I surrendered as she ordered for the tube dress to be put on.

There are many ways to reach Sintra. Plenty of tours are offered in downtown Lisbon to Sintra, but we chose to go there by ourselves, with our own pace. We headed to Rossio train station and took the train. Within 45 minutes we were already in Sintra. The summer sun decided to give way to a chilly wind that day, we felt a little under dress. However, we tossed the slightly chilly weather aside and couldn’t wait to play princess for a day in this UNESCO heritage site.

Sintra is equipped with a public bus, number 434, that can take you around all of its attractions. We paid once (€5), and didn’t need to pay again as long as we went according to its route. We had to pay again on the way back. Our first stop was downtown. We wanted to have some breakfast since we didn’t have any yet. We opted for a small café by the side of the road. The owner, a friendly man, was happy to serve us. He talked to us, asking us where we were from and was excited when we told him “Indonesia”. He asked where we were going and we actually didn’t have a plan. He advised us to go to Quinta de Regaleira, a gorgeous palace only 5 minutes walk from his café. Walking was in fact a better decision than waiting for the bus since there was already a long line forming at the bus stop.

We had such a wonderful walk to the palace. We were accompanied by a group of Portuguese elderly who chatted and giggled all the way through their walk to the same destination as us. I wondered if my friends and I would be as cheery as this lot later when we are as old as them. Other than this high-spirited group of people, we were entertained by old buildings, bright tiles and the occasional fountains – we were thankful we listened to the man who owned the café. It’s always good to listen to a local’s advice.

Arriving at Quinta de Regaleira and passing the ticket box, in which I got a discount thanks to my student card, we smiled. We first saw a grande palace, elegant and standing tall, we didn’t feel under dress anymore. This was once a place for rich merchants to relax. Over the years, the place has changed owners several times but the beauty is kept. Inside the palace, details of its architecture is still very much alive. I was particular interested in a red door with silver decorations, wrapped in detailed carvings against a yellow wall. I felt like a royal princess walking through it.

Outside, you could explore for hours and hours. The park by the palace is pretty huge and perfect for wandering. It is no ordinary park though, it’s one that can surprise you at every turn. I first saw the most visible building, a white chapel with its exquisite façade and frescos inside. Then the rest of our walk was simply filled with oohs and aahs. We saw benches fitted for kings and queens, a labyrinth which looks like a house for pretty fairies, fountains that squirt water as if it was potion and statues decorating in many corners of the park.

Our next destination was the Pena National Palace. After waiting for quite a long time for a bus to come by, we finally walked back to the centre and caught the bus from there. I must say, the bus was always packed and there was always a huge line. Anyhow, we managed to reach the place. This absolute fairytale palace is located inside Pena Park, it can be reached by walking or by tram. We of course chose the tram after standing inside the bus. If we had more time, I would’ve liked to explore more of the park, it looked like an amazing place to trek.

Upon seeing the palace, I immediately could see why people say that this place is like a fairytale castle. I mean, this must be the castle that inspires all Disney films, it just got to be! The place is dominated with blue-purpleish tiles and bright yellow surrounded by lush green forest, there has got to be a prince charming fighting off dragons out there somewhere!

We went inside to see the royal bathrooms, beds, working rooms – that was all interesting yes, but what interested me the most was the tiles. Portugal is a country with amazing tiles and it was no exception here. Outside the palace there are so many tiles with different kind of colours and graphics. The tiles I saw in Lisbon were mostly a combination of patterns and colours, but in this palace some had pictures like two guards in full armour fighting. Definitely a place for tile lovers like myself.

The trip to Sintra was definitely a twist to the palaces and old buildings I usually see during my Europe trip. Everything in Sintra has a touch of elegance, as if it was made for the royal family. I so didn’t regret Febbie dressing me pretty for this place, it was worth it.

We didn’t explore all of Sintra’s attractions, and that was ok with me as I don’t really like to cramp everything in one day. Besides, I hope to return one day to Sintra to see the rest of the place, and to see if I can find myself a prince charming this time round, he MIGHT just exist in Sintra.

Have you ever been to Sintra? Did you like its fairytale-like atmosphere?

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