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Jun 23 2017

Fairy tale castles in Sintra, Portugal

Sintra, Portugal, just 15 miles from Lisbon, may be small, but it packs a powerful punch with a number of incredible castles and villas, many of them with exquisite gardens. The palaces and manors nestled among the forested mountains are stunning, and exploring them all could merit a stay of several days in Sintra. The town also makes for a great day trip from Lisbon; and while all the sights are worth seeing, these are some the castles that we think are the dreamiest.

                         Palacio Nacional da Pena

                                                     The Pena Palace; photo via Sintra-Portugal.com.

The Palacio Nacional da Pena is the most iconic sight of the Sintra skyline. Its colorful facade, which mixes an almost dizzying number of architectural styles, contains a well preserved 19-century summer home, but the big draw here is the stunning views from windows and terraces. On that note: It's a rather steep climb up to the palace—taxis and tuktuks are available, but we recommend bringing plenty of water and good walking shoes, because the ascent through lush gardens and forest is almost as wonderful as the views from the top. This is perhaps the most popular tourist site in Sintra, so get there early to avoid long lines—and to avoid intense heat in summer.

                                            

                                                  The grotto at Quinta da Regaleira; photo via A Wonderful World.

Quinta da Regaleira is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an excellent place to while away half your day. The 20th-century house is the definition of a "flight of fancy": Luxury and opulence are everywhere inside the house, from statuary and mosaics to gorgeous furnishings. The real treat, though, is the extensive gardens, which contain grottoes, caves and waterfalls, as wall as the ominous yet beautiful Initiation Well. Plan on spending several hours wandering the gardens and the network of underground tunnels that cover the property. 

The Palacio de Monserrate is a blend of Arabic, Indian and Gothic architecture, lying a few miles outside the city center. Arguably the best gardens in Sintra are to be found there; landscaped by Sir Francis Cook in the mid-1800s, they include a waterfall, exotic plants and romantic follies. The neo-Gothic palace is small but stunning, especially the Islamic-style arched corridors and the traditional kitchen. All furnishings have been removed, so the interior makes for a quick walk-through—but plan to spend at least an hour or two traversing the gardens.

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