Take a quick 45 minute jaunt on the train heading northwest from Lisbon and you’ll be in the resort town of Sintra, longtime vacay spot of the Portuguese royal family. The crown jewel is the hilltop 19th-Century Pena Palace, a magic rainbow Disney castle in the clouds. Go early to beat the selfie-stick-wielding tourist hordes, and be sure to take a tuk-tuk up the hill to the palace gates. That hill is NO JOKE – the trail is more of a ladder than a path. A tuk-tuk will cost you only 5 Euro each, and takes you on a pleasant winding road through Sintra park. After exploring the castle, be sure to walk through the grounds, which are filled with gardens, forest trails, streams and overlooks. There’s a little snack bar by the main entrance to the grounds in case you need a break. If you’re feeling ambitious, take the hiking trail down the mountain back into town. You can also visit the Castelo dos Mouros, the ruins of an older Moorish Castle on the way.
Even better than the Pena Palace is the nearby estate of Quinta da Regaleira. The villa and grounds were designed by an Italian architect more well-known for designing opera sets, and you can tell. You will get lost wandering through the man-made grottoes, tunnels and towers.
When you get hungry, we enjoyed Restaurante Dona Maria overlooking the National Palace. And don’t forget that Sintra has two special pastries – of course they do! – Queijadas de Sintra, the Sintra cheesecake, and travesseiros, literally “pillows” that are almost a cross between a doughnut and an almond croissant. These things are BEYOND, especially when you get them warm from the oven at Casa Piriquita.