Castelo dos Mouros & Pena Palace, Sintra (Lisboa - Portugal)

Since we stayed in Sintra we had effectively a day and a half to explore and we managed to see 4 places. We began our day 1 with Pena Palace and day 2 with Castelo dos Mouros and the weather on the 2 days were absolutely opposite. Day 1, it was raining cats & dogs and we were in Pena Palace and the typical picturesque, colorful facade was very dull with a thick layer of fog; and the view from there - well, it was non-existent! Anyways.......


We began our day with Pena Palace because it is one of the most visited monuments in Sintra and can get pretty crowded as time goes by. Many visitors do Sintra as a day-trip while staying in Lisbon and by 11:00-12:00, Pena Palace gets very very crowded and it can take upto an hour to get in! Since we were staying Sintra, our primary motive was to beat the crowd in Pena Palace.
This site where Pena Palace is located today, the chapel of Our Lady of Pena existed in 12th C CE. In 1503 the construction of the Royal monastery began here under King Manuel I. It thrived well for over 3 centuries after which it fell into disuse. In 1836, the Queen of Portugal, Maria II married Ferdinand II of Sax-Couberg and Gotha dynasty (current Germany)! He was conferred the title King after the bird of their son (a concept similar to UK's style of conferring the title of prince consort or queen consort to the spouse of the King/Queen or heir to throne)! Much later, when she died, he became a regent, to their son, the heir to the throne and NOT a king!!! It was under King Ferdinand II and Queen Maria II that the 'monastery' was renovated to be used as a 'palace' in 1838 and they lived here. The royal family continued to live here till King Carlos I and Amélie & their children, the last residents of the palace who left in 1910.
The entrance arch has the coat of arms of King Ferdinand II. Further in, stood in front of me, red, purple and yellow!!! The red being the original monastery part, the yellow being the extensions done by Ferdinand and the purple, just decoration tiles added by Ferdinand, heavily influenced by Moorish art! There is allegorical gateway with a huge sculpture of Triton, which leads to the Chapel behind. 

The terrace walk is supposed to lend some amazing views, but all we saw was 'white fog'! Do note that this area feels a bit unsafe with kids. Hold on to them tight or wear them in babywearing. The parapet walls are low with no safety railings or so! Here's the blogpost by Hand Baggage Only to show you how awesome, colorful, picturesque with amazing views, Pena Palace is supposed to give on a bright sunny day!!!
With the time we had and the miserable weather, we could only see the Palace and not the park. The palace is unique! How often have you seen monastery elements in a palace? Right from the water font to the vaulted ceiling to the cloister passages, its all essentially monastery but renovated as palatial!!!! It is too hard not to see the original function of this architecture! There is a separate entrance to get to the interiors of the Palace. There is a designated pathway to go on and if its heavily crowded, it could move at a snail pace! The first point is the cloister which has since been heavily decorated with various patterned tiles!

Each and every room has a board that mentions the function of the room in the periods of the Maria and Amelia (first & last women of the Palace)! The state rooms, from bedoom to reading room to banqueting hall to kitchen to main hall, look as royal and luxurious as any other palace reminding me of Buckingham & Christiansborg. The most fascinating one was the Reception Room - which was completely painted with a 3 dimensional fresco that gives an illusion of a larger and sculpted/stucco decorated room! There is a very heavy Islamic influence here too!

While the entrance of Moorish Castle is located very close by, we chose to do it the next day, hoping a better weather and it luckily was sunny. Day 2 early in the morning, our first stop was Castelos dos Mouros. This exceptional site had been in occupation since 3000 BCE with neolithic age with pottery and ceramic fragments unearthed!

By 8th C, the Moorish reign begins and by 10th C, the castle began to be built. By 1109, crusaders took over the region and the king was Sigurd I. It changed several hands and finally in 1839, King Ferdinand II took this over and renovated it in his signature moorish + romantic style! He loved watching the Pena Palace from here and did some paintings of the views from here as well!

The entrance to the castle is about 500m from the main entrance. There are a few impressive things to see on the way. First is the granaries - these holes cut out in the rocks, have been in existence since the prehistoric times! The next site is a necropolis which seems to have been discovered during the renovation by Ferdinand. So he's kept a memorial here with a cross & crescent that says, 'What man joined only God may separate in reference to not knowing whether these were Christian or Muslim remains! Beyond this is a museum where the excavated pottery &  other material are in display. Further ahead is again a necropolis which is can be seen from atop with its glass ceiling! Ahead of this is the entrance to the castle itself.
First things here are the archaeological excavations beneath and cisterns. Till this point it is stroller/wheelchair friendly, and not the towers ahead. On the right is the castle wall that leads to the towers. Unlike Pena, the terrain here is rugged and just has dirt tracks. 

Inside the castle ruins, its open to sky and can get wet & windy as the weather is! Even on warm days, it can get very windy and a bit chilly up on the fortification walls & towers. So carry a light coat or scarf even in summers! The view from up above the Royal tower is exceptional. You get to see - Pena Palace, the aerial view of Quinta de Regaleira & Sintra Palace and ofcourse the vast expanse of Atlantic Ocean!!!! 

This is extremely unsafe to go toddlers, more so in foggy, wet weather! The walls are shallower than and windier than Pena Palace and again, with no safety railings or mesh. If the kids are old enough to listen to your word and know to exercise caution then its OK; if they are younger, running toddlers, its better to even skip Moorish Castle. There is an alternate route to get to the highest tower, Royal Keep, and that's safer than walking on the walls. Atyudarini was on my back in babywearing and I took every step with caution and I was definitely a bit scared....
Coming back soon with Quinta de Regaleira and Monserrate Palace, the other monuments in Sintra that we managed to see. 


To Stay:
While it is possible to visit Sintra in one or more daytrips from Lisbon, it is an amazing experience to stay in Sintra, surrounded by all greenery with a stunning view from the window, of the Moorish Castle!
Airbnbs, hostels & hotels are available are various price points, esp., close to Sintra railway station.
Check out my review of the historic hotel, Sintra Marmoris Palace where we stayed.

To Get There:
On Google Maps: Pena Palace main entrance, Castelo dos Mouros main entrance
From the main entrance of Pena, reaching the palace is a short 500m walk, but its slightly uphill. A shuttle operates from the entrance to the Palace for €3.

The public bus service in Sintra, Scotturb, has 2 loops connecting the various monuments of Sintra to the Historic Centre (railway station).
Uber also functions well here. However since several roads are one-way it can take a longtime to reach!!! If its close-by to walk, sometimes its quicker to walk. 
In either cases, be prepared to wait! Buses don't really come on time and Uber can cancel even if you're nearby, if reaching you needs a long one-way route!
On a totally different way, it is possible to hike to Pena Palace and Moorish Castle from the Historic city centre! It would take about 1hr with an average fitness level. Here are the maps for hiking in Sintra.

Entrance Tickets & Timings:
Pena Park only: €7.5
Pena Park & Palace: €14
Castelo dos Mouros: €8
Can be bought online on the official website of Parques de Sintra
5-10% discount available if combined tickets are purchased for 2 or more monuments. But this can only be bought at the ticket counter.
The best thing is that Pena Palace is available to hire for weddings and other events. Just the whole idea of getting married in a super colorful palace, atop a hill, surrounded by all greenery, with a view a view of the Moorish Castle.... isn't that splendid! Here is your perfect destination wedding venue!!!!



P.S: I was invited by Parques de Sintra to experience the region and hosted by Sintra Marmoris Palace, for review purposes, however the opinions are my own and this post does not to advertise the product/service.

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

9 comments:

  1. We are so sorry we missed Sintra when we visited Lisbon. Such a smart choice to stay in Sintra so you could explore for more than one day. Easy when the local bus goes to all the main monuments. I love that view you got of the palaces with the spooky fog swirling around. But sorry you did not get to see the park. Good thing the weather did get better on your second day. I can see why so many paintings were done of the Sintra area. Colour and detail too. Good tips about watching the children on narrow paths with no rails.

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  2. Thank you for such a great post! Pena Castle has been on my bucket list for many years, but I haven't had a chance to get to Portugal yet. Your post is making me want to make Portugal a bigger priority and get there this year! I loved your photo of the castle with the fog in front of it. Absolutely stunning!

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  3. I must admit this post brought back memories and what a place to travel to with such colours and beautiful architecture. It can be reached so easily from Lisbon so even if you dont want to stay around the area you can easily do a day trip from Lisbon. There is something fairyland type when you first cast your eyes over Pena Palace.I was not aware that the site where Pena Palace is located was the chapel of Our Lady of Pena. Thanks for a great informative post which shouold help anyone looking to visit.

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  4. This post and reading your experiences and seeing your photos brought back a lot of memories. I went to Sintra back in 2012 as a day trip from Lisboa and is one of the top places to visit for anyone visiting the Portugese capital. I loved walking up and down the road between the castle and palace. I remember it being very cloudy at the Moorish castle and gave it a spooky feel on the day. The palace was quite nice and I love the colours on the facade. Ahhh...memories, think its time for a return visit.

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  5. Castelos dos Mouros looks absolutely fantastic! That view over to the Atlantic is incredible! I'm sure it wouldn't look as nice when the wind and rain is kicking off but at least it should be sunny most of the time.

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  6. I have yet to visit Sintra although its been on my list for years! The Pena Palace is well-known and it looks definitely mystical through the fog. I did not know about the Moorish castle but it is now well on my list of to-sees. Kind of like the great wall of china!

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  7. The fog around the castle made it look so mystical! I love scoping out real life castles in my travels. They are so neat as architectural wonders and to get immersed more in the history of a destination. Such a neat place you found!

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  8. i am sooooo glad you spent the night there (i mean imagine if you ONLY had the crappy weather day there). So many tourists only come for a day trip from Lisbon but staying overnight is a MUST!

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  9. What a tough act to follow! Exploring a castle on my own is tiring already, what more if you have a child with you. Hats off! The views are amazing! I haven't been to this side of Europe and would love to add it to my list. It's picturesque! Funny that there's no view from the top, so it's really more about the journey than the destination, no? 🙂

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