The ridge of Sintra is a 10km granite hill with a 10km extension, from the northern plains to the Atlantic Ocean. It was known in ancient times as Mount of the Moon, due to the astral cults that were there celebrated, and whose archeological presence still abounds today. The ridge was always very cherished by man, during all historical times. It is not strange, therefore, to find among its areas a series of monuments from different ages, since the pre-historic eras to today. It was this richness that made it become one of UNESCO’s International Heritage sites.
A guest at Casa de Valmarinha will have plenty of motives to go and visit the ridge and its heritages. There is no shortage of places to see: from the labyrinthine old village of Sintra to the magical Natural Park; from one of the romantic palaces to the Castelo dos Mouros; or finally, from the staggering impact of Palácio da Pena to the beautiful sunsets of Cabo da Roca.
OLD CITY CENTER OF SINTRA / “VILA VELHA DE SINTRA” (12,5km)
Sintra’s historic center starts from the old Paço Real and follows up to the beginning of the ridge. People lived there since the Muslim era up to the middle Ages, but it was only after the 16th century that Sintra started to become prestigious. This era came suddenly to a halt with the earthquake of 1755 and the consequent partial destruction of the “Old Village” (“Vila Velha”). However, during the 19th century, a new golden era for the city begins, with the constant visits of artists, writers and noblemen from Portugal and abroad. Some of these visits included the Portuguese writer Eça de Queiroz, the musician Richard Strauss and the writers Lord Byron and Hans-Christian Andersen. These personalities came to visit the city and found in it a retreat. The cultural movement of romanticism marked the (re)construction of houses, palaces and hotels, in a renewed balance between modern construction and centuries-old landscape. The money brought by new inhabitants of its surrounding towns allowed for new architectural tendencies. Trips to some of these old towns are highly recommended, especially to S. Pedro de Penaferrim and Colares.
PALÁCIO NACIONAL DE SINTRA (PAÇO REAL OR PALÁCIO DA VILA) (12,5km)
The Palácio National points out from the rest of the buildings in the center of the “Old Village” due to its antiquity and singularity. It is considered to have been built on top of an old palace belonging to the Arab Wallis and it became, since the 12th century, one of the many residences of the Portuguese Royal Family that used to spend summer and go hunting in the area. Its architectural richness is attested by signs of gothic, mudéjar and manuelino styles that are represented in its different parts, built during various eras. The “ex-libris” of the monument is its kitchen, crowned by two 33 meters-high cone-shaped chimneys.CASTELO DOS MOUROS (10km + pedestrian walk)
Human presence from the Neolithic period (5000 years B.C.) can be traced here. The Castle itself has been around since the Arab period, although some archeologists state that it was actually built before, during the Visigoth ages. However, this Castle never saw a battle at its gates. As soon as Lisbon was conquered by the enemy all the inhabitants of this seemingly invulnerable construction, be them Muslims or Christians, would surrender immediately. In fact, the Castle had the sole purpose of guarding the surrounding areas and to serve as a set-piece against any possible attack on the capital. Although most of its structure lies now in ruins, its location allows for impressive views of the rocky side of the ridge of Sintra.
PARQUE E PALÁCIO DA PENA (15,5km)
The husband of Queen Mary the Second, Fernando de Saxe-Coburgo Gotha, decided in 1838 to build a new palace, based on the manuelino and arabesque styles. The selected place was the former Pena’s Monastery – partially destroyed after the earthquake of 1755. Taking advantage of the fertility of the terrain, several trees from different regions were planted around the many pavilions and spaces of the Castle, a masterpiece of the era’s romantic style. The result was a diverse and naturally beautiful scenario.
Richard Strauss summarized his visit to the palace and surroundings in the following words:“Today is the happiest day of my life. I know Italy, Sicily, Greece and Egypt, but I have never seen anything that is worth so much as Pena. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. This is the real garden of Klingsor – and, on top, there it lies, the castle of the Holy Grail”.
GARDEN AND CHALET DA CONDESSA D’EDLA AND QUINTA DA PENA (9,5km)
After his second wedding, now with the Countess D’Edla, in 1869, the (now) king Fernando the Second decided to have a separate residence from the Pena Palace, and ordered the construction of a Chalet in the other side of the park. The residence was built according the style of typical chalets of the alpine regions of Europe, and served as a private residence for the new royal couple. The king and his new wife used to spend their time arranging the garden, bringing many plants and flowers from around the world, thus creating a botanical environment with important scientific bases in their romantic home.
PARK AND PALÁCIO DE MONSERRATE (7km)
This exuberant park is located in the outskirts of Sintra’s center, and it is best known for its botanical garden, built by the English millionaire Francis Cook in the 19th century. The garden hosts more than 2500 different species, divided by areas from the Mexico garden to the Japanese one. Watercourses and caves abound in the middle of the plants. As for the palace, it is known for its circular tower and its exotic decoration.
QUINTA DA REGALEIRA (9km)
This property was recovered by Portuguese millionaire Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro (best known as “Monteiro dos Milhoes” – “Monteiro of the Millions”) who bought it from the Regaleira Viscountess. One can find in the garden references to magical, mythical and mysterious environments connected to alchemy, masonry, the Templars and the order of Rosa Cruz. The architecture of the palace was conceived as if it was an Eden, built predominantly in the neo-manuelino, romantic, gothic and renascent styles. It is usually considered one of the most surprising monuments in Sintra.
PALÁCIO DE SETEAIS (8,5km)
This 18th century palace was named after an old legend, according to which one could say “ai” in the castle and listen to its echo seven times (“sete”, in Portuguese, means “seven”). It is majestically placed in a sumptuous landscape and it used to be the property of Daniel Gildmeester, the Netherlands consul in Portugal during the Pombalino period. The architecture is marked by neoclassical styles, with strong British influences. In its area lies also the famous “Penedo da Saudade”, where one can have privileged views to the Castle, the Palacio de Monserrate and the sea.CONVENTO DOS CAPUCHOS (5km)
This convent, originally named as Convento de Santa Cruz, was built in 1560 by order of Alvaro de Castro, following his father’s death. Visitors may visit and discover the life and principles of the Franciscan order, which lived in a culture based in austerity, but also in peace and tranquility. The woods around the building are also considered one of the relics of the ridge.
PALACIO NACIONAL DE QUELUZ (25km)
This is one of the most important palaces of the Portuguese royal family. Its construction started in 1747 and after its conclusion it became a symbol of Portuguese palace architecture of the 18th century. Both its interiors and gardens are strongly marked by French and Italian influences, of baroque, rocaille and neoclassical styles. During the kingdoms of Maria the First and John the Sixth it was used as a summer retreat, where many entertaining events, be them parties, banquets or anniversaries, occurred in its diverse and versatile rooms. Some of these events took place in the gardens, and it was common to have fireworks, equestrian matches and bull fights, among other amusements.
During the French occupation the Palace was robbed and lost many of its treasures. The civil war that followed nailed an ending to the “ancient regime” and to the golden age of Queluz.
CONVENTO DE MAFRA (25km)
This convent is one of the most important baroque monuments in Portugal, and it symbolizes the kingdom of John the Fifth, an opulent monarch. There are three of its 1200 divisions that stand out. The first is the library, one of the most important of its type in the 18th century, holding around 35,000 works. The second is the convent, a unique symbol of Portuguese religious heritage. Last but not the least, the Basilica, a masterpiece of 18th century architecture, known for its six organs and its famous “Carrilhões” (“Chimes”), a unique set in the world.
CABO DA ROCA (3,5km)
Cabo da Roca was known as Promonturium Magnum in the Roman era, and as it was mentioned before, it is the most occidental point of Continental Europe. This impressive promontory is 140m above sea level, has a lighthouse on its top and its coordinates sealed in a stone. As the great Portuguese poet once said, “It is the place where earth ends, and the sea starts…”