Sintra: were our expectations too high?

Sometimes a sightseeing trip falls way below our expectations. We’re glad to say that it rarely happens, but our much-anticipated trip to Sintra took a turn for the worse soon after it started.

The day improved a bit and by late afternoon, as we walked the ramparts of the Castle of the Moors, we were happy to have made the trip. What could be more thrilling than walking on the fortification walls of a castle?!

We’ll tell the tale of our bad-to-great day in reverse – starting with the best of our day at Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

An army of the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711. The castle dates back to the 8th Century, built by the Moors after their conquest of the area.

Of course, this was an ongoing building project, with a military fort added in the 10th Century. It was all over for the Moors when the Christians defeated them in 1147. With the Moors gone, local people occupied the Castle and some further construction took place. Eventually the Christians moved into the town of Sintra and a Jewish community moved into the castle complex. King Manuel I, who reigned from 1495-1521, expelled the Jewish residents – and the castle was abandoned.  After centuries of little use, the 1755 earthquake devastated the castle.

Rebuilding started in 1840 under Ferdinand II of Portugal. Most of the castle is gone, but the view of the countryside when walking the reconstructed fortification walls was well worth seeing – especially the view of the Palace of Pena.

The walk along the fort wall had many stone steps. The day was windy and the feeling of exposure at that height in the wind made us a little nervous so we proceeded with some caution. At the fort’s highest lookout, the Royal Tower, we watched others make their descent carefully on the steep steeps.

We managed to visit three of the many historical sites at Sintra in a very full day. The Castle of the Moors was our last visit – and our favorite.

Before our arrival at the Castle of the Moors, we spent many hours walking through the extensive park at the Palace of Pena in the early afternoon. After a difficult morning of crowds, delays, and heat, we thought walking through the wooded park would be a good change. We chose our route – a series of paths strung across the extensive park starting at the palace and leading to a rabbit warren. We’d read about rabbit warrens, but had never actually seen one. This would be a first.

Our visit started with a very small chapel, built by Hieronymite monks, near the rocky base of the palace.

Even though the Temple of Columns was built in 1844, we thought the classical style gave the impression it was even older.

Our favorite building was the 19th century pavilion housing the Little Birds Fountain. The signage describes the building as “neo-Moorish” and “built in commemoration of the safe return of Vasco de Gama from the discovery of the lands and countries that he did find, these being, the Cape of Good Hope, India, and others” in the year 1503.

Across from the pavilion, visitors rested in the shade and studied their park maps.

We continued on to find the rabbit warren. We walked by ponds, through forest, by pens holding goats. When we arrived, we were puzzled. We studied the map, but the rabbit warren was nowhere to be seen. Was it somewhere else or had it been removed? Disappointed, we made our way back. We think that sometimes touring is like the rabbit warren: the planned-for destination, the great build up, and then, nothing. Of course, we consoled ourselves that our disappointment was only temporary as our time at the Castle of Moors had been a memorable visit.

The retelling of the best of our day at Sintra has now been told and the next post will fill you on the worst.   We’re still asking ourselves: “How could it all have gone so wrong?”


…to be continued…


August 2018

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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15 Responses to Sintra: were our expectations too high?

  1. It’s started off sounding pretty good, so I’ll be interested to read the next instalment. I like the pavilion commemoration Vasco da Gama.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Hanging on for Part Two! Not a fan of crowds or heat – who is? – but I’d love to visit Sintra. Dramatic, visually and historically. Maybe one winter…

  3. leggypeggy says:

    Thanks for this introduction to a place that is new to me. I’ll try to be patient for the next instalment.

  4. How can you expect me to just wait patiently? At least we know that you were safe enough to write the story !:)

  5. We await with ‘baited breath’ to find out what constitutes a bad experience for you. Ours is usually self inflicted like getting lost on the bike and cycling 20km further than was necessary.

  6. You’ve left us hanging! 🙂It’s funny you should title your post of Sintra this way as one of my friend’s visited last year and wrote a post calling it an “Epic travel fail” due to the enormous summer crowds. We made a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra and spent far too much time dawdling over lunch and in the National Palace of Sintra to visit Pena Palace at all which was our original goal. There’s much left to see so we’ll do another trip in the fall or summer during the off-season and plan on spending a couple of nights. Loved your photos of the castle ruin. They are magnificent, aren’t they? Anita

  7. Than you for the tour. Glad that it had a good ending. Curious to see what actually happened.

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