Our plan for today was to take a day trip to a town called Sintra. Sintra is situated about 30km outside the centre of Lisbon, in a hilly forested area which is supposed to have a cooler and more pleasant climate than Lisbon itself. It is famous both for its pretty old town and for the unique palaces and castles which are dotted around the surrounding area.
It's very easy to get to Sintra via a local train from Lisbon's Rossio station. It only cost us €4.50 each for a return, which seems like a bargain when you're used to buying train tickets in the UK, and the journey took around 40 minutes. The train station is slightly outside the centre of the town and so when we got off the train, we first had to try and navigate our way to the historical centre. The first indication we had that we might be on the right lines was this.
This rather spectacular building is Sintra's town hall. Wow!
From the town hall, the road led upwards towards the rest of the town centre.
As we walked we got a glimpse of this rather unusual building on the horizon...
..as well as this enormous castle which was towering high above the town.
Soon we had come quite a distance from the town hall...
...and we were in the centre.
At this point we realised that Sintra is an incredibly touristy place. There were herds of tourists travelling around in open top buses, tourist trains and electric buggies (which seem very popular in Portugal, so that tourists can avoid the inconvenience of walking uphill). This meant that the prices of all the restaurants were quite expensive too, at least compared to the amazingly cheap prices we'd experienced earlier in the holiday in Luso. We found somewhere to have lunch in the end though, where we had a nice view of a clock tower in one direction..,
...and what turned out to be the Palace of Sintra in the other.
The Palace of Sintra is a very unusual looking building, but apparently is the best preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal.
The main reason I'd wanted to come to Sintra was to see a far more exciting palace, however; the Palácio da Pena. Once we'd finished lunch, we began to follow signs towards it, firstly passing the clock tower I'd been admiring while I ate my pizza...
...and then beginning to follow an uphill road.
After we'd been walking for a while, we saw a pretty sign for a park and thought it might be nice to explore.
No sooner had we stepped inside the gate, however, then we were ambushed by a tourist information man who started explaining to Tim (in Spanish) that this was only a good park to come to if you wanted to have a picnic, and that instead we should be following a path up the hillside behind us.
Unbeknown to us, he had directed us onto the Villa Sassetti hiking trail, which leads from the centre of Sintra to the Palácio da Pena.
I think the guidebook had assumed that anyone who wanted to visit this palace was going to take some sort of tourist bus, so we had no indication of how much uphill was going to be involved.
We soon had some good views out across the surrounding countryside though.
Partway up we passed the Villa Sassetti, after which the trail is named.
We passed through some formal gardens...
...and then the path became increasingly rocky. Or, at least, surrounded by increasingly large boulders!
As we turned around to catch our breath, we realised that behind us we had a brilliant view of the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors), which I had dismissed as being too high up to climb to. It didn't look it was that much higher than us now, compared to how it had been back down in Sintra.
A few minutes later, we finally, we got our first glimpse of what we were actually walking towards.
The palace itself still looked quite a long way away, but we were now within striking distance of the palace gardens.
A ticket to go into the palace buildings itself is quite expensive, but for €7.50 each we got a ticket to enter the grounds.
And the grounds themselves are quite impressive, although the Portuguese theme of rather murky lakes continued!
There was still some uphill ahead of us. By this point I was starting to feel a bit jealous of the people who were whizzing past us in electric buggies
We were getting closer though
And finally, we were there!
The reason I wanted to come and see the palace was that it looked so extraordinary in all the pictures I had seen.
It didn't disappoint when I saw it in real life
There was originally a monastery on this hilltop site, from some time in fifteenth century, until it was eventually destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.
The Portuguese king Ferdinand II acquired the ruins of the monastery in 1838 and decided to transform them into a palace which would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.
He certainly succeeded in building something which stood out!
Without tickets to go inside the palace itself, we were able to get as far as the main gates and enjoy some close up views.
We may have taken just a few photos
It was late afternoon by this point and we knew we still had a long climb down ahead of us, so eventually we had to turn around and go back through the gate to begin our descent.
We walked back down the road rather than take the hiking trail again, which was probably a bit more direct. As we got closer to Sintra, I turned around and saw something that looked familiar on the top of a hill in the distance.
Could it be...? Yes, it looked like the 'red' side of the palace where we'd just been
It also looked a very long way up, so I began to feel a bit more justified in having tired legs! By the time we got back to the station in Sintra, I was definitely looking forward to a 40 minute sit-down on the train.
It was a really exciting day and overall we've had a brilliant time in Portugal. It may have been our first visit here, but I feel like it probably won't be our last. Tomorrow we are changing countries though, with an afternoon flight to Madrid. I like Madrid, but I feel like it's going to struggle to beat this