The attractive, verdant town of SINTRA warrants at least a day of anyone’s itinerary, though two or three days would allow you to make the most of its fabulous surroundings. The cooler air of the hilltop town made it the preferred summer retreat for Portugal’s royalty; over the years it has also attracted the rich and famous, and inspired countless writers, including Lord Byron (who begins his epic poem Childe Harold in “Cintra’s glorious Eden”) and Gothic-novel writer William Beckford. It was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995 because “the cultural landscape of the Serra and the town of Sintra represents a pioneering approach to Romantic landscaping that had an outstanding influence on developments elsewhere in Europe”.
The town’s historic centre spreads across the slopes of several steep hills. Dominating the centre of Sintra-Vila are the tapering chimneys of the Palácio Nacional, surrounded by an array of tall houses painted in pale pink, ochre or mellow yellow, many with ornate turrets and decorative balconies peering out to the plains of Lisbon far below. All this is highly scenic – though summer crowds can swamp its narrow central streets, and once you’ve seen the sights, you’re best off heading to the surrounding attractions up in the hills. Easiest to reach are the Castelo dos Mouros and the extraordinary Palácio da Pena – both visible on the wooded heights above town – or the lush gardens of Monserrate, though you’ll need a car to see the Convento dos Capuchos.
Sintra’s annual festa in honour of St Peter is held on June 28 and 29, while in July and August the Sintra Music Festival puts on classical performances in a number of the town’s buildings, including the Palácio Nacional. The end of July also sees the Feira Grande in São Pedro, with crafts, antiques and cheeses on sale.