By far the most popular day trip from Lisbon is to beautiful Sintra, a small town packed with delights, set in lush and mountainous
country some 15 miles northwest of Lisbon. Once there, the attractions are scattered over a wide area, so unless you have
plenty of time, it makes sense to take a tour or rent a car and drive from the city. As a bonus, most tour operators include
a detour to Cabo da Roca, the Continent's westernmost point.
For more than 500 years Sintra was the summer resort of Portuguese kings - a legacy that is apparent in the town's two astounding palaces. The Queluz National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Queluz) was first built by João Accessible: in the 15th century and remained in use until the end of the 19th century. Architecturally imposing, it's nevertheless a muddle of mainly Gothic and Manueline styles. The interior is worth exploring. Note the superb ceramic tiles, as well as the elaborately decorated ceilings: one is painted with gold-collared swans and another with magpies. The other main palace is the Pena National Palace (Palácio Nacional da Pena), built in the 1840s by Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, husband of Queen Maria II. It's a creation rivaling the best of Disney, complete with towers, turrets and battlements. Inside is a riot of flamboyant furniture, wall hangings and paintings, including a whole room of nudes. Nearby is the eighth-century Castelo dos Mouros, a ruined Moorish stronghold with superb views. Gardens
The other outstanding attractions in Sintra are its gardens and parks. The warm, damp climate is ideal for a profusion of exotic trees, shrubs and roses, and you'll see everything from rhododendrons and camellias to tree ferns and palms. The Pena Gardens, below the Pena National Palace, are lovely, with lakes and mock temples. But the highlight is the Monserrate Gardens, west of Sintra. Two Englishmen laid out the gardens between 1790 and 1860, and they ramble over 74 acres. Around Sintra lies the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park (Parque Natural Sintra-Cascais), a wonderful area stretching from the tree-clad mountains of Sintra down to the dramatic Atlantic coastline at Guincho.
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