Narrow streets of Sintra town replete with souvenir shops
Day-trip excursions from Lisbon are actually fairly numerous, and each of them probably warrants a day trip on a separate occasion. Since this was my first and only visit to Portugal, choose wisely I had to, and choose wisely I did, and came up with the idea of visiting the hillside palace town of Sintra, coupled with the national palace of Queluz, both of which are on the same train line out of Lisbon. Upon arrival in Sintra, there was instant evidence to suggest that this is one of Europe's best kept secrets, and a town which charms visitors with its' grand-scale buildings set in a smalltown rural setting.
Regaleira Palace and adjoining gardens
A cluster of restaurants and souvenir shops greets the visitor upon arrival in the town's main square, and the twin conical-shaped domes of Sintra National Palace are the town's first bona-fide landmark you'll come across, clearly visible from the approach road. The first port of call was the Regaleira palace and Gardens, and the entire complex was as varied and alluring as one could possibly hope for, especially given the reasonable 6 euros admission fee. The various rooms were ornate and appealing, and matched by the main building's exterior decor, and the gardens beneath them add an element of appeal, especially when considering the joys of exploring the various paths, grottos, structures and statuettes contained within the whole complex. A 'tourist menu' style lunch proved that cheap does not always equate to bland or mass-catering food fare, and a short bus ride to Pena National palce revealed what many might consider to be the centrepiece of Sintra itself.
Pena National Palace in all its detailed glory
The castle-like majesty of this very building reveals a few key details pertaining to Portugal's former wealth and power, and the preservation of these buildings hint at the kind of status the country once held in the eyes of the outside world. Leaving Sintra was a task made more manageable by the prospect of visiting the national palce of Queluz, on the outskirts of Lisbon, and the guide book's description of the place as the 'Versailles of Portugal' might mislead the visitor who is in search of a replica of the French town's centrepiece, but for my money, the interior of this palace is as grand as anything you could expect to come across in Portugal. Working my way from one ornate-looking room to the next, the decor and room styles were virtually flawless, and the colourful and artistic nature of it all is a joy to behold.
National Palace of Queluz where opulence abounds
The gardens surrounding the building tend to grow in appeal the more time you spend working your way around their contents, and the entire complex is more than enough to put the peripheral town of Queluz (which seems to be an enclave of immigrant African settlers) very much on the map. As I headed back to Lisbon, bound for the hotel, all that had been planned had been pretty much covered, and it makes me wonder if there is a more fulfilling 1-day excursion option from Lisbon than this. The segway tour awaited me first thing the following morning, destined to put the finishing touches to the conquer-all 3-night city break, and even at this precocious stage, the next city break is more eagerly-awaited than you could even begin to imagine!