The extravagant Pena Palace: a fairytale at the foot of the mountain

If you ever get the chance to travel to Portugal, you absolutely must visit Sintra and its sublime Pena National Palace, with its intriguing mix of bright colours. It's undoubtedly one of the country's most stunning monuments. Located less than 30 km from Lisbon, this red and yellow neo-medieval castle overlooks the Sintra valley from the top of its rocky spur and never fails to surprise visitors. It's impossible to miss, such are its vivid and pronounced colours. From the top of its pine-covered hill, the panorama is sumptuous. Built on the ruins of an ancient monastery, the Palace was constructed by a Portuguese king who turned it into one of the most beautiful castles and the first romantic palace in Europe.

The Pena Palace in Sintra, Lisbon, Portugal.

- © Yasonya / Shutterstock

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The ruins of the castle

Built on the ruins of a monastery, it blends different styles: Gothic, Moorish, Manueline and Renaissance, which gives it its unique character. Surrounding the palace, a magnificent park blends local and exotic species. But first, let us tell you the extraordinary story of this flamboyant hilltop castle.

To explain the origins of the Palacio Nacional de Pena, we have to go back to the twelfth century, when the castle was just a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In 1511, the chapel was converted into a monastery: Notre Dame de Pena. With its cloister, chapel, sacristy and bell tower, the monastery was occupied by a few monks for several centuries until the earthquake of 1755 reduced the building to a heap of ruins. It was finally abandoned in 1834. In 1838, King Fernando II of Portugal, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, bought the ruins of the monastery and the surrounding land at auction.

A resplendent transformation

It was not until 1838 that King Ferdinand II of Portugal, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, decided to renovate the former monastery and build a summer palace for the royal family. The plans were entrusted to the German architect Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, who was given carte blanche to enlarge and create a new romantic palace, represented today by the yellow ochre wing.

The inner courtyard of the Pena Palace.

The future style of this restoration is out of the ordinary. Indeed, the mixture of architectural styles (Baroque, Renaissance, Moorish, Manueline, Gothic, etc.) derived from the German architect's travels in Africa and Asia, creates a building that is colourful and perfectly extravagant both inside and out.

It should be noted that some parts of the old monastery will be preserved and can be seen today in the north wing, distinguished by its old pink colour.

The colorful facade of the Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal.

- © �?�Giacomo Pratellesi / 123RF

The last king to reside in the palace was Don Manuel II, before Portugal was proclaimed a Republic. In 1910, the palace and the Pena Park were recognised as a national monument and became the property of the State.

In 1995, the entire Sintra mountain range was classified by UNESCO as a cultural landscape and a World Heritage Site, including of course the Pena Palace.

Editor's tip

The colours of the Palais de Pena were not always so bright. At the time of its restoration in the 19th century, they were rather dull, and it was in 1996 that a major painting project was undertaken to brighten up the castle, which was not to the liking of some of Sintra's rather conservative residents...

A privileged position

You can extend your visit by returning to Sintra town centre. On the way back down, don't hesitate to take a walk through the castle's delightful garden, which is brimming with European and exotic plant species, including tree ferns. It's a veritable green lung at the foot of the palace. The citadel enjoys a mild climate and a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, which are the main reasons why it has always attracted Portuguese kings. The city has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1995, and its hilltop location offers visitors a fine architectural heritage. The harmony between nature and monuments captivates tourists from the moment they arrive.

Historic houses in Sintra, Portugal.

- © Travel Faery / Shutterstock

Tour of the area around the Palace

The Castle of the Moors:

Perched high above Sintra, you'll have to take a steep path to visit this ancient historic building. Its privileged position once gave it a protective role throughout the region. You'll be able to admire the view over the whole plain and also enjoy a last look at the Pena Palace from a different angle.

The Capuchin monastery

This monastery, hidden deep in the forest, was built in the 16th century. Eight Franciscan monks lived here until the mid-19th century. A surprising place that could be described as a pocket cloister nestled in lush green countryside and amidst rocks.

The Capuchin convent from the forest, Sintra, Portugal.

- © Tisha Razumovsky / Shutterstock

Monserrate Palace

This is a magnificent Oriental-style residence surrounded by lush vegetation. If you want to get away from the crowds, this is the place to be!

Practical information

👉 When should you visit?

It's one of the most visited sites in Portugal, so many tourists want to explore the interior and the two wings of the palace.

We recommend visiting outside the summer months to avoid the endless queues, or booking in advance on the Sintra Park website. Either way, it's best to arrive as soon as it opens to make the most of a day in the castle and Palace gardens.

📍 Address: Estrada da Pena, 2710-609 Sintra, Portugal.

🚌 How do I get there?

We recommend taking the train to Lisbon from Rossio Station (Estação do Rossio), which is located in the historic centre of the city, close to the main districts of Baixa, Alfama and Chiado. It is therefore very easy for tourists to get to.

Sintra is easily accessible by bus and train from Lisbon; it is also easily accessible by car, but we strongly advise against going by this means of transport, as the roads are not adapted to the flow of tourist traffic and once there there is virtually no parking space. The best way to get there is by train. It's quick and convenient, taking around 45 minutes.

👛 Prices (from) :

  • Palace and Park (€14 adult / €12.50 child) including access to the Pena Park estate, terraces and state rooms.
  • Park (€7.50 adult / €6.50 child) including access to the Parc de Pena and terraces.

👉 Other info :

Duration: 2h30

Accessibility: a **tourist shuttle bus* leaves fromthe centre of Sintra (approx. €7 return) and takes you to the Palace. Youcan also get there on* **foot*** viathe**hikingtrail*(480 m above sea level and a 50-minute walk).

Where to stay in Sintra?

Chalet Saudade Lisbon

Chalet Saudade

This magnificent guest house welcomes you in a romantic style in the heart of the city of kings.
9.4 Fabulous
£149 / night
by Jude JONES
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