Friday, May 16, 2008

Sintra, Portugal (May 8, 2008)

Sintra is a charming town only 45 minutes by train from Lisbon. Nestled amongst the tall trees and flowering vines are ornate palaces and villas worthy of fairy tales, and overlooking the village is a Moorish castle high on a hilltop, with ivy creeping over its ancient walls.

The narrow streets are lined with houses and churches in a rainbow of pastel colors, their courtyards spilling over with bougainvillea, fuchsias and fragrant roses. With its impressive architecture, it's no wonder that Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And with its quaint cobblestone streets and lush gardens, it's easy to see why Sintra is one of Portugal's popular tourist destinations.

Sintra's small village center; the town hall (with the tower) was built in 1906
One of Sintra's many flower-filled streets
The fanciful neo-Manueline palace and gardens of Quinta da Regaleira were built at the beginning of the 20th century as a private estate for a wealthy Portuguese doctor, Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro
The "Initiation Well" at Quinta de Regaleira, inspired by the initiation practices of the Knights Templar and Freemasons. The winding staircase leads to the bottom of the well, which connects with a maze of grottoes beneath the gardens of the estate
One of the many grottoes at Quinta de Regaleira
Originally a Moorish palace, Sintra's Palacio Nacional was rebuilt first by Dom Joao I in the 15th century and later by Dom Manuel in the 16th century; the result is a mix of Gothic and Manueline styles. The most striking features of the palace are the two massive conical chimneys that lead up from the kitchen.

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