The playground of royalty

A different world opens up an hour away from Lisbon – the rolling hills and lush slopes conjure up images of Bavaria and it is not too far from the truth to say a rather homesick King who married a Portuguese Princess chose to dwell in relative peace in such surroundings.

Introducing Sintra, the playground of royalty in the 19th century.

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The quaint town is itself about a pleasant 10 minutes walk through the winding road filled with greenery. And the boo-moment of the day happened when I read the map wrongly, and thought the palace was situated in the heart of town. To my chagrin, it was actually 5-6 km away, and uphill. A miserable trudge (at least it wasn’t raining) eventually brought me there, and I consider that impromptu hike my week’s worth of exercise.

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In any case, the Palacio de Pena is so reminiscent of the Walt Disney castle in multi-colour, and while not as grand as the Neuschwanstein, packs quite a punch combining many exterior styles of architecture and gaudy interiors that monachies seem to favour. Classical music blares from speakers, attempting to recreate the mood of the 19th century. Typically, it is difficult to separate the presence of a Romantic sentiment in such extravagant pursuits.

About 6 km away from the Lisbon city centre lies a little suburb called Belem (or also oddly known as Bethlehem the house of bread) more famous for its egg tarts than its bread, unfortunately. Pateis de Belem, or so it boasts, has been making its egg tarts since 1837, and its recipe kept under lock and key since then.

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Nearby, the Monument to the Discoveries marks the 600th anniversary of Henry the Navigator, a structure shaped like a ship with carvings of famous explorers on its sloping sides, but, something else takes the cake.

The poster building for Portuguese tourism is also found here: the Tower of Belem, or the Torres de Belem, commemorates the expedition of Vasco de Gama to India, and later for Portuguese explorers to find more fresh ground to put their feet on.

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