Sintra and the surrounding Natural Park is a stunning region of natural beauty with an intriguing and diverse history behind many of the fascinating monuments, parks and gardens waiting to be explored, hidden amongst the enchanted forests and hills.
Beyond the principal attractions in Sintra, which you can read more about here – Castles and Palaces of Sintra – there are a few more special places and historical sights that are less known, but truly worth the visit should you have more time at your disposal.
We’ve compiled for you a list of the best hidden gems and places to visit beyond the main trail in Sintra and the surrounding area, below.
In and Around Sintra
Park and Palace of Monserrate
This magnificent estate with its wild and romantic gardens is a beautiful mix of Gothic, Moorish and Indian architecture, hidden away from the historic town centre, The Park and Palace of Monserrate is located in the Serra de Sintra valley.
Originally built in 1540 by Friar Gaspar Preto as a hermitage dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrate, the estate was then acquired in the 17th century by the Mello e Castro family and inhabited by Caetano Mello e Castro, governor and viceroy of Portuguese India, until the 1755 Lisbon earthquake destroyed much of the site.
Later residents included the English writer and socialite William Beckford who undertook the restoration and landscaping of its surrounding gardens which were later immortalised in Lord Byron’s poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’. In the 19th century, the abandoned property was then bought by another Englishman Sir Francis Cook, who commissioned the fantastic Moorish style palace and transformed the surrounding park into one of the finest botanical gardens in Portugal.
Chalet and Garden of Contessa d’Edla
Located west of the Palacio de Pena is the 19th century, the Chalet and Garden of Contessa d’Edla, also known as the Casa do Regalo. It was designed and built by King Ferdinand II together with his second wife, the opera singer Elise Hensler, following the loss of his first wife, Queen Maria II, as a romantic sanctuary for the couple.
Inspired by the alpine chalets of Europe that were de rigour during that time, the chalet reflects their eclectic taste, with decorative features including walled frescoes, tiles and cork. With dramatic views across the valley from the Chalet’s terrace all the way to the ocean, you can see the Moorish castle, as well as viewpoints overlooking the Pena Palace.
The house is surrounded by an exotic botanical garden with many charming corners worth exploring, including the Fern Garden of the Countess, the Arbor and the Chalet’s Labyrinth of Stone.
Convento dos Capuchos
The Convento dos Capuchos, also known as the Convento da Santa Cruz, is an evocative and remote 16th century Franciscan monastery located in Colares, hidden amongst the Serra de Sintra hills.
Built in 1560, the hermitage originally housed a community of eight monks, the best known was Friar Honório who lived until he was 100 years old whilst spending his last 30 decades of his life in penance in a cave. Legend has it that João de Castro, the Portuguese viceroy of India, got lost during a hunt in the Sintra range while in pursuit of a deer, and fell asleep under a rock. It was revealed to him in a dream that he should build a Christian temple in that place.
This mystical nature retreat was built into the forest and exudes a magical simplicity and silence that reflects the philosophy and ideals of the Order of St Francis of Assisi and the brotherhood of the monks that lived there, shunning the world and renouncing the pleasures of earthly life.
The monastery comprises a collection of stone buildings, with cork from the local woods used throughout to provide natural insulation from the cold. It was occupied for 300 years before it was abandoned following the Portuguese ban on religious orders in 1834.
The Surrounding Area
Palácio Nacional de Mafra
The town of Mafra in the Sintra region is famous for this impressive Baroque Palace, The Palácio Nacional de Mafra, that has its origins in the 18th century during the reign of the young King João V.
The project began modestly with a new monastery and basilica that was built as a vow the King made to the Franciscan friars in return for his prayers being answered for an heir to the throne, following his marriage to Dona Maria Ana of Austria. As wealth began to flow to Portugal from Brazil, the grand royal palace was eventually built, extending to its full splendour by the Italian trained architect Johann Friedrich Ludwig.
Don’t miss the Mafra Palace Library, a magnificent space with Rococo-style bookcases and a collection of over 40,000 books dating from the 14th century. The traditional fishing village of Ericeira, now a popular surf and holiday resort, along with Ribeira das Ilhas and Lizandro close by, is only a short drive from Mafra town.
Queluz National Palace and Gardens
On the way to Sintra from Lisbon stands this impressive 18th century Rococo, Baroque and Neoclassical palace. Built initially as a summer residence for three generations of the royal family, King João’s younger son Pedro then lived here permanently with Maria I until their departure for Brazil in 1807 following the Napoleonic invasion.
Often referred to as the Versailles of Lisbon, this luxurious palace was built over a 17th century hunting lodge until Pedro commissioned Mateus Vincente to transform it into the summer residence. It was then extended by the French architect jean-Baptiste Robillon who added the extravagant Pavilion and gardens, a site for the royal family’s many opulent court parties and celebrations.
Some highlights include the music room where Maria I’s orchestra performed operas and concerts, Don Quixote chamber, the royal bedroom where Pedro IV both was born and passed, as well as the flamboyant Rococo-style Pavillion and Hanging Gardens.
To make the best of your stay in Sintra and visit all the sights, it is worth staying at least one or two nights, but a longer stay will allow you to truly experience everything the region has to offer.
Check out some of the best hotels in Sintra for your stay, allowing you more time to explore some of the other local attractions, including the beautiful countryside, wild Atlantic coast, historical towns such as Cascais, relaxing on one of the many beaches on the Portuguese Riviera, or booking a wine tour in the Lisbon and Sintra area.