Royal Sintra and Cascais

Is Sleeping Beauty at home? Fantasy palaces set in forests described by Byron as a ‘glorious  Eden’

Cascais and Sintra are about an hour’s drive from Lisbon. Both steeped in history, but Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the star attraction.

This former royal resort town was described by Byron as ‘a glorious Eden’ for its forests and fantasy palaces. It was Sintra’s mild climate and proximity to the capital that made the town and its palace a favourite haunt of Portuguese monarchs, aristocrats and bourgeois elites and continues to attract visitors more than eight centuries later.

The National Palace was built by King John of Portugal who married Philippa of Lancaster, the sister of King Henry V of England. Philippa was the daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and the red rose of Lancaster is seen decoratively in the Palace.

The Swan Room, the largest in the palace

The Swan room is where the king received people and food was distributed on the Feast of the Holy Spirit. The 16th century ceiling is composed of 27 wooden boxes decorated with swans.

The Palace of Sintra

The painted ceiling depicts 136 magpies each holding in its beak a strip bearing the motto of King Joao 1st ‘por bem – for good’ and in its claws, a rose

The setting for a thousand years of history is a fusion of Christian and Muslim art, but again, it’s the extraordinary tiles that cause tourists to gape.

Outdoor tiled throne

Grotto of the Baths

The Grotto of the Baths was a typical summer house (a feature of the period). Divided into two rooms and richly decorated in the Rococo style of the late 18th Century, the tiled panels in blue and white completely cover the walls, depicting fountains, gardens and scenes of courtly flirtations.



From the outside, this fairytale mountain top castle is pure Disney – the crenelated turrets, domes, arches and doorways guarded by diabolical statues and the garish candy shades from shocking pink to very in-your-face yellow aren’t a great advertisement to buying a ticket and stepping inside. But we did, and the interior is quite a different story. Having recently visited Balmoral in Braemar, there are some uncanny comparisons. Both were built around the mid 1800’s. Pena was the labour of love of Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg who became Prince Consort after his marriage to Queen Maria 11 of Portugal in 1836. He was a cousin of both Prince Albert and Albert’s wife, Queen Victoria (getting confused – don’t worry, so were they).    The Castle sits on top of a hill overlooking Sintra and is regarded as one of the major expressions of 15th century Romanticism in the world. A former monastery, Albert seized his opportunity and hired a reputable architect/engineer and converted it into his weekend retreat palace. Like Balmoral, the grounds are spectacular.

Coincidentally, this was more or less the same date as Balmoral, which Prince Albert acquired for Victoria in 1852. So great was the couple’s love for the Highlands that they built their home there, which was completed in 1856. Balmoral continues to be where the Royal family spend their summer holidays.

Red roses of Lancaster

There are many similarities between the homes and the surrounding grounds.

Bust of King Ferdinand 2nd of Portugal

Someone forgot to clean the bath today. But apart from that, it’s a chic bathtub and matching tiled floor and walls

Informal lunch at Pena Palace – if it wasn’t for the tiles, it could be lunch in Balmoral

Like Balmoral,  stags are everywhere

Very modern phone in its day



Architectural drama

From historic palaces to the very contemporary Paula Rego Museum in Cascais, a spectacular, eye-catching building in terracotta coloured brick.


NICK WILLING, son of Paula Rego and her husband, the painter Victor Willing made an extraordinary and revealing documentary about her life.


(Images taken from BBC 2’s SECRETS AND STORIES)

(Dame) Paula Rego was born in Portugal and moved to England to study art. She married artist Victor Willing and they had three children. Both were free-spirited bohemians who lived life to the full. They loved to dance and their parties went on for days. It goes some way to explaining the stories behind her pictures. She also had a network of high ranking friends and admirers which has earned her celebrity status in Portugal. Paula Rego is a unique very prolific artist. Her observations of people, their good and bad side (sometimes evil and sinister) speaks clearly in her work. Her love of fashion – clothes and details in shoes, bags and hair styling – plays a big part in her pictures.









  1. Very interesting interrelationships. Will definitely try to see the exhibition at the tate.

  2. It looks wonderful, really makes me want to go.

  3. I just adored the blast of yellow of the fairytale castle on this grey English morning & especially want to see the swan & magpie ceilings. The red rose of Lancaster connection is interesting . I also love all the other connections you make.

  4. Delightful, the decorative tiles are steeped in history

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