Where Castles Meet the Sea
"I must just observe that the village of Cintra in Estremadura is the most beautiful in the world," wrote Romantic poet Lord Byron in 1809. Inspiring writers, artists and lovers, Sintra, on the Estoril Coast in Portugal, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its 19th century Romanticist architecture.
Just 45 minutes by train from Lisbon, day trippers pour into Sintra to experience the palaces, castles and incredible coastal beauty. There's so much to see here that a day simply doesn't do Sintra justice. Lord Byron would agree.
The Pena Palace is a Romantic dream. Created in part as a revolt against the political and social norms of Age of Enlightenment, the Romantic movement sought to excite emotions based on an aesthetic experience. Upon first sight, the Pena will move your soul. Perched atop a hill where Lisbon can be seen on a clear day, the palace is considered one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Even the President of Portugal "rents it out" for state occassions.
The Palácio da Vila, or Town Palace, may just be the best preserved medieval Royal Palace in all of Portugal. The summer residence of Portuguese Kings, the most impressive rooms were built by King Manuel. His Coats-of-Arms room features a magnificent wooden coffered ceiling decorated with 72 coats-of-arms of the King and other Portuguese noble families.
Completing the Castle trifecta, the Castelo dos Mouros, or Moorish Castle, was "Romantically" renovated back in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II. It's mountaintop location added to the romantic atmosphere. From the top you can see the other two castles, making anyone feel as if they've stepped right into a fairy tale.
For castles on a smaller scale, head to the Museu do Brinquedo. This toy museum has a collection of over 20,000 playthings. From vintage Barbie's and World War II tin soldiers to classic penny toys, you'll see your childhood on display. On the third floor, there's a toy "hospital" of sorts, fixing broken doll heads and Hot Wheels' flat tires.
Continue your romantic journey outdoors at the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. This ecological wonder beckons with hiking and biking trails and incredible beauty that extends all the way to the coast. For those who like to go to the ends of the Earth for a photo op, head due west to Cabo da Roca. This cape forms not only the westernmost point of Portugal, but all of Europe. The cliff rises over 400 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.
At the exact geographical coordinates, there's a sign inscribed with the following: Aqui, onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa... Or in English: Here, where the land ends and the sea begins...
So does your journey into coastal Portugal, with a Eurail Portugal Pass, of course.
Contributed by: Rachel, E-business Editor, who has experienced much more of Europe than she ever imagined, traveling by train.