The Pena Palace, or Palacio da Pena as it is known in Portugal, is perhaps one of the most iconic and best-known images of this enthralling country. Perched high on a hilltop above the romantic town of Sintra, the Pena Palace can be seen from as far away as Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, on a clear day, some thirty kilometres to the east.
Constructed some thirty years before the Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, it is not only the best but was also the first of its kind. Since 2007 it has been recognised as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and has won a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a must-visit destination on any traveller’s itinerary for their visit to Portugal.
The Palacio da Pena dates back to the Middle Ages when it took the form of a chapel perched high on the hill overlooking Sintra. It was adopted as something of a pilgrimage site destination and sanctuary by Portuguese rulers in the fifteenth century, first by King John II and later by King Manuel I, who had a monastery constructed on the site, though it was sadly all-but ruined in the devastating earthquake of 1755.
A study in design and architecture
It was King Ferdinand who brought new life to the estate in the nineteenth century when he transformed the ruins into the breath-taking and unique palace that stands on the site today, the first and greatest of its type in the world. The palace became a favourite retreat with several generations of the Portuguese royal family, who headed for the cool hills of Sintra each year to escape the heat during the peak summer months.
Following the 1910 Republican Revolution, the Palacio da Pena was opened to the public as a national museum and not surprisingly, quickly became one of the country’s most visited monuments. It is the beguiling combination of its history, architectural heritage, the sand and pastel colours of the exterior and its majestic position, emerging from the lush greenery and towering over the town and hills of Sintra, that make the palace such as must-see destination.
Lose yourself in the lush greenery
Once within its walls and grounds, visitors to the palace can delight in walking through the beautiful landscaped greenery, a maze of bridges, grottoes, pergolas and fountains punctuated by the heady sight and scents of thousands of flowering plants. Sweeping views make their way across the 200-hectare panorama of Pena Park, home to the most varied and unique combination of tree species in the European continent.
Whether you are touring the length and breadth of Portugal, visiting Lisbon for some urban culture or vacationing on the beautiful sandy shores of the Estoril coast, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Pena Palace, one of the country’s most iconic and photographed monuments.