by Bill Reed / (c) 2010, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
The Mountain of the Moon gives tourists art, history and a fantastic view from this Portuguese town on the edge of Europe
Eccentric millionaire Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro would have gotten a good laugh.
We're exploring the mystical grounds of his romantic Quinta da Regaleira mansion, inching through pitch-black tunnels, climbing medieval-like turrets, and traipsing along serpentine paths.
The Mountain of the Moon
Carvalho Monteiro definitely captured the spirit of this magical town only 19 miles northwest of Lisbon, where Portugal's kings and aristocrats once spent their summers and tourists now flock on holiday. The Romans called Sintra "The Mountain of the Moon," and we recognize we're in another world as we take the scenic 20-minute walk from the train station to town. Pieces of modern art lining a park greet us, and we glimpse two towering white cones peeking through the trees. They are the distinctive chimneys of the National Palace, which dominates the historic town center.
We have the National Palace to ourselves as we wander through the 16 rooms, chapel, patios and squares built mostly in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Interior walls are decorated with various styles of tiles and m osaics, including what is said to be the most extensive collection of Mudejar azulejos, or Spanish colored and glazed tiles, in the country. We marvel at the breathtaking ceilings, which also tell some of the palace's most colorful tales.
The dome in the Coat-of-Arms Room displays the em blem s of all of Portugal's royal families, except for the one that had planned a revolt.
After touring the palace, we settle at a bistro table for a late-afternoon snack. The crowds are thinning, but the shops are still selling, a street performer is dancing on a corner and the palace is reflecting the w aning sunlight.
As we walk back to our apartment, the fresh late-night air feels the same comfortable 68 degrees it's been all day and would be the next day, perfect for exploring the hills of Sintra.