Where We Be
National Palace -- Sintra, Portugal
The National Palace was the summer home of
Portuguese royalty from the early 15th to the
late 19th centuries. It is the best preserved
medieval royal residence in Portugal and is a
UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its distinguishing
exterior features are the two huge conical
white chimneys leading up from the kitchen,
which dominate the town's skyline.

While most of Sintra's blockbuster sights are
situated outside of town in the surrounding
hills, the National Palace is located right in the
historic center. This makes it a good place to
visit on your first day. We dropped by in the late
afternoon when most other tourists had left. It
took us about two hours to see the palace and
gardens. Although less dramatically over-the-  
top than some of the other sites in Sintra, the
National Palace is definitely worth a visit for its
historic riches and its feeling of having been
well and truly lived in by Portuguese royalty.
The National Palace as seen from across the valley on the walk from
Sintra train station. Its twin conical towers dominate the town's skyline.
Two enormous chimneys rise some 100 feet (33 m) over
the kitchen. This is what one looks like from the inside.
The kitchen is massive and stark: it was sized
to handle large-scale hunting banquets
The palace gardens are worth a quick peek -- you too can have
your picture taken in front of this lion with his cartoonish grin
King Manuel I (1497-1530) was primarily responsible for the palace's interior decoration. He
had many of the ceilings painted with unusual frescoes, as in the Magpie Room shown here.
Blazens Hall (Sala dos Brazoes) is one of the most elaborate rooms in the
palace with its domed ceiling painted with coats of arms and horse imagery
All along the walls of Blazons Hal are ceramic blue and white
tiles depicting scenes of hunting, dancing, and daily life
Mad king Alfonso VI was confined to
this bedchamber-prison for nine years
Other aspects of the decor were more in line with our expectations -- but you'll
see plenty of examples of quirkiness and whimsy at Sintra's other palaces
We weren't quite sure what to make of this painting of
John the Baptist by Francesco Francia (1450-1517)
Portuguese royals seem to have had
quirky taste when it came to decor
The Swan Room (Sala dos Cisnes) was the original Grand Hall of King Joao I.
Note how the swans all wear a royal crown upside down around their necks.
Posted signs explain what you're seeing in the different rooms, so you can go at your own pace --
and if you go early in the morning or late in the day, you'll have the place almost to yourself
The terraces offer great views of
the chimneys and surrounding town