In lovely Sintra, it’s not just romance that’s in the air… but fairytale castles that seemingly rise above the clouds.

With rolling hills, lush flora and fauna, and only an eighteen mile drive from Lisbon, the picturesque beachside town of Sintra has long been a retreat for royalty, nobility, locals and tourists alike.

The love affair with Sintra started long before the English Romantic poet Lord Byron dubbed it a “Glorious Eden” in his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and “perhaps the most delightful village in all Europe.” Longer still before another English Romantic poet called it “the most blessed spot on the whole inhabitable globe,” and at least as far back as when it was under Roman rule. The enamoured Romans named the town “Cynthia,” after the goddess of the moon.

In the 19th century, King consort Ferdinand II fell in love with the lands as well and helped to usher in an era of exquisite and grand parties as many others soon followed, building their own extravagant estates. Even though the royal family considered the castle more of a royal retreat, it was hard for nobility not to want their own home in paradise. After all, on a clear day the castle can be seen from Lisbon.

Built on the spot of a ruined monastery (which, according to legend, occurred after an apparition of the Virgin Mary), the King’s Castelo da Pena would become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and one of the most stunning examples of Romantic architectonic style. Many have called this a prototype of Germany’s Neuschwanstein castle, which in turn inspired Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle.

Also known as the Pena Palace or the Palacio da Pena, the castle is a colourful blend of styles in accordance with the taste of Romanticism. These include Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance. Other prominent Portuguese buildings such as Belem Tower can also be spotted. Its extravagant exterior includes an enveloping wall, drawbridge, clock tower, the restored old convent from the Middle Ages, Moorish arches, gargoyles and a conglomeration of bastions, turrets, ramparts and domes.

Surrounding the palace is also a stunning garden -- 200 hectares of forested walkways, beautiful vistas and hidden paths -- with over 500 species of trees originating from the former colonies of the Portuguese empire. The garden is dotted with plenty of lovely fountains, statues, pergolas, grottoes, bridges and ponds.

Inside, find a spacious ballroom, 16th century altarpiece, delicately carved ceilings and walls, antiques and exotic woodwork.

The surrounding town is quite lovely as well, with wonderful shops, cafés, restaurants and museums to be explored.

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