Easily meriting a day's exploration, Sintra, Portugal, offers castles, palaces, formal gardens and stately homes scattered about the green hills of the area. Located 15 mi/25 km northwest of Lisbon, Sintra is near some fine Atlantic beaches.

In the center of town, visit the huge Palacio Nacional de Sintra (royal palace), known for its splendid azulejos. Also drive or take a tour up to the nearby rocky hilltop to see the whimsical castle known as Palacio da Pena. Built in the 19th century as a private playground for Queen Maria II, it's an amazing—purists would say appalling—mixture of Gothic, Arabic and Renaissance architecture. (In its defense, there are good views from the top.)

An annual music festival is held in various parks, churches and palaces around Sintra in June and July. Several charming quintas (country mansions) in the region accept guests. The Hotel Palacio dos Seteais, where Lord Byron likened Sintra to an earthly paradise, is a luxurious alternative.

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