Pena Palace, Portugal

The Pena National Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits on a hill above the town of Sintra.  In fact, on a clear day, it can be seen from the city of Lisbon, about 18 miles away.  Not sure what drugs King Ferdinand II and architect Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege were on, but the palace is known for its wild colors (purple, pink, red, yellow) and gothic/moorish / baroque architecture – basically all over the place. It was completed between 1847 and 1854 as a summer house for Portugal’s royal family.  It is thought that the architect for the Pena Palace was inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, however, construction for  Neuschwanstein did not begin until 1869, years after the Pena was completed.

saya pena palace
Perched atop the whimsical Pena Palace

The town of Sintra is about a 30 minute train ride from Lisbon and can be easily done as a day trip (leave early if you want to also visit the Moorish Castle and the National Palace in Sintra).  After arriving by train in Sintra, the Pena Palace can be reached by bus, which is a good idea on the way up as it is a steep climb.  On the way down, stroll through the Pena Park which is a forested area surrounding the palace.

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Colorful Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Click here for information on all three sites.

The Gap of Dunloe, Ireland

The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass that was created by glacial ice millions of years ago.  Located on Ireland’s west coast, it is best accessed by staying overnight in the neighboring towns of either Killarney or Kenmare.  The Gap of Dunloe can be crossed by foot (a full day hike), horse and carriage, or car.  Cars are technically not allowed, but if you are already traveling through the mountain pass, you are unlikely to be stopped.  We drove through with a 4 door car with no issues.  Taking a pony trap is another option for those that do not have enough time to hike.

The valley, about 6 miles in length, is between the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and the Purple Mountains. There are five lakes, or loughs, that you will pass as you traverse the Gap- Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough. The River Loe connects the lakes to one another.

Gap of Dunloe

While visiting this area, you also should save at least half a day to drive the Ring of Kerry.  The west coast of Ireland is best reached from Shannon Airport (United has nonstop flights from Newark/NYC to Shannon).