The real princess castle

The real princess castle

We resisted for so long. 
As soon as we found out we were having a girl, the pink clothes started to show up. 
Baby pink. Bubblegum pink. Ballerina pink. Barbie pink. 
And every single one ended up in the emergency ‘if she throws up or pees on everything else then she can wear this’ bag in the back of the wardrobe, as we cheerfully creative directed her in all things unisex.
Olivia decided to like purple. Her third birthday was a purple party, a blaze of beetroot hummus and violet lametta. This was excellent news. It was our answer to pink. My God, we embraced purple. 

But then came nursery. And other girls. And every cliché sprang to life and suddenly it was all about pink and fairies and princesses. 

If you ask us though, there’s always a different approach. And kids can be remarkably open to them. So we’ve decided to tackle the princess castle obsession by taking her to real castles.

We’ve eaten picnics in front of Leeds castle and run through ancient water mazes at Hever Castle. And so when we hit Lisbon, we did the obvious and put Sintra on our wishlist. A surreal landscape of technicolor castles and towers fit for Rapunzel in the hills an hour from the capital, UNESCO-classified Sintra has become one of Portugal’s biggest tourist attractions. To say Olivia was excited was an understatement. After three days of her yelling “FAIRYPRINCESSCASTLE!” into our ears at random, we got on the train. 

She told us very proudly that she had brought two euros from her piggy bank in London so that she could buy herself something from the shop in ‘fairy princess castle world’, which is the kind of thing that a) makes my heart melt a bit, b) realise that she’s growing up fast and c) sends me into a quiet panic that she’s actually expecting Disneyland.


We spent the journey trying to gently manage expectations, making sure she was aware that there are no rides, there may well be no shop, or live princesses for that matter. But we were wrong to worry. She knew exactly what she was in for. 

We should mention that every photo we’d seen of Sintra showed the palaces basking in balmy sunlight. This day was the polar opposite, the one day of lousy weather on our trip, full of mist and half-hearted drizzle. We made our way through the crowds of confused tourists congregating outside the Pizza Hut, clutching their selfie sticks like comfort blankets and jumped into the nearest tuk-tuk up to the mountains. It was bloody freezing. We were effectively in a cloud. She loved it.

As we emerged, shivering outside the grand 19th century Pena Palace, our daughter showed no signs of waning enthusiasm. We paid the hefty entrance tickets, triple checking that she wanted to see it. She did. Fine.

Now I’ll be honest. We’re very avid travellers. We love new places, new food, new cultures, new people. We’re not incredibly good at historical monuments. We have been known to have a quick look around, decide we've done it and head for lunch. Our daughter, not so much. She was fascinated.

She insisted on us reading every label to her, devouring the tales of King Ferdinand and Queen Amélia, analysing their taste in interior decor and posing under the Moorish arches. We probably learned more in that visit than any in recent memory, thanks to her.

And finally, happily, at the end of it all, there was a shop. And of all the tasteful things available, she chose the pink sparkly princess mirror. So it tuns out you can have it all.