Archaeological discoveries of a small hermitage have been unearthed on this site which date back to the first centuries AD along with a necropolis made up of graves and a cistern dug directly into the living rock thought to originate from the 12th century. The site gained notoriety when, during the rule of King John III of Portugal (1521 - 1557), an aperation of the Virgin Mary appeared to a young shepherdess. Following a few thwarted attempts soon after the vision, the second religious building at Peninha, the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Penha, was finally completed by monks, with financial assistance from King Dom Pedro II, in 1711. There are inscriptions inside the chapel on the 1726 grave of the hermit, Pedro da Conceição, which attribute his role in the construction of the chapel. At it's altitude of 448 metres and the difficulty of access to the site visiting the hermitage became an act of penance as well as a refuge for hermit monks. The families of sailors would prey here for the safe return of their loved one, returning ships could be sighted from this vantage point up to 50 kilometres away. The last monk left here in 1834 following the dissolution of the monasteries however the building remained a sanctuary for sheep when the chapel was utilised by farmers.
Within the old stone walls there are an excellent example of Portuguese baroque architecture. Each wall is entirely adorned with blue azulejo tiles with scenes representing the life of the Virgin Mary, along with portrayals of the Pentecost and Jesus's childhood. The alter is framed by spiral columns and decorated with a Florentine mosaic. Inscribed on the pulpit are the names and messages of pilgrims who have visited this place. The interior of the church is not always open to the public however the terraces around the church are accessible all the time.
The former convent in the valley bellow, Convento São Saturnino, is now a hotel and offers an unique experience in an idyllic setting. Following extensive restoration it first opened its doors to guests in 2005 yet retains much of the original features. Staying here is a true escape from modern day living, don't come here expecting a mobile phone signal.
Crowning the peak of the Peninha hill is the Palace of Peninha which dates back to 1918 and was commissioned by the Portuguese entomologist and businessman António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, who also built the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra who sadly passed away before it could be completed. His intention was to build a smaller version of the Pena Palace. "Pena" means rocky outcrop whilst "Peninha" is it's diminutive. On his death the property was sold to Dr. José Maria Ferreira Rangel de Sampaio who requested an architect to prepare designs to complete the work of the palace following on the Romanticism style.
However these works were never implemented and the 62 hectare estate was purchased by the Government in 1991 and was placed under the management of the Portuguese Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests. In June 2017 plans were hatched to bring about refurbishment of the buildings, find a use for the palace on the lines of conservation and education, improve transport links with Sintra, Cascais and other near-by places of interest such as the Anta de Adrenunes, the Convent of the Capuchos, and Cabo da Roca.
The Sanctuary of Peninha (Santuário da Peninha) is close to the town of Malveira da Serra part way between Sintra and Cascais. From Sintra head south along the N9 towards Cascais, at approximately 3.5 miles (6km) from Sintra turn right onto the N9-1 which is signed to Malveira da Serra. Head along this road for approximately 4 miles (7km), just before the village, turn right on to Caminho dos Fetos a narrow but paved road. The journey is a further 1.5 miles (2.5km) along this road; after 400m take a right at crossroads, then after half a mile turn right at the T-junction after this continue straight on and uphill to the Peninha Chapel.