Archaeological remains of a small hermitage have been unearthed on this site that dates back to the time of Christ. Other finds include a Necropolis made up of graves with a cistern dug directly into the living rock thought to originate from the 12th century. The site gained notoriety during the reign of King John III of Portugal (1521 - 1557). An apparition 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 in 1711. With financial assistance from King Dom Pedro II, the work was carried out by monks. Inscriptions inside the chapel on the grave of hermit Pedro da Conceição attribute his role in the chapel's construction.
Climbing the 448 metres over rough terrain and difficult access became an act of penance for hermit monks wishing to take refuge here. The families of sailors would pray here for the safe return of their loved ones. 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. The building remained a sanctuary for sheep when the chapel was utilised by farmers.
Within the old stone walls, there is 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 altar 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 church's interior is not always open to the public, but the terraces around the church are accessible all the time.
The former convent in the valley below, Convento São Saturnino, is now a hotel and offers a unique experience in an idyllic setting. Following an 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.
Dating from 1918 and crowning the Peninha peak is the Palace of Peninha. It was commissioned by the Portuguese entomologist and businessman António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. Monteiro also built the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra but sadly passed away before it could be completed. His intention was a smaller version of the Pena Palace. "Pena" means rocky outcrop whilst "Peninha" is its 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 the Romanticism style.
Sadly the works were never implemented. The 62-hectare estate was purchased by the Government in 1991 and is now under state management. In June 2017, plans were hatched to bring about the refurbishment of the buildings and find a use for the palace. Plans are in place on the lines of conservation and education, improvement of transport links with Sintra, Cascais and other nearby points of interest.
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, approximately 6km from Sintra, turn right onto the N9-1, signed to Malveira da Serra. Head along this road for about 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 400 metres, take a right at crossroads, then after a kilometre turn right at the T-junction after this continue straight on and uphill to the Peninha Chapel.