When you travel to Portugal, you MUST go see this place; Sintra.
It’s a little mountain village propped on the slopes of a steep hill (or a small mountain) with more castles and palaces than in any other area that small anywhere in the world.
They have national palaces, where royalty used to spend their Summers, and castles built by nobility and wealthy merchants from overseas. The amount of incredible architecture on this hill is indescribable.
After a quick round on Google we decided that the most interesting building, and thus the one that we wanted to see first, was the Quinta de Regaleira halfway up the hill. In addition to the extraordinary castle, the area boasts a dreamworld of a garden park spanning for kilometers around the main building.
This post is going to be a cascade of photos, because there was just too much to capture. And you still won’t get any sort of an idea of exactly how incredible this place is. The picture above is a good interpretation of my face all of the time there, I was in awe wherever I looked.
I will be covering a little bit of history, but bear with me, it’s not a lecture but more like a fairy tale because for heaven’s sake, this dude was interested in proper fairy tales; such as gods of the Ancient Greek and the Templar Knights.
Now, I’ll be honest with you, I’m going to be spilling all the secrets here. But it’s not so bad because it won’t lessen your enjoyment of the adventure if you end up going for this tour yourself. I mean, my words and photos can never give you an idea of what it feels like to descend to a well that’s whole purpose is to make you think you’re dying.
So, here goes the picture eruption known as
The Adventure of Quinta de Regaleira
Instead of just dumping all the pictures here, the control freak in me had to put them into some sort of an order. So, I decided to categorize this post into few main sights in the garden. But bare in mind that these really are just a very few things, and that there is an abundance more to see and experience.
Let’s start with the main attraction (although, if you take the tour, this will be the last leg of the journey). First up, what is a ‘Quinta’, you ask? It’s a Portuguese word for an estate. Woohoo, we’re all a little bit smarter again!
This beauty, also known as UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its surroundings were brought to their current state of awesomness in 1892 by a Brazilian lawyer and merchant, Carvalho Monteiro, who inherited a vast family fortune from his Portuguese parents.
Monteiro was really into alchemy, Masonry, and the Knights Templar, so he got together with an Italian architect, Luigi Manini, to create a magical park and palace reflecting his interests and ideologies. And what they created must have required at least some use of mushrooms of sorts, because it’s wild.
The palace itself consists of multiple styles; Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline infused with symbols and indications to Monteiro’s extraordinary interests with, of course, gargoyles and extremely decorative pinnacles on the outer facade.
Inside the rooms were surprisingly small but just as decorative as the outside. I would recommend you to direct your gaze up to the roof, because that’s where the most spectacular craftsmanship is displayed.
Monteiro was a pioneer of his time; he installed a heating system that was operated from underground and the system reached throughout the estate all the way to the small cottage at the other end of the estate. This meant that the beautiful fireplaces in the castle were actually never used, and are thus pristine and clean.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to go upstairs in the building that boasts altogether 5 floors, but that’s okay because the garden/park is actually the more intriguing feature of this estate.
The Secret Passageways
Throughout the park you will see little paths, half-hidden from view, leading away from the main paths. There are stairs leading into the wilderness, little walkways following the edge of a random tower and paths that lead to I wish I knew where.
I was so excited about every single path that I glimpsed, which tells me that I have maintained my childlike curiosity for all things secret passageways. I wanted to try all of them one by one to see where they ended up but since we were going around with a group, I couldn’t.
For me, it would be worth a trip back just to get to explore every single one of those secret paths!
The Initiation Well And Underground Tunnels
There is a web of underground tunnels snaking beneath the whole estate. The tunnels connect the two wells, that were not water sources, but paid homage to Tarot mysticism. There are multiple tunnels starting from both wells that lead to caves and various monuments scattered around the park area.
The Initiation Well is like a tower that, instead of going upwards, goes down into the ground. You climb down the 27-meter spiral staircase, which was designed according to exact numbers related to Tarot mysticism.
I was too busy running around, taking pictures to hear much more of the guide’s description of the construction, but I did hear that the point of the downward-going tower is that it’s a symbol of a descent to death. And then he said “So, let’s climb down!”
It didn’t actually feel like we were all about to walk into our deaths, but instead was bloody cool. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture, and what struck me the most was the fact that they actually had to build a hill into which they could sink this well.
Of course, this was easier than digging down through actual earth but it just makes you think “How much extra cash did this dude have?!” All the tunnels were apparently not dug, but built from scratch. Now, that’s dedication!
When you get to the bottom of the well you can choose which tunnel to follow. We followed our guide through the shortest way out to a tiny waterfall and a lake that had stepping stones for crossing purposes.
It’s a playground! It’s a brilliant, awesome, adult playground and I LOVE IT! After coming out I immediately wanted to go again. Except this time I wanted to choose another tunnel and see what kind of a funfair that ended to.
I’m seriously gutted we didn’t have time to stay and play more…
The Towers and Monuments
The estate sports dozens of towers with abundance of significance and meaning, most of which only the architect and Monteiro himself can know.
Some of the significance can be interpreted from the art point of view, but there is plenty of ideological and ritualistic symbolism involved that either hasn’t been discovered or the guides just don’t want to talk about them (because some of those Templar rituals sound gory, if you believe such things).
For example, it is known that Tarot rituals were carried out at the Initiation Well, but when asking more info about them, we didn’t get much of a response.
A lot of the monuments and towers are entrances to the caves that link back to the aforementioned Initiation Well. Such entrances exist, for example, in the Regaleira Chapel and in Leda’s Cave (picture of the marble statue holding a dove with a swan on her right), which lies underneath the Regaleira Tower.
So, there is an enormous amount of places to explore: paths to follow and grottoes to get lost in. And every time you climb up to a tower, you can also descend into the caves.
I would recommend the guide because they will be able to give you an image of all the symbolism that has gone into each and every single structure on the estate.
BUT going with a guide only shows you the main sights, whereas on your own you can go exploring all those extra places, grottoes, secret paths and the caves that the guide doesn’t take you to.
I can’t emphasize enough how awesome this place is! If you’re still in contact with that inner child you NEED to go here. It will fill all of your childhood dreams, which you perhaps weren’t able to fulfill because that little forest on your childhood home’s backyard wasn’t quite magical enough.
Actually, this place will go way beyond fulfilling your childhood playground dreams. If you’re following the ongoings of the world today, Mr. Monteiro, I’d like to thank you for creating this amazing playground for adults, it is a m a z i n g!
From many points around the estate you also have spectacular views over the hills and at the surrounding castles and palaces. For example, the medieval, Wall of China-resembling Castelo dos Mouros is well visible everywhere in Sintra because it’s propped on top of the hill (picture above).
In addition you can see the two white towers, that resemble Smurfs’ hats, of the National Palace of Sintra and its white, ascetic facade. You can easily walk there from Quinta de Regaleira, it’s just a short way down the road even if it may look like it’s far beyond the trees.
Behind the hill, and even higher than the Castelo dos Mouros, is the National Palace de Pena, which we visited the next day. That one also had an amazing playground park surrounding it, but the palace itself was also quite stunning.
So, if you’re into Disney-inspiring castles, stay tuned for next week’s travel post!