The world is full of beautiful things and places to explore, but every now and then you discover somewhere that resonates so strongly with you that it simply fills you with awe. I didn’t really know much about Sintra, a historic town in the hills surrounding Lisbon, before I spent a day there. Reading online it seemed like the most popular trip out from the city, and while I was only away for a long weekend it was my first time in Portugal and I wanted to fit in as much as possible – but nothing, not even the impressiveness of the Google image results and visitor reviews really prepared me for how much I loved Sintra. The town is effectively a collection of elaborate Palaces and Mansions, and amongst the regal fairytale backdrop Quinta de Regaleira is the dark but alluring villain, a gothic and ornate estate filled with tricks and illusions at every turn.
The estate itself dates back a few centuries, but it was under the ownership of eccentric millionaire António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, and using the skills of architect Luigi Manini that the ornate features, and grotto laden garden were developed. The main building spirals out of the ground with turrets and gothic swirls. There is an enchanting veranda along the front of the palace showcases subtle tiling and ironwork while looking over the front facing lawn where visitors first approach.
Next to the main building is a terrace hosting the site’s cafe and dining options. After a hectic day this was my first chance to sit down and grab a quick bite to eat in the form of a spinach pastry and a strong latte. The estate has a few cats wandering around who are eager to nudge your legs in the hope of a discarded nibble.
The main building is just the tip of the iceberg at Quinta da Regaleira – the grounds are extensive and filled with treasures and surprises. Zig-zagging unevenly across the hillside, the pathways in the gardens purposely confuse visitors and lead them to new discoveries. Turrets and watchtowers dot the landscape – staircases lead into walls and dark corners, resulting in amazing views and different levels.
Among the features of the estate are multiple grottos, water features and fountains, sculptures and small buildings including a tiny chapel.
One of the stand out elements of the estate is the use of secretive tunnels through the hillside, leading visitors to the Initiation Wells, underground towers lined with stairs. The design is thought to be inspired by Tarot mysticism, with the experience of walking up the staircases being surreal and slightly unnerving.
My only disappointment with Quinta da Regaleira was with myself – I didn’t get time to pace myself, explore every corner of the estate, a be able to relax and take the whole experience in.
For anyone visiting Lisbon, Sintra is an experience not to be missed and I know I will be back as soon as I can.