When visiting Lisbon in Portugal make sure you also will visit the close by town of Sintra. This place has several palaces and castles more then worth giving a visit. Maybe the most eccentric of all is Quinta da Regaleira with its castle like buildings, beautiful gardens, the famous initiation well and caves.
The place we now know as Quinta de Regaleira was bought by António Auguto Carvalho Monteiro in 1893 through auction from the Viscountes of Regaleira. Back then this was not more than a 4 hectare piece of land with an elegant summer retreat and a small chappel which Carvalho Monteiro could buy for the price of 25.000 réis. Back then the réis was the currency of Portugal which stayed the currency to 1911 when it was exchanged for the Escudo. Carvalho Monteiro wanted to convert this place in an mystical and intriguing place that would be a reflection of his ideologies, his fantasies and his interests. To achieve this goals Carvalho Monteiro hired the architect Henri Lusseau to design the gardens and palace. The designs weren't as desired so non of these plans were executed. So in 1898 Carvalho Monteiro hired theItalian architect named Luigi Manini. After years of designing the real construction started in 1904 and in the year 1910 it finally was completed.
The most important building on the property is the Regaleira Palace. This building was the summer residence of the Carvalho Monteiro family. The facades of the building as well as the towers are constructed in gothic styling. The palace is decorated with gargoyles. At the second floor you'll see the eccentric octagonal turret with on top of it the panoramic terrace. This panoramic terrace is decorated with several figures of which some were fantasy characters and others persons of persons that existed like the Portuguese poet Luis de Camões.
The smallest and highest tower on the palace is a small turret from which there is a panoramic view all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and on the surrounding areas and the hills of Sintra. On the top of this turret you can see a weather-vane with the religious cross of the Order of Christ. At this same level was the private study room of António Carvalho Monteiro from where he had access to a small laboratory and to the several terraces.
On the first level were several bedrooms for the family included the main bedroom for the owner as well as an open study room for the family. The most important floor of the Regaleira Palace was the main floor at ground level where the Renaissance Hall was decorated in the Italian renaissance style. Another quite absurd room at this level was called the hunting room, which actually was the dining room. The most decorative part of this room is the huge fireplace that supports a statue of a lumberer. Also you will see beautiful carvings of several hunting scenes of which originated the name hunting room. Also the Venetian mosaic floor and carved ceiling are very impressive.
Finally there were two floors situated under the main level that had a huge kitchen, scullery and the dormitory for the servants.
Probably the most famous part of the site of Quinta de Regaleira are the initiation wells. Normally you'll think of a well as a place for retrieving water. Though these wells here never served as a water source. The purpose of these wells was to use them for ceremonials including tarot initiation rites. Hence the name initiation wells.
We talk in plurals because there is not 1 but 2 wells on the terrain. Though one of the wells never finished the construction. The one that is finished is very impressive. It can be best subscribed as an inverse tower that reaches down to 27 meters into the earth.
The wells are possible to access through many ways. The most impressive one is to enter through the Portal of the Guardians. A building with two towers, a pavilion in front of it and a kind of fountain in the center. From here you can access the short tunnel that will bring you to the main well.
Small stairways circle around the well to the bottom or completely up. The walls of the wells are covered with mosses which gives the place an even more mystical appearance. From the bottom you will see the bright sky which tends to give you the connection between earth and heaven. At least... that was the intention of it.
Underneath the gardens of the property is an extensive tunnel system connecting places. These tunnels for example connects the two wells and small artificial lakes and waterfalls. The tunnels do have light so it is interesting to roam around a bit. And don't be afraid of bats... too many people pass here having lots of bats in the tunnels system.
As if the palace, the well and the tunnels weren't impressive enough you surely also will be impressed by the garden of Quinta de Regaleira. Beautiful landscaped gardens with a big diversity of trees, shrubs and flowers could almost classify it as a botanical garden as well. One of the interesting places is the promenade of the gods which has several statues of the classical gods like Hermes, Venus, Orpheus, Flora and Ceres.
Also in the garden you will find the chapel that just like the palace is build in Manueline style. The chapel has a collection of illustrations representing the life of Christ and the life of Mary. And like in many places of the Quinta de Regaleira you also will find symbols here of the Order of Christ, the Order of Templars. Through the chapels tunnels there is a connection between the chapel and the palace.
Who was António Carvalho Monteiro
Mr. Carvalho Monteiro was a entomologist, a person who studies insects, who also had a huge interest in cultures and religions. The latter resulted in all the influences of iconography and mysterious symbols you can find the the Quinta de Regaleira. He didn't spare any costs for building this masterpiece, which in his case wasn't a problem at all. He was born in 1848 in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Portuguese parents. He inherited a fortune from his family. He also was a successful coffee farmer among other things.
He moved to Portugal to get a degree in Law from the University of Coimbra and after his study he didn't return to Brazil but build his life in Portugal. Where he remained until his dead in 1920. The architect Luigi Manini who build his Quinta de Regaleira also built his tomb which can be found at the Cemitério de Prazeres in Lisbon (reachable with the famous tram number 28)
An interesting fact is that the door of his tomb can be opened with the same key that gave access to the Palacio de Regaleira as well as his palace in Lisbon.
Who was Luigi Manini
Luigi Manini was born in 1848 in Crema in Italy. He became a not so famous architect until he designed the Quinta de Regaleira for Carvalho Monteiro. Besides architect he was a painter and stage designer and he made sets for famous opera's like Aida and Otello. Two years after Carvalho Monteiro died he returned to Brescia in Italy where he died in 1936.
How to get there?
When going to Sintra a visit to the Quinta de Regaleira is an absolute must. It is quite easy to get here. Direct trains to Sintra leave from the Rossio train station in the center of Lisbon. It will take roughly around 40 to 45 minutes to get there. You can't miss the station because it will be the final station on this track. And going back to Lisbon is easy as well because also Rossio will be the final station.
The Quinta de Regaleira is situated about 10 minutes walking from the historical center. The distance between the historical center and the train station is about 15 minutes walking. The walk from the station up to the Quinta is relatively flat. If you don't feel like walking you can take the tuctuc taxi's from the station. At the moment of writing this article the price of going there will be 5 Euro per person.
Good thing to keep in mind is that every transport in Sintra by tuctuc is 5 Euro per person per ride no matter the distance as long as it is within Sintra. So someother must see places in Sintra are on top of the mountain. Going there by tuctuc is also just 5 Euro per person.
When should i go?
Well... like mentioned before Sintra is absolutely a place you shouldn't miss. Though there are many people very aware of this. So going there during high season you can expect thousands of people and big tour groups. Best times to go to Sintra and the Quinta are outside the busy holiday seasons. Good months can be November, early December (not during Christmas holidays), the end of January and February.
The Quinta de Regaleira will open at 10:00 in the morning. So being here as early as possible, and then heading directly to the initiation well, will give you the best chance to take pictures of this amazing place without to many other tourist on the shot. In January, November and December last entry will be at 17:00 and it closes at 17:30. In February, March and October the last entry will be at 18:00 and it closes at 18:30. From April to September the last entry will be at 19:00 and will close at 20:00. But keep in mind that you will need more than 30 or 60 minutes to visit this place. Calculate at least 3 hours for a decent visit.
Entrance fees at moment of writing were 6 Euro for adults aged 18 up to 64. Children from 6 to 17 years and also seniors from 65 to 79 will pay only 4 Euro. For 80 years or older the entrance will be absolutely free.
Should i take a local guide?
When arriving at the trainstation also local guides will be waiting to find costumers to take you around in Sintra. If you want to use their services it totally up to you. With a local guide you will be able to get more information about this unique place. Though at several sites like the Quinta de Regaleira there are also guided tours at preset times. Though... these tours can be extremely crowded during high season. If you decide to take a local guide be sure that you have an agreement about the tours and the places to visit.
Get the Lisboa card
If you stay a couple of days in Lisbon as well you can think about purchasing the Lisboa card. This card will give you a 20% discount on the entrance fee of the Quinta. But also will give you discount or even free entrances on many other places. For example you can enter the Torre de Belem in Lisbon for free. Also transport by metro, tram or train in Lisbon and towards Sintra are totally free. You can buy them for several days.
More information about the card is available on the official website;
What else should i visit in Sintra?
Like mentioned before there are many places to visit in Sintra. Besides the must see Quinta you surely should visit the impressive Palacio de Pena and the Castelo de Mouros. The Palacio is very eccentric and colorful and the Moorish castle will bring you back to the medieval period. Both places give you a breathtaking view of the surrounding areas. At least.. if it is not clouded. When clouded both places tend to disappear in the clouds.
Also the Palacio de Monserrate, the Palace of Sintra, the historical center and the Villa Sassetti are interesting places to go. Though visiting all these places at one day is like impossible. So our top three is 1. Quinta de Regaleira 2. Palacio de Pena 3. Castelo de Mouros.
Suggestions what to eat?
Well, as Lisbon has the world famous Pastels de Belem, in Sintra you can find the Queijadas de Sintra. Maybe the name translates best as the cheesecakes of Sintra it surely aren't cheesecakes like we know them. These also are pastels but filled with cheese, cinnamon, sugar and egg. They are easy to find in the pastry shops and surely worth trying.
In the old center of Sintra you will find sufficient restaurants to satisfy your daily stomach needs. There are plenty of choices of everybody's taste. Also typical Portuguese recipes can be found.
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