The most magical place in Portugal: Quinta da Regaleira
Among all the attractions to see in Sintra, there’s one that is particularly mysterious and magical: Quinta da Regaleira. As with the others, it was born out of a residence for nobility and is now an Unesco World Heritage Site. The Regaleira viscounts were a wealthy family from Porto that had something quite unique in mind for their residence in Sintra. Magical indeed.
Unlike the more famous Palacio da Pena, Quinta da Regaleira is much less colorful, much more “hidden”, with way more mystic symbols, more subdued, less visible from afar (it’s on a side road from Sintra town among many trees). It’s less in your face and more a place to explore at your own pace.
I had the luck to get there on a late afternoon, with way less people around than usual, and exploring the palace and, especially, its park was an amazing experience, without much hurry from the crowd.
What’s to see in Quinta Da Regaleira
Plenty. More than in Palacio da Pena actually. The palace itself is small but the park can take you half a day to visit properly, which if you have the time I suggest you to do as it is a truly magical place, with few comparisons. It can be of great help to study this pdf map, to have an idea of the prettiest places and how to plan your visit.
Visit it late if you can, Quinta da Regaleira is open till 20:00 during summer months, so to avoid queueing too long and too many crowds. Luckily the park is huge so people disperse but some points are popular anyway.
First of all, the palace can be best seen at the end of the visit. After the ticket shop go right, upwards, following a path to Cycad and Portal of the Guardians, a sort of defensive fort built in the middle of the park, without actual defensive features. It only look like a fort but it has a grotto underneath and a vast space at the walls’ level, with 2 towers that can be climbed (amazing pictures to take from the top and while climbing on the spiral staircases).
From there most people would continue uphill, to reach the Initiatic Well, a 27 metres tall “subterranean tower” that can be climbed down with another spiral staircases, usually full of tourists trying to get a good picture from the top or bottom of the tower. It is the highlight of the whole Quinta da Regaleira and one of the most photogenic places in Portugal, if not Europe. If you have a camera here and not just a smartphone you will greatly improve your pictures as you will be able to shoot from the top to the bottom of the well more easily (unless you already have one of those phones with multiple, wide angle camera lenses).
From the well, a series of underground tunnels run for half the park, westward and southward, which you can walk for most of their length. Some lead nowhere and you will have to turn around, others lead to Leda’s Grotto, a small grotto with a white statue of Leda, or to the lake of the waterfall, another amazing place for pictures. Basically you will get out at the level of the lake, with the waterfall pouring water from above. Walking around the lake will require you to jump over stones in the water (somewhat slimy so watch out) and then up to a small bridge over the lake, which is another great place to admire the park and shoot as many pictures as you can. The connection between nature and the palace won’t be stronger than here.
Speaking of nature, there’s also a tiny Aquarium (with a few fishes in green water, barely visible) and a few more lakes/pools, with the occasional fountain. All around walls and decoration are made to match nature, with motifs of natural stones, wood, animals and fantastical creatures. The commixtion of nature and religion is a theme that is noticeable in Quinta da Regaleira, as it is claimed most of the structures in the park were used for masonic initiation rites. Definitely there’s a religious aspect to it all, with references to ancient mythologies but also a deliciously-looking small chapel near the palace, all white, gothic but with the modified naturalistic style so popular in Portugal in the 16th century. Definitely the chapel doesn’t look out of place.
The Palace of Quinta da Regaleira
The Palace itself is smaller than you’d expect, most of the efforts of the architects were focused on creating a magical park. Yet, it is in the same style of the Palacio da Pena, with references to the animal world, hunting, mythology and gothic architecture. Much whiter and shorter, don’t expect to have colorful pictures as in Palacio da Pena. Instead, get ready to admire a five floors nobility’s 19th century residence, with large halls, plenty of staircases, bedrooms and a quirky sense of beauty.
There are no great views to be had from the palace of Quinta da Regaleira. There’s at most a balcony overlooking part of the park at the very end of the visit, which is nice but nowhere comparable to the dramatic views of the higher palaces in Sintra, Palacio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros. The Quinta is a much more intimate and to be explored place and the palace in it reflects the feeling of it all.
An integral part of every trip to Sintra
I know tourists that skipped Quinta da Regaleira. Don’t make the same mistake, the place is truly magical and immersed in nature, more so than any other place in and around Sintra. Even if you aren’t interested in the culture, art or history of it, just wandering around the trees, plants and plenty of water sources of the park will repay you of the time spent here.
Do take the bus 435 to Quinta da Regaleira stop or walk to it from Sintra town itself (not a short route but a shadowy one along the border of the town amid parks on both sides of the road). You won’t regret it and come back home with the memory of a magical place.
Have you been to Quinta da Regaleira? What did you like the most of it?