If someone were to ask me: What is the Quinta da Regaleira? I’d have a really hard time coming up with a short answer. In fact, it can only really be summed up through multiple pictures and an entire blog post! So here it is.
The Quinta da Regaleira is basically a mansion and its surrounding grounds situated in the mountains above a village called Sintra, in Portugal.
I first heard about Sintra when reading something about J.K. Rowling. If I remember correctly, she was describing all the things that inspired her when creating the world of Harry Potter, and one of them was Sintra. I had no idea what Sintra would actually be like, but I knew that if it had inspired one of my favorite fictional worlds, then visiting it would be worth my while.
Since reading that article, I forgot about Sintra, but as Portugal rose in popularity over the last few years as the coolest, newest travel destination, I saw more and more images pop up into my Instagram and Pinterest feeds featuring this amazing, mysterious garden with moss-covered ponds and a deep, dark spiral staircase that descended into the earth but opened up to the sky. I found out later after doing some research that the place I had seen magical little glimpses of was in fact the Quinta da Regaleira (don’t ask me to pronounce that).
The Quinta da Regaleira was once just a fancy summer home, but around 1893, it was purchased by a very wealthy man named António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, who was so wealthy, in fact, that he earned the nickname “Moneybags Monteiro.” He was an avid art collector and had a somewhat bizarre set of spiritual quirks, which are reflected in the many additions he made to the property, most notably the extensive gardens, filled with what the French call “folies,” or decorative constructions that serve an aesthetic and poetic function in Romantic English-style gardens, not unlike the Belvedere and man-made waterfall in Marie Antoinette’s garden in Versailles, or the many faux Roman ruins scattered around the Parc Monceau in Paris.
From a stony grotto shaded by trickling waterfalls, precarious stepping stones over a thickly moss-covered pond, winding stone stairways through the bushes, little watch towers, rows of statues, and even a network of underground tunnels, the Quinta da Regaleira was one surprise after another, and you could easily get lost. In fact, when I was inside the underground tunnels, it was so dark that I literally did get lost – they didn’t even have lights in the tunnels! It was actually kinda creepy.
To top it all off, a thick layer of fog covered the entire estate, making it all the more mysterious, although admittedly that much trickier to document, since there was a constant mist making my clothes and camera damp.
Moneybags Monteiro hired a theater set designer to create all these fantastical features throughout the garden, and I could easily imagine each and every corner of this place as a backdrop for an otherworldly performance – particularly A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
These designs weren’t completely random, however. Symbols and references to the Templars, Freemasons, and Alchemy abound. The deep well/spiral staircase, dubbed officially the “Initiation Well”, that descends into the earth, then branches off into underground pathways, related to the Alchemy of air and dirt, light and dark, but it also symbolized something about Freemason rituals and Dante’s Inferno… The layers upon layers of symbolism are ridiculously convoluted, but what I can say for sure is that there’s no other place on earth quite like it.
It was really difficult to take a picture of the Initiation Well, since it had such intense contrast between light and dark, not to mention the constant water drops falling down, threatening my pristine lens.
One last thing I will say is this: Even though the visuals of the Quinta da Regaleira were incredibly beautiful and mysterious, it is still a major tourist attraction. When I visited, despite it being December, there were so many other people around me that their presence broke the spell a little. That’s just the reality of tourism though! Just don’t expect to have the place to yourself when you visit.