A magical mystery land of caves and caverns, wells and waterfalls, grottoes and turrets and towers - oh, and a massive palace - Quinta da Regaleira is a little bit like Disneyland, if Disneyland got dark and edgy.
The personal playground of a 20th-century millionaire obsessed with signs and symbols, this imposing house is less than an hour’s drive from Lisbon. Set on the outskirts of the stunning Sintra-Cascais National Park, a few hours spent here is guaranteed to bring out the Indiana Jones in you.
When António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, an eccentric entomologist better known as "Monteiro the Millionaire", inherited a huge family fortune, he decided to build a palace that reflected his personal interests. After purchasing the land from Portuguese nobility, he hired Italian architect Luigi Manini to help him realise his vision; the result was a four-hectare estate that looks so much like a film set, it’s kind of hard to believe anyone could actually live there.
But live here he did, right up until 1942, when it was sold to Waldemar d'Orey, who also used the palace as a private family residence. In 1997 Sintra Town Council decided to buy the property, and the site is now classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, owing to its importance in the cultural landscape of Sintra.
The House: From the outside, Quinta da Regaleira is everything you'd imagine Cinderella’s castle to be. Taking Gothic architecture as an inspiration, it is dripping in detail, with faces peering back at you, twisting turrets and balconies rising above it, and even a huge octagonal tower. Despite only being built a century ago, a gathering of medieval knights wouldn't look out of place stood alongside it.
Step inside, and you’ll find that the interior is only marginally less gaudy. Spread over five floors, there are living quarters including a billiards room, a hunting room and Monteiro's private office, all lavishly decorated in much the same flamboyant style.
The Chapel: While the private chapel at Quinta da Regaleira may be tiny, the amount of effort that has gone into creating it is clearly anything but. Pure white and adorned with intricate carvings, it’s fitted with bright stained glass windows, elaborate woodwork and a wildly ornate floor. True to form, there are icons and symbols from many different religions and organisations built into its decor - see how many you can spot!
The Gardens: It’s in the grounds that Quinta da Regaleira really comes to life, with a mixture of lush formal gardens and overgrown trails through dense woodland. Particularly popular with children, there are nooks and crannies to discover around every bend, cave and waterfall, plus the fanciest benches you’ll ever sit on. Set aside a few hours just to explore the gardens and let your inner child roam free.
The Initiation Wells: These two wells, which are lined with steps, are some of the most famous features of Quinta da Regaleira’s gardens. It is believed that they never actually held water and were most likely used for ceremonial rituals, owing to the fact that they are decorated with tarot and masonic symbolism, and lead down to a secret grotto. Exactly what went on down there, we’ll never know.
The Tunnels: If the huge house and extensive gardens weren’t enough to keep you occupied, the whole park is also littered with a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels that stretch into the chapel, various grottoes that link up to a whole underground cave system. Anyone playing hide and seek here is in for a very long game.
Bring a flashlight for exploring those dark tunnels
Get there early as it does get very busy; it’s harder to immersive yourself in nature when there’s someone taking a selfie next to you.
Sensible shoes are a must
Sintra’s Pena Palace, a 19th-century Romanticist castle that is listed as one of the seven wonders of Portugal is roughly a 30-minute car journey away.
January 1st to March 31st
April 1st to September 30th
October 1st to December 31st
Unaccompanied visit to Quinta da Regaleira
Rua Barbosa do Bocage