FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Playtime in Sintra

Posted in Portugal, Sintra by folkestonejack on March 13, 2015

The second stop on our tour of Sintra brought us to Quinta da Regaleira, a six minute ride by bus from Monserrate.

Although the estate takes its name from the Baroness de Regaleira, who owned the property in the mid 19th century, it is most famous for the vision of a later owner, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, who is often referred to as Monteiro dos Milhões (Monteiro the millionaire) on account of the vast family fortune that he inherited and subsequently grew larger still.

Monteiro was responsible for a complete remodelling of the estate in a highly distinctive style. From the moment you enter the estate you cannot help but be struck by the most fantastical of gothic mansions standing in front of you, surrounded by an equally striking chapel and bridge. Beyond this, the park is filled with a wonderful collection of decorative delights. It is not hard to see why this place has been described as a millionaire’s playground!

Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira

The impact that the building has is testament to the talent of Italian set-designer and architect Luigi Manini (1848-1936) who not only delivered a highly unusual family home, but also dressed the landscape with all manner of follies which still have the capacity to delight visitors a century later.

The upper floors of the mansion are home to an exhibition about the unusual design of the building and the other buildings on the estate, drawing on the unusually rich collection of architrectural drawings that have survived in his Italian homeland. The exhibition also talks about other high profile projects that Manini worked on, such as the Palace of Buçaco, last palace of the Portuguese kings. On our visit we also found a cat rather sweetly curled up asleep on one of the warm display panels!

It seemed impossible that the interior of the villa could be anywhere near as striking as the exuberant exterior, but it manages to deliver just as many delightful surprises. The rooms on the first floor are the most incredible, drawing in elements inspired by the baroque, reniassance and manueline periods. The highlight is ‘the hunting room’ which demands your close inspection from floor to ceiling with the richness of its decoration.

The mansion at Quinta da Regaleira is not the only example of Manini’s work in Sintra. Other buildings include the Villa Sassetti, currently undergoing renovation, and the Chalet Relogio, currently in use as a guest house.

The spire of the chapel (with the mansion in the background)

The spire of the chapel (with the mansion in the background)

A wander around the grounds is a delight from start to finish, the quirky features ensuring a constant succession of gasps from adults turned into big kids. These include five underground tunnels (bring a torch!), a 27 metre deep underground tower (the initiatic well), an unfinished well, multiple towers, four grottos, three fountains, two lakes, a waterfall, a loggia, a chapel and a mini-fortress. It’s hard to convey the scale of this, but you start to get an idea when you look at the map of the estate.

Monteiro was buried in the Cemitério dos Prazeres, Lisbon, in a tomb designed by Luigi Manini. Although I did not get a chance to visit the cemetery, it sounds as though it is as striking a construction as any to be found in Quinta da Regaleira and equally laden with layers of symbolism.

Practicalities

Quinta da Regaleira can easily be reached by public transport (Scotturb bus 435) which takes five minutes from Sintra Railway station. If, like us, you visit Monserrate first you should pay close attention to the bus timetable as the gaps between services are quite varied – the shortest gap during the day is 20 minutes whereas the longest gap is 55 minutes. The ride from Monserrate takes six minutes. It is also possible to walk to Quinta da Regaleira from Sintra Railway Station in 20 minutes – it is just ten minutes walk further on from the Sintra National Palace.

The estate was purchased by the municipality of Sintra in 1997 and opened to the public in 1998 following extensive restoration work. The CulturSintra Foundation, which now looks after the site, has produced a rather wonderful map of the mansion and grounds showing the main routes through the park, although it can’t hope to include all of the small paths that thread through the grounds! You should be given a copy when you purchase your tickets.

You really need a reasonable amount of time to do this place any justice. Our visit lasted two and a half hours, which was sufficient time for us to have covered the grounds and the mansion in their entirety at a leisurely pace. We also stopped off at the small cafe on the site which serves up some tasty fare, including savoury croissants and custard tarts, with the additional benefit of a lovely garden terrace overlooking the mansion. There is a small bookshop close to the entrance which is open through the day, except for an hour or so at lunchtime.

Don't forget to take a torch!

Don’t forget to take a torch!

It is worth bringing a torch if you want to explore the tunnels – there is some strip lighting at the beginning of the tunnels, but no further than this. You can just about get away wiuthout a torch on the shorter stretches of tunnel, but not the long tunnel that runs from the Grotto of the East to the Initiatic Well.

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