Unfortunately, we had another early morning to get to Sintra from Porto.
Heading back to the train station, we hopped on and headed to the capitol Lisbon, where we would get onto a different train to go to Sintra, which is technically considered a suburb of Lisbon.
I slept great the night before in Porto, so I was awake and alert the whole time on the trains. Which was a good thing for us because if I hadn’t been, we would have missed our stop to switch trains! (Heather and Jess took a siesta on the train… sleepy heads)
The ride to Sintra from Lisbon was about another 20 minutes, and we stopped at the cutest little Train station, that literally looked right out of a Wes Anderson movie.
In fact, the whole city could be in a Wes Anderson movie; I was immediately in love with it all! The darling houses lining the Main Street (which there is only really one main road…) were all SO adorable! I found my dream house that I legit would want to move into!
We walked just one block to where our Airbnb was, and we were met by our hostess. She was VERY talkative! She spoke fairly great English, and it was clear immediately she was a hugger. Also, she watched me pour a packet of crystal light into my water bottle (for caffeine) and she told me “Americans drink too much sugar! Why are you adding sugar to your water?” I mean.. she has a point!
She showed us our apartment, which was by far the oddest place I have ever stayed before. The first open room off the front door was the small kitchen and then a small full bathroom. The decors of the place was an overwhelming mixture of hippie/psychadelic mixed with honestly just some weird stuff. There was a giant hanging mural of a neon colored zebra right by the front door, and a beaded overhang on the door to the kitchen. (It gets weirder…)
The next room down the hallway was my bedroom, which apparently was supposed to be some kind of sitting room and not in fact, a bedroom. The bed was up on these strange stilts in the middle of the room, and all the walls were lined with waist high shelves. These shelves were covered with random trinkets, like seashells, dolphin statues, and some random pictures of Hindu-esque elephants and psychedelic patterns.
The next room was a “game room” as our hostess called it. Instead of having a tv in the place, she preferred her guests to interact and talk to one another. There were an assortment of card games and some books in there, none of which any of us even touched on our 24 hour stay.
Finally was the back room, which was a full private bedroom with another full bathroom. This was where Heather and Jess slept, with a big canopy queen size bed, and a random hammock hanging on the wall. There was also a strange tapestry of a smiling sun hanging above the bed on the ceiling, which Heather commented she felt like was staring at her when she was laying down.
As our hostess left us she told us in her slightly broken English to “make the most of your days, and remember as many memories as you can, because memories are what you take with you and what keep you going.”
After our hostess left we realized with slight panic that we only had about 2 hours before theQuinta da Regaleira closed! There are several palaces in Sintra, but we decided upon this one specifically, because of its’ uniqueness of the house itself, and the grounds (which include an underground labyrinth!)
We only had that day in Sintra, so much to Jess’ dismay we basically speed-walked uphill to the mansion. From our Airbnb right by the train station to the estate, it was a brisk and very steep 2.6 km (1.7 mi) uphill climb. It took us about 20 minutes to hustle up there, and we made it into the grounds before they stopped selling tickets inside. Now we had over an hour to leisurely explore!
When Carvhalo Monteiro purchased the mansion in 1892 from the wealthy merchant family from Porto who previously owned it, he wanted to make it completely something of his own design. According to Wikipedia:
Monteiro was eager to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols
that reflected his interests and ideologies. With the assistance of the Italian
architect Luigi Manini, he recreated the 4-hectare estate. In addition to other new features, he added enigmatic buildings that allegedly held symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians. The architecture Manini designed evoked Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline styles.
And I can honestly say, this is one of the most fascinating and magical places I have so far had the pleasure of exploring! Monteiro is such a fantastically curious man, with some even curiouser beliefs. I had a feeling we would be more and more bewitched the more we explored.
At the entrance they gave us a map to guide us through the grounds, which also included directions through the underground tunnels Monteiro had constructed for his children and grandchildren to play in, which they referred to as the labyrinth.
We wanted to take our time, so we started at 2 (shown in the picture above) which was the secondary gate, and walked uphill through some beautiful forested trails towards the famous Initiation Well.
Every little detail in the gardens, the shrubbery, the stone walls; it was all so impressive and magical. I keep using that word, but truly this place was just like a fantasy land, all created from the imaginings of Monteiro.
Initiation Well & The Labyrinth
Heather and I had been SO EXCITED to finally see the Initiation Well in person, and it definitely is so much more impressive and beautiful than we could have imagined.
You walk into the top of it, not even realizing it’s the entrance, because it is just an opening cut into a rock. As you slip through you see the architecture and you realize you are inside the well.
The Initiation Well is so named, because it was not ever intended for water but instead for initiation ritualsused in Masonic, Templar, and Tarot ceremonies. Monteiro had many beliefs, and these included some from these spiritual/cultural groups ( he was a well known self-proclaimed believer of many things, mostly Rosicrucianism)
This well also contained 9 platforms, which also were meant to represent the 9 rings of hell as described inDante’s Inferno. Also, the 9 platforms can represent the 9 circles of heaven as well. As you stand at the bottom, you can contemplate and are supposed to truly feel the disconnection between earth and the heavens as you peer up to the sky from the darkness below; and also feel the sometimes haunting closeness of hell as you feel so isolated down there. (It’s very transcendent.)
Also, seen at the bottom, is a tiled symbol of a compass overtop of a Knights of the Templar cross, which was thoughtto have been Monteiro’s herald and a sign of his Rosicrucianism. (Which I had never until writing this post, before really read about. Do yourself a favor and read the link I shared!)
The history and ideas behind this structure are beyond fascinating… but walking into it and looking down from the top was breathtaking. We started our journey downwards, taking our time to truly take in everything with every single step.
Once we reached the bottom, I took a moment to stare upwards, standing over top the templar symbol. After admiring the view, we walking into the connecting tunnels of the labyrinth. I imagined playing through those tunnels as a child, like Monteiro’s children did, and I felt a bit jealous of this incredible place they had to explore!
We walked through every tunnel, feeling along the walls through the especially dark sections, and others we were guided by the lights that had been installed along the ground. It was amazing!
After exploring the tunnels (and stopping and scaring a few random Japanese tourists) we exited the labyrinth through the Portal of the Guardians
Who are the guardians this portal speaks of? In my research so far I have not found any answers… and maybe this will continue to remain one of the many magical curiosities of Moderio’s methodical madness that will may never know the answers to.
Gardens & Grottos
The Portal of the Guardians bring you to an especially incredible open terrace, called the Terrace of The Celestial Worlds. (Let’s take a quick minute to truly appreciate the creative names Monteiro gave to all of these magical places… because they are honestly amazing!)
This was one of my favorite parts on the grounds, besides of course the Initiation Well. I felt as if we stepped out of the labyrinth and literally into some sort of mystical place from Harry Potter.
From there, we wanted to explore the Waterfall Lake grotto, leading into more tunnels and leading us out by the Unfinished Well.
Then we trekked through the Labrinthic Grotto and Leda’s Cave. Leda from Greek mythology was supposedly the mother of Helen of Troy after being raped by Zeus as he had taken the disguise of a swan (What was with Zeus taking the shape of animals and raping women?) Leda was also a popular form of art inspiration during the Renaissance period.
We stopped in gardens for a bit, and sat on a bench across from a fountain structure called The Fount of Abundance. The name itself may come from some sections of the Quran, which that alone is quite curious of Modeiro. However, looking at the tiles, the colors, and the almost random sea shells carved into it.. there may be some even deeper meanings behind it all.
According to Alchemy Procession, (something Modeiro was also known to dabble in) these colors follow the designated order of the 4 stages of alchemy, and the water flowing in the center of the fountain can possibly symbolizing the elixir of life. Was this the fountain of youth? Maybe… but probably not. Whatever the symbolism or reasoning behind it all, it was beautiful.
We continued walking down the pathway, admiring random statues of lions and dogs (…maybe these are the guardians?…) and then climbed the tiny stair case of the Regaleira Tower which overlooks the Terrace of Celestial Worlds. We admired the above views of the grounds, and the faraway Moorish Castle, called Pena Palace, we could see up on the hill behind us. (Sadly, we didn’t have time to see both on our trip. I will for sure be back to see more of Sintra!)
We made our way towards the manor, the gorgeously Gothic inspired mansion. Stopping to walkthrough the small Roman Catholic chapel just north of the house (…which that is also quite a curious little design considering all of the other religious symbols and Easter eggs scattered around…) we sauntered along through the Garden of the Gods lined with statues of Gods of Greek Mythology, and entered the house by climbing a northern windy staircase.
Unfortunately, most of the home was not open to the public due to current renovations. We were able to at least see a few rooms on the main floor, which were impressive and of course gaudy (I expected nothing less at this point.) I was a bit disappointed to not see more of the house, and to possibly find more curious hidden symbols throughout… but perhaps next time I visit it will be open.
Sadly, our time exploring this amazing place had come to an end. We leisurely made our way back down the main road, enjoying the sights along the way we had not been able to enjoy the trek upwards. There were many vendors on the sides selling small trinkets, paintings, and art. I loved the random gateways to homes and beautiful mosaic walls we would pass. This town was simply magic.
We walked through some of the darling streets in Sintra, looking through some gift shops and admiring more homes and buildings. Especially my dream home… that I want to move into immediately!
Stopping at a small cafe, we ate dinner and especially enjoyed the witty banter we shared with our very handsome waiter. Plus, the food wasn’t half bad either!
Later, we had quite the mishap at a French gelato place. I will let you read what happened from my sister Heather’s perspective herefrom her blog!
Poor thing, she suddenly felt very ill and went into the bathroom while Jess and I waited to order gelato. Moments later she texted me and all it said was, “Help.” I immediately freaked out, thinking this was a taken kidnapped situation, and I was about to go Liam Neeson on some thugs trying to abduct my sister!
I rushed to the bathroom, and literally kicked open the door, expecting to see some men attacking her. Thankfully this was not the case, but she had gotten pretty sick and passed out so she was laying on the floor.
Jess and I helped her home, and we decided to just go to bed. I tried my best to sleep, but there were some loud party goers outside my window and above us until pretty late. However, anything was better than that awful sleeper train from the night before!
I absolutely LOVED Sintra. I was feeling pretty sad we were leaving, because I wanted to stay and explore some more. I have promised myself I will go back, because I have to! I absolutely have to, or else my heart will never forgive me.
So until then, I will forever dream of Sintra.
The next morning we would be heading further south to the beautiful beaches in Lagos!