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September 15, 2016
I spent the better part of the afternoon today exploring the somewhat surreal, somewhat magical grounds of the Quinta da Regaleiro mansion and gardens in Sintra, Portugal, the brainchild of Italian opera-set designer Luigi Manini, who appears to have been hired to bring his fantasy to life, no expense spared, no idea too over-the-top. The guy had clearly read a lot of fairy tales as a child. And then graduated to Knights of the Templar adventures. (Apparently the main house is full of Knights of the Templar symbols for those in the know. Which I am not. Sorry.)
Here you will find many a fountain and grotto, as well as several underground tunnels—not all of which are shown on the tourist map, including the one from which the Labyrinthine Grotto above gets its name. It somehow hadn’t occurred to me to wonder about the origin of this lovely grotto’s name—any more than it occurred to me to wonder who Leda was when I went to Leda’s Cave.
So perhaps it is fitting that, since I never bothered wondering, I found out the answer purely by accident, and not without a bit of luck. Which I needed, because a few minutes after I’d wandered into a dark cave tunnel armed with nothing but my camera to “light” the way, it was looking like I’d have to turn around, as it was so dark I didn’t even know if what was in front of me was more tunnel or I was about to walk head-on into a dead-end wall. But then rescue came in the form of an Aussie mom-and-daughter pair wielding a phone flashlight, which enabled us to continue walking—somewhat precariously at times, as the further we went, the wetter it got (which should have been our hint right there)—and find out where the tunnel ended, i.e., at the grotto at which I’d taken the above photo about fifteen minutes earlier.
So, yeah. The whole place is pretty crazy. But also pretty. But also, yeah, kind of a nutty dream movie-set of a place.
Unfortunately, it was also a pain in the ass that it rained most of the time I was there, and when it got heavy I had to sit on a carved stone bench under a carved stone overhang for an hour and wait it out. (I know. First World problems.) The silver lining, however (Hey, how many times does one get to use that in the context of actual rain?), was that when the rain lightened up enough for me brave leaving (with my sun hat turned rain hat and my linen shirt damp and useless against the cold), I again passed Waterfall Lake, which had been my first stop at the Quinta three hours earlier, when it had been so full of pain-in-the-ass tourists (I know. How dare they?) that it was impossible to get a photo without them marring it. With the rain falling, it was now blissfully empty. So, Mother Nature taketh away, but she also giveth, and the above photo is proof. Obrigado, mãe.
Below is the mansion, in which, presumably, the man who let Luigi Manini’s imagination run wild—Brazilian coffee magnate António Carvalho Monteiro, aka Monteiro dos Milhões (Moneybags Monteiro. Of course.)—and his family lived.
Lastly, I give you the view from the top of the admittedly pretty incredible “Initiation Well” (before the rain got heavy enough to scare away the majority of us tourists, unfortunately).
For all these sights, but especially the latter, the interweb’s photos are far superior to mine. So I suggest giving it a google if you want a better idea.
Tchau! (Yes, that is really how it’s spelled in Portuguese. Obrigado yet again, interwebz.)