The “Initiatic Well” that symbolizes the connection between Heaven and Earth? A maze of subterranean paths called the “Labyrinthic Grotto”? The “Portal of the Guardians” which hides an entrance into the underground? A garden meant to reflect the Cosmos and the unending human search for paradise on earth, with symbolic nods to mythology, alchemy, masonic rites and Dante’s Inferno? Stop, Quinta da Regaleira, just stop! You had us at “initiatic”.
“Another day, another palace.” This was our creed during our week-long stay in Sintra. Today, we’d be visiting the Palace of Monserrate, an eccentric estate constructed by a pair of wealthy Englishmen in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Elise Hensler, an American songstress who won the heart of the king, might as well have been living in a fairy tale. Her Swiss-style chalet in the woods of Pena certainly looks straight from the minds of the Brothers Grimm.
After having visited the Palace and Park of Pena, your legs are likely to be done. Even if you arrived at the top of the mountain in a car, visiting these two attractions entails a lot of walking. And then you’ll look at the Castelo dos Mouros, at the end of yet another long path, with towers reaching into the sky, and the steps. All of those steps! On one hand: nope, forget it. On the other hand: you’re already here. So you might as well.
Little known fact: the architect behind Sintra’s Pena Palace completed the original draft in 35 minutes. Six-year-old Doris Schneebaum submitted her proposal at the end of Arts & Crafts time, having rushed to complete the assignment: “Draw a Silly Castle”. Her teacher, King Ferdinand II of Portugal, took one look and was convinced. “It’s perfect! This shall be my new home!”
We had been frustrated in our attempt to visit Lisbon’s Jardim Botânico, finding it closed for renovations. “Indefinitely”, as the bored girl behind the desk put it. But we had a back-up in mind: within the Parque de Eduardo VII is another botanic garden, called the Estufa Fria.
It didn’t surprise us to learn that Lisbon was home to a thriving street art scene. This is known as a somewhat anarchic city, with a large population of struggling, disaffected youth, and a fairly permissive culture. That’s the perfect combination for excellent graffiti: political, angry, sarcastic, weird and often beautiful. During the course of our stay in Lisbon, we’d discover something new every time we stepped outdoors.
Ever since Lisbon’s Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia (or MAAT) opened its doors in 2016, the museum’s two adjacent buildings have been locked in an eternal struggle for ultimate coolness. In this corner, a former electricity plant, with much of its equipment still intact. And its opponent, a sleek, wave-shaped building of gleaming white panels. I’m not sure which is going to win!
The neighborhood of Amoreiras is best known for its mall, encased within towering glass buildings that are visible from across Lisbon. We wouldn’t be visiting Amoreiras, though, for its luxury shopping or modern architecture, but to see something more ancient: the Reservatório da Mãe d’Água, a cistern built in the 1740s.