Passing through a stone door, we began our descent into the darkness. We joined the line, tramping down the steps as they spiralled deep into the Earth. Leaning out between the columns, we could see everyone below, mindlessly marching downwards and finally disappearing into the depths. Nobody seemed to be coming back up. “Keep moving”, a sharp voice above berated us, and we continued down towards the stone compass at the bottom. The Initiation Well at Quinta da Regaleira was never intended to hold water. Rumours of secret masonic rituals abound but in truth, nobody now knows what this grand hole in the ground was used for.
A dimly lit tunnel led us away from the bottom of the Initiation Well. Taking a few random turns, we finally spotted daylight and made a beeline towards it. However, we soon realised it was just the bottom of yet another well. A far cry from the neatly constructed Initiation Well, the walls were a jumble of rough stone, which formed a network of bizarrely shaped windows stretching all the way up to the surface.
Venturing back into the tunnels, we caught another hopeful glimpse of daylight and found our next obstacle. Water cascaded off rocks above our heads into a large pool covered in a thick layer of algae. We were on the wrong side of a waterfall. We could see people on a bridge snapping selfies but still weren't sure how to get there. Our final route out of the tunnels involved hopping across the lime green sludge on stepping stones, hoping that we wouldn't slip, wobble or miss a step along the way.
Finding The Palace At Quinta Da Regaleira
After clambering to the top of a tiny tower for views over the estate, and briefly wandering through another short tunnel, we arrived at the chapel. We saw the elaborate, pristine white stucco inside as we peered in from the doorway. We couldn't actually go into the chapel though. Sadly, this meant the tunnel from the chapel's crypt to the palace was off limits and we had to make our way above ground instead.
Once owned by 'Monteiro the Millionaire', the palace was spectacular. In the dining room, riders and dogs charged across the fireplace in hot pursuit of a stag while birds and deer's heads bordered the windows. Portraits of 24 kings and queens of Portugal lined the billiards room, most glancing away, appearing to avoid our gaze. There was even a room where the walls were decorated with gold medallions. Each was identical and engraved with Monteiro's name. He was clearly a modest man.
Getting Lost In The Labyrinthine Grotto
A short walk from the palace, we skirted around a lake and were drawn towards another dark doorway, one of the entrances to the labyrinthine grotto. Ducking inside, we followed a tunnel and turned down a short set of stone steps. A cave opened out in front of us and we looked down just in time to spot the silvery sheen of the water's edge. The lake was bigger than we thought. Narrowly avoiding wet feet, we backtracked and took another route.
At first, we passed other groups of people exploring the labyrinth. Daylight trickled in from the entrance and excited chatter echoed through the tunnels. Making our way further into the darkness however, we had to rely on our torches. The people disappeared and eventually the voices faded to silence. We took several turns, with no idea where we were going, wondering if we would make it out before the estate closed for the evening. Visions of minotaurs raced through our minds and we began to wish we'd left a trail of breadcrumbs. We did eventually reach an exit though. And thankfully there were no minotaurs to be found.
Quinta Da Regaleira Travel Tips
The longest queues at Quinta da Regaleira will be at the front gate. Book your ticket online beforehand to skip the queue.
You can take photos anywhere at Quinta da Regaleira but tripods are not allowed. Flash photography is also forbidden inside both the chapel and the palace itself.
If you want to explore the labyrinth fully, take a torch with you.
The Initiation Well can get very busy so they operate a strict one-way system where you enter at the top of the well and leave from the bottom. If you want to walk down the stairs, make sure you enter at the top.
How To Get To Quinta Da Regaleira
Direct trains run from Lisbon's Rossio station to Sintra and take less than an hour. While it is possible to visit Sintra in one day, there is a lot to see so it is better to allow more time.
Most people walk to Quinta da Regaleira. The front gate is around a 10-minute walk from the centre of Sintra's old town. Walking from Sintra train station will take about 20 minutes.