Altruist? Eccentric? There’s no questioning the genius.

Modern-day philanthropists could learn a lot from António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, the Brazilian millionaire who spent the last years of his life creating surely one of the finest frolics in the world, the gothic palace and magnificently whimsical gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal.

This is a place to become wilfully lost. Towering trees, labyrinths, intricate sculptures, secret waterfalls, grottoes and al fresco dance floors… there are apparently hidden references to alchemy, the Knights Templar and the Masons throughout the gardens and palace, but there’s more than enough to surprise and delight without hunting out obscure symbols.

Already in his 60s when he commissioned Italian set designer and architect Luigi Manini to bring his grand vision to life, Monteiro must have anticipated others would benefit more from his creation than he would. At the time the palace was completed, he had just eight years left to enjoy it. He died in 1920, and his property passed through the hands of a series of owners before the Sintra Town Council bought it, restored it and opened it to the public in 1998.

It took money, yes, which Monteiro seemingly had plenty of. But almost a century later, you can’t help but marvel at – and be grateful for – the imagination, innovation, forethought and intelligence that founded his legacy. And Manini’s brilliance in creating drama, intimacy, intrigue and exquisite beauty in this, his grandest and most ambitious set, has similarly stood the tests of time.

There are other wonders to explore in Sintra, but surely none so enchanting as this. One for the bucket list.

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