Most people visiting Sintra ignore the existence of Monserrate park, focusing their attention on the Pena Palace or the National Sintra Palace. Those two monuments have become postcards of Sintra, attracting millions of visitors every year for decades which means long queues to get inside and crowded rooms where at times You experience the routine of a canned sardine.
However, most people skip a true hidden gem gently resting on the mountains just 10 minutes driving from Sintra center, the Monserrate palace with its park made of exuberant gardens and a palace that blends the best of western and Indian styles in a truly unique masterpiece.
Along with Pena Palace, Monserrate is one of the most significant constructions that portray the Romantic movement in Europe.
It has a truly unique design blending styles like the gothic, eastern India or Moorish, which transport us to faraway areas. Most of the estate is occupied by luxurious gardens that have many small elements and structures that divide areas populated by species from all over the world.
Lakes, waterfalls, and ruins are also elements present at Monserrate, making it a must visit to everyone that wants to see something completely different.
A brief History of Monserrate
The oldest references to Monserrate date back to the 12th century when an Arab knight was buried on these lands and a Sanctuary was built on top of his tomb, soon turning the are into a cult and adoration site.
On the 16th century, a Portuguese Monknamed Gaspar ordered the construction of a small Chapel to pay homage to Our lady of Monserrate, after visiting its original land in Barcelona, Spain.
On the early 1700`s a rich Portuguese family established in Goa ( India) acquired the property only to rent it to local noble families interested in developing the estate. After a period of relative abandon and following the destruction caused by the 1755 earthquake that destroyed half of Lisbon, the family decided to rent it permanently to an English tradesman, Gerard de Visme.
The new tenant had great plans to Monserrate and immediately commissioned the construction of a beautiful oriental style palace, however, he wouldn`t stay for the 10-year contract duration so the property was again rented this time to the English tradesman William Beckford.
When Beckford arrived at Monserrate his plan was to make the ultimate romantic garden with many secret spots and idyllic corners such as water falling out of enormous slabs of stone as well as gardens depicting landscapes from all around the world.
However, due to the unpredictable and erratic nature of Beckford personality, his excitement and plans soon faded until he left Monserrate for good in 1799, leaving the estate abandoned and slowly decaying.
All the beauty still left of Monserrate despite being abandoned, was expressed at one of Lord Byron most famous compositions, Childe Harold`s Pilgrimage, putting the estate definitely on the map, which made it a must visit to all English visiting Lisbon and Portugal.
One of those travelers was Francis Cook that while spending his Honeymoon in Sintra discovered Monserrate and immediately decided to buy the property in 1841. His plans to plant a unique English garden with species from all around the world made him bring English garden planner Francis Burt to implement his ideas.
Francis Cook family kept Monserrate for almost 100 years until it was sold to the Portuguese government, that took care of its maintenance and restoration works, being part of the Sintra National monuments division and that can be visited all year round.
Monserrate Palace: a fairy tale building
With its interlace of Moorish, neo-Gothic and Alhambresque features, the Palace of Monserrate has a deep oriental influence.
The palace was designed to be a natural extension of the surroundings, with its straight walls alternating with beautiful oriental windows and pillars. On the inside, an intricate art work covers the walls, while its corridors filled with natural light give it a peaceful and harmonic ambiance.
The main corridor of the palace is ornated with pink marble laid out in a repetitive fashion giving it a sense of illusion and infinite space. The Arabic and Indian influence is present everywhere, a constant feeature on Romantic arquitecture from the 19th century.
At the end of the main corridor is the spectacular music hall room, with an extravagant ceiling covered with white and golden motives.
The Most beautiful gardens in Europe
If the palace is an exceptional artwork, the gardens of Monserrate are the element that truly sets this place apart and well worth a visit.
Considered one of the most relevant English landscape gardens was conceived under the general idea of a Romantic atmosphere, where exotic and extravagant flowers and plants were meant to live together in the same ecosystem.
The park was divided into different types of species from all continents, with temperature, soil, and water planned and thought to enable the best conditions for such different species to survive.
The main areas of the park
The Rose Garden
Most roses were made from hybridizing species obtained in east Asia and India, later on bread at the Wintergarden of Monserrate.
The Mexican garden
A constant element of the Romanticism, the love for the exotic and central American landscape, it’s a dry area with species that enjoy the warm and desert-like soil like the Yuccas.
The Fern Valley
Exuberant green ferns populate this area where You can feel the humidity and cooler temperatures, species mainly from New Zealand and Australia.
Other interesting areas cover species from Japan like the bamboos , camellias or azaleas, totaling more than 2000 species from all over the world and create a truly unique experience.
How to get to Monserrate?
From the center of Sintra to Monserrate is just 3,6 kilometers ( around 2,5 miles). A winding, mimosa-fringed road takes You there after leaving Sintra behind and this short 10-minute ride is beautiful and relaxing especially during off season.
It has a well-organized parking space outside for more than 30 cars and usually, there are enough vacant places. However, in case it is filled there is an alternative parking just 100 meters beyond the main entrance.
The Park of Monserrate is open daily between 9:30 am and 8:00 pm, however, the palace closes one hour earlier at 7: oo pm.
Allow yourself around 1h30m to visit the park and the palace to get the most out of it
A ticket for an adult costs 8 Euros, but if You plan to visit other palaces in Sintra check the online ticket office for a combined ticket discount.
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