IMG_0788Our 2014 September visit to Portugal featured some interesting new places, including three wonderful gardens. The first I’m featuring was a visit to the home of wealthy ex pat Brits when it was established over a century ago. Monserrate sits in the mountains north-west of Lisbon in the regal suburb of Sintra.

The website which covers many of the Sintra garden gems describes Monserrate gardens and its palace as:

‘..one of the most beautiful architectural and landscape Romantic creations in Portugal… unique representatives of 19th century eclecticism.The Palace combines gothic and Indian influences as well as Moorish suggestions together with exotic and plant motifs which are harmoniously extended to the exterior. The gardens have received species from all corners of the world, which were planted according to their geographical origin. The front lawn of the Palace provides a well-deserved rest, while discovering one of the richest Portuguese botanical gardens.’

It was built in 1858 for Sir Francis Cook, an English baronet who had amassed a fortune as a trader and textile baron and was created Visconde de Monserrate by King Luis. Cook turned to an English architect, James Knowles jr. for the house design. He took inspiration from the many countries Cook had dealings with and also the flamboyantly oriental Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England, built for the Prince Regent, later Goeorge IV over 50 years earlier. I loved the round tower and proportions of the palac, the use of reflected light under the wide eaves with subtle creamy and terracotta hues to create a lovely warm glow. The rich decoration is a generally successful blending of eastern, moorish and gothic revival styles. Here are some pics of the house….

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Cook hired William Nevil as Botanical expert and landscaper. The project was completed within 5 years and was Cook’s summer residence. The entire estate was put up for sale in the 1920s by Cook’s great-grandson, and after many years of neglect was purchased by the state in 1949. Since then it has been open to the public as a national monument.

The English influence emanates throughout the gardens which have a romantic feel, especially as you wind your way along rough paths through shaded glades with waterfalls, pockets of sunlight and mock ruins, and eventually up to the rather more manicured lawn (the first laid in Portugal) that stretches away from the house down to the grounds. These also include specialist and exotic gardens with non-native plants from Cook’s personal collection. Here are some pics of the gardens and grounds…

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The Monserrate Palace is the smallest of Sintra’s three palaces but it is by far the most decorative – and beautiful-  and certainly captivated me, as did the winding and varied gardens – especially the Mexican Garden, some pics of which follow…

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It has taken 20 years to restore the gardens and the result was recognised in 2013 when they were voted the winner of the European Garden Awards in the category for “Historical parks”. In 1995 the park was recognised by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site as a part of several palaces and parks in Sintra. The citation for its latest award says:

‘Light and shadow, exotic and rare plants, winding paths and breath-taking views, but even new garden sections, such as the rose garden that was opened in the year 2011 by the Prince of Wales, make a visit to Monserrate, in spite of the many other wonderful parks in Portugal, a unique, fascinating and therefore “prize worthy” event.’

 IMG_0786Old School Gardener