WP_20150810_13_00_34_ProOn my latest trip to Portugal, I was thinking there must be another classic garden to visit in the mountain hideaway of Sintra. But having checked, it seems I’ve been to all of them, and if you’re interested you can see them in my series ‘Portuguese Gardens’.

But there remained a lingering doubt (or was it hope?), that there must be an historic garden somewhere close. Looking at the Lisbon map, and planning our days out, it stood out in that large green lung that is the Monsanto Park: the Palace of the Marquesas Fronteira.

This classic house, originally built in 1670 as a hunting lodge in what was then the rolling, wooded hills of northern Lisbon, is still lived in by the current Marquis and his family, so the house is only partly open to visitors (via a very informative 45 minute guided tour). Today, the views are of the sprawling Lisbon suburb of Benfica, including the red-arched Estadio da Luz, home to that famous football team of the district. About 100 years after its inception, after the infamous Lisbon earthquake had destroyed his main home, the then Marquis decided to extend his hunting lodge and make this palace home.

WP_20150810_12_52_39_ProAfter being asked if we’re mind waiting for a later house tour (to enable the rest of the party to benefit from the French version), I had a little wander into this compact, but interest-filled garden. And I went round again after hearing about and seeing some sumptuous interiors.

The centre-piece, especially as viewed from the upstairs rooms of the house as well as the high terrace overlooking the formal pool, is a rather intricate box parterre, where the shapes are closely edged, leaving what seems to be an impossibly narrow gap between the bushes: still the gardener seems to manage somehow.

This impressive feature was only partly filled with a selection of roses, and though traditional, I find the combination of close-clipped box and rather more unruly roses not as satisfying as when the enclosed beds contain slightly shorter plants that themselves have a rather more symmetrical form, e.g. lavender or perhaps catmint.

The elevated terrace with its display of sculptures of Portuguese kings surrounded by metallic-glazed tiles, is also very satisfying to walk along and gaze from, including downwards to a well-stocked carp and goldfish pool, with a lone, and rather aggressive black swan! I could picture this pool being the centre of 18th century fun and games, with rowing boats taking important guests from one little grotto to another, deftly avoiding the fountains of water (which today at least, were not in operation).

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Nearby is a rather more naturalistic garden with tall trees and what must be at other times beautiful borders of hydrangea and agapanthus (I took the opportunity of gathering some seed heads of the latter). The walls of this area and indeed the rest of the garden, are beautifully tiled with traditional, if rather simply designed tiles, or azulejos, plus a vivid blue paint, the latter beautifully setting off fresh green foliage.

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There is also a rather lovely terrace with immediate access to and from the first floor of the palace, with another impressive array of classically-inspired sculpture, leading to another large grotto, this one covered inside with the broken pieces of crockery and other shattered ceramics, apparently some coming from the plates used at the Palace’s inauguration, and smashed to commemorate the event!

Similar in style to other Portuguese palaces and gardens of the time, Fronteira is nonetheless well worth a trip, especially for the way our guide brought it to life.

Further information:

Fronteira Palace website

Gardens and Landscapes of Portugal

Old School Gardener

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