Get lost in magic Buçaco on the way from Porto to Lisbon
While driving to Lisbon from Porto you can enjoy an amazing landscapes as well as make a detour if you have some time, and for instance pop by Aveiro (Portuguese Venice), a small town close to Porto. Aveiro’s tiny and colourful houses as well as small channels with beautiful bridges will not leave your heart untouched for sure. I love to make small breaks on the way and discover interesting places. With Aveiro this was the case. No doubts I love this place but I have been here before, so mostly I have been discovering this time not the place but the variety of tastes of ovos moles de Aveiro (local sweets made of egg yolks and lots of sugar). I cannot tell you that I am a big fan of them, but my husband is crazy about these yellow delicacies. Well, and of course if you like not only to see but also to “taste” the country you should try and make your own conclusion.
And, I guess to express his gratitude for eating ovos moles together and also knowing my crazy love and passion to architecture and secret hidden places, my husband took me to A Mata Nacional do Buçaco (The Buçaco National Forest) and its wonderful palace with the convent.
And here it was, an enravishment for my eyes and soul. This place is completely and totally amazing. I have been to Sintra, I adore and worship every palace there as well as nature, but this is something completely different.
First of all it’s all about nature, it is about the forest of Buçaco. When you go up the mountain from the main road you cannot get enough of air, you feel the smell of flowers, a bit of the forest mist, wet dark green moss and fresh juicy grass. You cannot understand where this magic air comes from but it gets under your skin, it besots, it is like a drug, it makes you want more and more. You cannot get enough in your lungs and head. You inhale it with every cell of your skin. You realise that this air is sweeter than the best sweet cake in the whole world. Flowers, trees, bushes are unique here. And you feel right off the bat that the whole area has special microclimate, not like the rest of Portugal.
Later, I have found out that Buçaco forest has one of the best dendrological collections in Europe, with about 250 species of trees and shrubs. It is also one of the richest forests in Europe in natural, architectural and cultural heritage. Not bad, right? Worth of visit to see all that beauty with your own eyes.
The forest has a very interesting and a quite long history. It was first settled by Benedictine monks in the 6th Century. Later, it was administered by priests from Coimbra Cathedral, and a Papal edict of 1622 declared strict restriction for women to enter the forest to keep the monks free from temptation. Also anyone who destroyed a tree was threatened with excommunication. Well, what can I say, I am very happy to be a woman of 21st century and have a free access to the forests and palaces. Ok, back to the history now. A couple of years later an order of barefooted monks (Discalced Carmelites) built a monastery here and surrounded it with the 250-acre forest. Over the centuries, the monks have planted nearly (attention!!!) four hundred Portuguese varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers while importing lots of other species from Mexico, Chile, Japan and many other places all over the world. I am writing these numbers here on purpose. I am not hoping you will remember them, and there is no necessity. I just have one question — can you imagine this variety in one place? I was there and I still can’t. It is pretty much around seven hundred different plants. I was walking with my mouth open and I guess my husband wasn’t very happy that we have popped by there as we have spent instead of planned couple of hours the whole day, and frankly speaking — I would stay even longer if we didn’t have to go back to Lisbon.
This is the heaven place for those who love silence, calmness, beauty and purity of nature.
Imagine, you go up from the forest to the palace which is one of the country’s top hotels now and Europe’s oldest one (not bad news for those who would like to stay here longer, right?) and see an amazingly beautiful romantic palace built in neo-manueline style, you see the beauty of the whole era of Portuguese architecture. You see the pride of Portuguese people in every stone of this amazing palace. You see the remembrances of Discovery Age, you see the history of the grand nation depicted in every scene of tile arts on the back side of the palace.
Magnolias trees are in blossom. Roses are everywhere, not the bushes of roses we used to see in our grandmother’s garden, but there are rose trees strew with pink, red, striped, big, small, wonderfully shaped roses. Time suddenly come to a standstill and this beauty devours you completely.
The main and most significant garden is the one involving the Convent and the Palace Hotel called “New Garden” which was built in 1886–87 as the Waterfall of Santa Teresa.
Another magic here is Valley of the Ferns. Ferns are immense and so beautiful, I have never seen before in my life them so big, they were pretty much of my size, and higher.
One of the major battles of the Peninsular War took place here, when the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon’s troops in 1810. Outside the forest wall, a small museum dedicated to the Peninsular War explains the Napoleonic invasion through engravings, maps, uniforms, and weapons. Just above it is an obelisk standing as a memorial to the battle.
Also on the left side of the palace you can see the ruins of an old Carmelite monastery. Unfortunately only the cloister and chapel remain, along with a plaque confirming that Wellington slept inside after the battle.
As you can see Buçaco forest, palace and its surroundings are places to explore and come for sure. Lots of beauty, history, amazing architecture, hiking trails and bicycle roads. Everyone will find here something special.