The Chalet of the Countess of Edla in Sintra was idealized by King Ferdinand II and Elise Hensler (the Countess of Edla and his second wife) between 1864 and 1869. You can find it in the heart of Pena Park, less than two kilometers from the National Palace of Pena, the highest exponent of romantic architecture in Portugal.
Designed in the style of alpine chalets, the Chalet of the Countess of Edla is a much more modest residence than the former royal palace, which dominates the verdant landscape of the Sintra Mountains. This small country retreat allowed the king and the countess to live far away from the eyes and comments of the Portuguese Court!
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- Brief History of the Chalet of the Countess of Edla
- How to Get to the Chalet of the Countess of Pena
- What to See at the Chalet of the Countess of Pena
Brief History of the Chalet of the Countess of Edla
Elise Friederike Hensler was born in Switzerland in 1836. After having spent her childhood and adolescence in Boston (in the United States), she returned to Europe to finish her studies. The young woman settled in Paris (France) and became an opera singer, performing in the iconic Teatro alla Scala, in Milan (Italy).
Elise Hensler visited Portugal for the first time in 1860 when she was part of the Opera Company of Laneuville. After having sung at the National Theater of São João (in Porto), she returned to the Portuguese stages a few weeks later, this time at the National Theater of São Carlos (in Lisbon).
It was on this occasion that she met King Ferdinand II, who immediately fell in love with her. The monarch, widower of Queen Maria II since 1953, invited Elise Hensler to live with him at the National Palace of Pena. And in 1869, the two married in Lisbon, with Elise Hensler receiving the title of Countess of Edla.
That’s why the Chalet of the Countess of Edla is much more than a vacation home. This picturesque chalet symbolizes the couple’s love for each other, as well as their common interests: the passion for music, the arts, architecture, and botany!
When King Ferdinand II died in 1885, he left all his possessions to Elise Hensler (including the Moorish Castle and the National Palace of Pena). However, the Portuguese Royal House sought to reverse this decision and the Countess of Edla sold the properties to the State, is authorized to reside in the chalet and enjoy its garden.
In 1910, Elise Hensler moved to Lisbon, where she died nineteen years later. With the end of the monarchy in Portugal, the Chalet of the Countess of Edla was abandoned and, in 1999, it was consumed by fire. After several years of restoration and intervention work, it finally reopened to the public in 2011.
Did you know that the Chalet of the Countess of Edla was part of Portugal’s fourth set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 19th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Berlin (Germany), between December 4th and 9th, 1995.
However, the Cultural Landscape of Sintra includes many other UNESCO World Heritage Sites besides the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, such as the Convent of the Capuchos, the Moorish Castle, the Palace of Monserrate, the National Palace of Pena, the National Palace of Sintra, the Quinta da Regaleira, and the Villa Sassetti, among others.
Nowadays, Portugal is the ninth country in Europe and the eighteenth country in the world with the most UNESCO sites, tied with Poland. It has seventeen heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit fourteen of them:
- Alto Douro Wine Region (2001)
- Convent of Christ in Tomar (1983)
- Cultural Landscape of Sintra (1995) – Chalet of the Countess of Edla, Convent of the Capuchos, Moorish Castle, National Palace of Pena, National Palace of Sintra, Palace of Monserrate, Quinta da Regaleira, Villa Sassetti
- Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications (2012)
- Historic Center of Évora (1986)
- Historic Center of Guimarães (2001)
- Historic Center of Porto, Luiz I Bridge, and Monastery of Serra do Pilar (1996)
- Monastery of Alcobaça (1989)
- Monastery of Batalha (1983)
- Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon (1983)
- Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley (1998, 2010)
- Royal Building of Mafra – Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden, and Hunting Park (Tapada) (2019)
- Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga (2019)
- University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia (2012)
How to Get to the Chalet of the Countess of Pena
There are three ways to reach the Chalet of the Countess of Pena from the historic center of Sintra: by car, by bus, or on foot. Since the monument is at one of the highest points of the Sintra Mountains, you may skip walking there. But there are some walking routes (from the town of Sintra to the National Palace of Pena and the Moorish Castle) for trail and nature lovers, which you can consult at the Tourist Office!
The three times I visited Sintra, I traveled by car – although I always chose to leave it in a free car park (at the entrance to the town) and opt for the bus. This is something I highly recommend, especially during peak season. Not only is it difficult to find a space outside each palace, but the parking lot itself is quite expensive.
If you’re in Lisbon and want to travel by public transportation to Sintra, you can check the train timetables on the CP – Comboios de Portugal website. Once at the town’s train station, all you have to do is take the Scotturb bus 434, which takes you directly to the “Entrance of the Lakes” (one of the entrances to the Pena Park) or the main entrance to the National Palace of Pena. This tourist line is called “Pena Circuit” and has a fixed cost of €6.90 (round trip).
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Chalet of the Countess of Edla is open every day, from 9 am to 6 pm, with the last entry being at 5:30 pm. As for Pena Park, it opens at the same time but closes one hour later (ie, at 7 pm).
Concerning tickets, the visit to the Chalet of the Countess of Edla is included in two types of tickets:
- Pena National Palace Ticket – costs 14€ (from 18 to 64 years old) or 12.5€ (from 6 to 17 years old, and for over 65 years old), and gives access to both the Palace and the Park
- Pena Park Ticket – costs 7.5€ (from 18 to 64 years old) or 6.5€ (from 6 to 17 years old, and for people over 65 years old), and only gives access to the Park
For each modality, there’s a family ticket (for two adults and two children) at €49 or €26, respectively.
What to See at the Chalet of the Countess of Pena
Chalet of the Countess of Edla
The Chalet of the Countess of Edla has two floors and a little more than a dozen rooms. And although each space has a specific function, they all have something in common: the architectural elements and decorative notes show a naturalist style.
King Ferdinand II and the Countess of Edla sought to design a chalet that would fit in with the landscape of the Pena Park as harmoniously as possible. For this reason, they resorted to materials that were very much in vogue at that time: wood, cork, stucco, tile, etc.
Here are the halls and rooms that can be visited inside the Chalet of the Countess of Edla:
- Interpretation Room
- Grand Hallway
- Dining Room
- Ivy Room
- Atrium of the Central Staircase
- Lace Room
- Main Bedroom
- King’s Dressing Room (or Office)
- Second Bedroom
After a first Interpretation Room where it’s possible to discover the history of the Chalet of the Countess of Edla and its owners, the visit to the interior of this rural retreat begins in the Kitchen.
This room has considerable dimensions and is divided into two distinct service areas:
- Pantry – with direct access to the gardens, it was the place where cold meals were prepared, such as salads and desserts
- Kitchen – where the stove and oven were installed, for the preparation of hot dishes
Interestingly, the wall cladding with blue and white tiles is a unique element in the entire construction of the building.
As you can see from the name, the Grand Hallway used to function as the main entrance to the Chalet of the Countess of Edla.
From here, it was possible to access the Ivy Room (to the left) and the Dining Room (to the right), the only two rooms in the house that guests were allowed to frequent.
The third door in front led King Ferdinand II and Elise Hensler to the Atrium of the Central Staircase, through which they could go to their private rooms, on the first floor.
The servants also crossed the Atrium of the Central Staircase towards the Kitchen and other service areas, which were located at the back of the chalet, hidden from the couple.
The Dining Room of the Chalet of the Countess of Edla is completely lined with wood and cork panels, forming symmetrical designs.
As far as is known, the King and Countess ate their meals outside whenever it was possible. The couple was a big fan of long picnics in Pena Park!
When the weather was not favorable, King Ferdinand II and Elise Hensler had lunch or dinner in this room. Occasionally, they received visits from close friends or family members.
Nowadays, the Dining Room is furnished with showcases, where Countess d’Edla’s own crockery and other household items are on display.
The Ivy Room was both the Living Room and the official Visiting Room of King Ferdinand II and the Countess of Edla.
Its name is a clear allusion to the stucco details that make up the ceiling and the four corners of the room and imitate ivy vines, tree trunks, and branches.
The idea of communion between the naturalist interior of the Chalet of the Countess of Edla and the verdant exterior of Pena Park was extended by the doors and windows, with views and direct access to the garden.
On warm and mild days, these were always open, to reinforce this bucolic and romantic connection.
The Atrium of the Central Staircase has a function very similar to that of the Main Hall: it served as a division of the private, public, and service areas of the Chalet of the Countess of Elsa.
Also known as the Staircase Atrium, it’s a space decorated with a beautiful mural painting, imitating wood.
If you go up the first flight of stairs, you’ll come across the coat of arms of King Ferdinand II. This is because, despite the chalet being small and modest, it still operated as a royal residence.
The rest of the visit to the interior of the Chalet of the Countess of Edla continues on the first floor, entirely exclusive to the owners and to the servants, who helped them get dressed every day.
The Lace Room is also called the Countess’ Toilette, as it was Elise Hensler’s dressing room.
Installed right in front of the King’s Dressing Room (or Office), the Lace Room earned its name due to the lace covering the walls and ceiling, in shades of blue and white.
This decorative choice was very popular at the time the Chalet of the Countess of Edla was built. As lace is a very delicate and feminine fabric, the concept was reproduced in ladies’ dressing rooms, toilets, and boudoirs.
In the Lace Room, you can also see some of the Countess’ personal items, which she used for her personal hygiene and when changing clothes.
The Main Bedroom is probably the room of the Chalet of the Countess of Edla that has the best views.
When King Ferdinand II and Elise Hensler lived here, there wasn’t much vegetation yet.
Therefore, the couple had panoramic views of the National Palace of Pena, the Garden of the Countess of Edla, and even the Atlantic Ocean from their private balcony!
Another curious aspect is the fact that the king and the countess share the same bedroom. At that time, it was common for husband and wife to sleep in separate rooms – especially if they belonged to royalty or the high aristocracy.
King’s Dressing Room (or Office)
The King’s Dressing Room (or Office) contrasts sharply with the Lace Room, thanks to its cork panel covering.
As you may have noticed, both divisions of the Chalet of the Countess of Edla were dedicated to the owners’ hygiene and changing of clothing. But the King’s Toilette was a markedly masculine space.
Here, King Ferdinand II had a wood desk, where he occasionally worked (hence the alternative designation “Office”).
The rest of the furniture was centered on a washbasin (with a watering can) and a mirror, which the monarch used to shave his beard.
The last stop on this visit to the halls and rooms of the Chalet of the Countess d’Edla is the Second Room. Painted in shades of pink and white, it’s located directly above the service area, opposite the Main Bedroom (ie, at the rear of the house).
Today, the Second Room completely is empty, without any furniture or household items. Even so, it’s known that the space functioned as a wardrobe for the couple and as a private living room for the Countess, containing several wardrobes and even a work desk.
Garden of the Countess of Edla
King Ferdinand II was not only passionate about art, but also an ardent supporter of botany. Therefore, he decided to gather trees, flowers, and other plants from all over the world in Pena Park (and especially in the garden surrounding the Chalet of the Countess of Edla).
The result is a collection with more than two hundred botanical species, which the monarch and his second wife planted between 1866 and 1885. Here, you’ll find both native specimens and exotic vegetation, among which the following stand out:
- Camellias – the cultivated varieties were named after members of the royal family, including King Ferdinand II (pink camellias) and the Countess of Edla (white camellias). This group of flowers is located very close to the “Chalet Stones”, a natural viewpoint made of granite blocks
- Azaleas and Rhododendrons – these two flowering shrubs originate in China and were one of the first species to be planted in the Garden of Countess of Edla, more specifically in what is now known as the “Azalea Garden”
- Tree ferns – another area of the Garden of the Countess of Edla is called the “Countess’ Fernery” and hosts the first collection of ferns from the Pena Park, coming from Australia and New Zealand
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