The Palace of Monserrate is one of the many existing palaces in Sintra, a historic town just a few kilometers from Lisbon, Portugal. And, although it’s not as visited as the famous National Palace of Pena, Quinta da Regaleira, and National Palace of Sintra, this palace is well worth a visit!
The Monserrate estate is the perfect example of Romanticism in Portugal and what eclectic life would have been like in the 19th century. In addition, its “exotic” architecture results from a mixture of Gothic, Indian, and Moorish influences, blending perfectly with a botanical park where species from all over the world grow.
So, do you want to know more about the Palace Of Monserrate: Best Tips For Visiting In 2023? Keep reading!
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- Brief History of the Palace of Monserrate
- How to Get to the Palace of Monserrate
- What to See at the Palace of Monserrate
- More Posts about Portugal
- More Posts about Castles and Palaces
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Brief History of the Palace of Monserrate
The Palace of Monserrate began to be built in 1856, to serve as a summer residence for Sir Francis Cook, an English millionaire linked to the textile trade. The person responsible for the project was the architect James Knowles Jr., who designed an exuberant and eccentric building, according to the taste of the time.
It’s hard to imagine that when Sir Francis Cook bought the Quinta de Monserrate in 1846, all that was left was the ruins of a neo-Gothic castle, built by Gerard de Visme at the end of the previous century! Even the Park of Monserrate itself and the gardens of the old mansion were in a very bad state of neglect, due to the succession of owners and the destruction caused by the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.
Did you know that the Palace of Monserrate 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 Palace of Monserrate, such as the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, the Convent of the Capuchos, the Moorish Castle, 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 Palace of Monserrate
The Palace of Monserrate is located a few kilometers from the historic center of Sintra, which means that you can’t visit it on foot (as is the case with the National Palace of Sintra or the Quinta da Regaleira). However, there’s a small parking lot where you can leave the car (if that’s the case).
In my opinion, the best way to visit the Palace of Monserrate is by bus, more specifically, on the “Villa Express 4 Palaces” tourist circuit. Scotturb‘s 435 bus costs €5 and departs from the Sintra Train Station, stopping at strategic points such as the historic center of the town (next to the National Palace of Sintra), the Quinta da Regaleira, and the Seteais Palace.
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Palace of Monserrate is open every day, from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm. The last ticket can be sold at 5:30 pm and the last entry is at 6 pm. As for the Park of Monserrate, it’s also open every day, but from 9 am to 7 pm. And both the last ticket and the last entry are at 6 pm.
Concerning tickets, these are divided into several types. The Adults Ticket (18-64 years old) costs €8, while the Youths Ticket (6-17 years old) costs €6.5. There’s also a Seniors Ticket (for people over 65), at the same price as the Youths Ticket, as well as a Family Ticket (2 adults + 2 young people) for €26.
Any of these tickets can be purchased through Parques de Sintra’s online ticket office and, if you do, you’ll get a 5% discount!
What to See at the Palace of Monserrate
Palace of Monserrate
Nowadays, it’s possible to visit several rooms, halls, and corridors that make up the Palace of Monserrate. Since the top floor of the house was entirely dedicated to the Cook family’s bedrooms and chambers and the basement was home to the Kitchen and other service areas (such as the pantry, wine cellar, laundry, etc.), you’ll end up visiting most of the divisions in the ground floor, such as:
- Entrance Hall
- Central Gallery
- Dining Room
- Sacred Art Room
- Main Hall (or Octagon)
- Sitting Room
- Billiards Room
- Music Room
The first space of the visit to the Palace of Monserrate corresponds to the Entrance Hall, a vestibule in the South Tower from which Sir Francis Cook could access his chambers (on the upper floor of this same tower) or the Library, just in front of the left.
This entrance is shaped like an octagon and is surrounded by arches in Gothic style, which are supported on beautiful pink marble columns – two decorative elements repeated extensively, both in the Central Gallery and in the Main Hall.
The Central Gallery is one of the most popular (and photogenic) spots in the Palace of Monserrate and it’s easy to see why! The columns in pink marble, the arches in raised stucco, the Moorish patterns, the harmony created by the natural light entrances… everything seems out of a true fairy tale!
Serving as a connecting corridor between the various rooms and chambers, the Central Gallery crosses the entire Palace of Monserrate, from the North Tower to the South Tower (passing through the Main Tower or Central Tower).
One of the most interesting aspects of this long corridor is the depth effect created by the succession of arches and columns. In addition, there’s a harmony between the gardens and the interiors of the Palace of Monserrate, achieved through decorative elements in the form of flowers, leaves, and birds.
Did you know that the Library is the only main room in the Palace of Monserrate that has a door? This is because the division was used by Sir Francis Cook as an office. Restored between 2008 and 2009, this workplace is marked by huge wooden shelves that make up the space.
As the Dining Room, the Library was one of the most frequented places by the owner. For this reason, it was close to the entrance, as to not disturb the ladies and children of the family, who frequented the most remote areas of the palace (such as the Sitting and the Music Room).
The Dining Room of the Palace of Monserrate has a very sober and masculine Neo-Renaissance style, but it was richly decorated in stucco and stencil, two options that were very popular in the 19th century in England. The latter is a technique that consists of applying a drawing to a surface, using paint.
According to records of that time, there was a large fabric suspended on the dining table (similar to the canopies used in religious processions). This cloth made the room seem like an “oriental tent”, which accentuated Monserrate‘s “exotic” character.
There’s a pantry next to the Dining Room equipped with a lifter, which allowed the food prepared in the kitchen to go up and down at mealtime. Interestingly, this small freight elevator still works today!
Sacred Art Room
The Sacred Art Room is one of the rooms that make up the Main Tower (or Central Tower) of the Palace of Monserrate. And a detail that distinguishes it immediately from the others is the enormous stained glass, which gives it a religious character.
Much smaller in size (it’s about 1/3 the size of the Library, Dining Room, Sitting Room, Billiards Room, and Music Room), this space served as a museum of sacred art – hence the name.
During the several decades he vacationed at the Palace of Monserrate, Sir Francis Cook gathered a collection of pieces of sacred art, which he decided to exhibit in this room. Currently, it’s still possible to observe a small statue of Saint Anthony, carved in white marble and which belonged to William Beckford, the former owner of the property!
The Main Hall is one of the most stunning areas of the Palace of Monserrate.
Also known as the Octagon – due to its shape – this vestibule was inspired by the Founder’s Chapel of the Monastery of Batalha and is a clear example of the Portuguese Gothic revival of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Decorated with a marble fountain in the center, the Main Hall was a quick access point to any part of the house: the gardens and green spaces outside (through the so-called Garden Entrance, the main door of the palace), the rooms and chambers in the upper floor (by the adjacent Staircase and whose Gallery constitutes the second floor of this same atrium), in addition to the several rooms on the ground floor already mentioned.
Finally, it’s impossible not to mention the cupola, with a structure worked in wood and richly decorated with plant motifs in stucco.
As I mentioned earlier, the Garden Entrance was the passage used by the Cook family and their guests, to enter and exit the Palace of Monserrate. It was therefore distinguished from the Entrance Hall, used exclusively by Sir Francis Cook and his work contacts.
The Garden Entrance is a simple and informal lobby, designed for the circulation of people. It’s located in the center of the Monserrate residence (between the Staircase and the Sacred Art Room), a preference that was very typical of 19th-century English country houses.
The Staircase, which gives access to the Bedroom Gallery and other rooms of the Palace of Monserrate, is made of marble. On its handrail, you can admire a pattern of ivy leaves carved in the same stone, which gives it harmony with the property’s exterior.
Unfortunately, the former guest rooms and the Cook family’s rooms don’t keep the furniture or household utensils of the time, but serve as an exhibition space for the so-called “interpretive area of the Palace of Monserrate“. Here, you can learn about the entire history of this summer residence and its owners, as well as the renovation projects that have taken place in recent decades.
The Sitting Room (also called the South Room) of the Palace of Monserrate used to be the favorite social space for the ladies who frequented this summer house.
Located on the south side of the residence, it was a familiar and informal room where the women of the family and their guests entertained themselves with conversations, readings, or activities such as sewing.
If, on the one hand, children frequented the Sitting Room (albeit sporadically), on the other hand, male presence was much rarer. This is because the gentlemen almost always preferred to retire to the Billiards Room, after dinner.
The furniture in this space is not original but recreates the taste of the time for Anglo-Indian wooden pieces.
The Billiards Room of the Palace of Monserrate was almost the equivalent of the so-called “Smoking Rooms”, exclusively male spaces, which were very popular in English houses during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
Still, the centerpiece of this social room was the big pool table. Unfortunately, this piece was lost in the last century, but according to records, it’s known that it would be in imitation of porphyry (a reddish-colored rock).
The rest of the original furniture, decoration and domestic utensils in the Billiards Room of the Palace of Monserrate were markedly masculine, in a sober and solemn style. But, like the pool table, the stuffing of this room (and of many others in this residence) “disappeared” in auctions.
The Music Room is the so-called “Noble Room” of the Palace of Monserrate, where Sir Francis Cook and his family received and entertained their guests. With excellent acoustics, it occupies the entire North Tower of the building and is still used today for recitals, concerts, and musical evenings.
Among its many decorative elements, the frieze and the cupola stand out. The first incorporates stucco busts of figures linked to music (such as the god Apollo and the Muses of Greek mythology, and also Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians and sacred music). Meanwhile, the cupola (also in stucco) is the hallmark of the room, with its white and gold motifs.
The Kitchen was the last area we visited inside the Palace of Monserrate, as it’s located on the underground floor. I confess that I expected a dark and gloomy room because of its location, but this service area is amply lit by doors, which give direct access to the garden!
In refined residences such as the Palace of Monserrate, meals were one of the main activities in terms of reception and socializing. For this reason, the summer residence had two distinct cooking spaces: one for hot dishes (around the huge stove) and another for the preparation of cold dishes (such as salads and desserts).
Park of Monserrate
The Park of Monserrate was inspired by the concept of botanical gardens, arranging species from all over the world by geographical areas over 33 hectares. The result is a diversity of colors, shapes, and perfumes, where dense and green vegetation predominates.
Among these wildlife nooks, you’ll also find artificial lakes and waterfalls, false ruins, and other small decorative structures, as was characteristic of 19th-century romantic gardens. These are some of the mandatory stops on a walk through the Park of Monserrate:
- Scented Path & Indian Arch
- Vathek’s Arch & Beckford’s Waterfall
- Fern Valley
- Mexican Garden
Works began in the 1960s and were extended into the first half of the 20th century, with the direct supervision of Francis Cook and interventions by landscape architect William Stockdale, botanist William Neville, and master gardener James Burt.
Scented Path & Indian Arch
“Scented Path” is the romantic name of the gallery that connects the Park to the Palace of Monserrate. This path consists of a balustrade, where climbing plants meander, forming a pergola. Don’t forget to also explore the magnificent staircase, built at the end of the 19th century!
The Indian Arch is one of the entrances to the Scented Path and was purchased by Sir Francis Cook himself from Charles Canning (a British statesman and Governor-General of India) in the year 1857. This arch is decorated with various oriental motifs, which match perfectly the brick balustrade!
Vathek’s Arch & Beckford’s Waterfall
Vathek’s Arch is probably the first thing you’ll see when you enter the Park of Monserrate. Its name is a tribute to the English writer William Beckford – more precisely to the protagonist of his Gothic novel “Vathek”, which was published in the year 1786.
A little further on, you’ll find Beckford’s Waterfall – another reference to the English novelist, who came to live in Sintra and Lisbon between March and November 1787! However, despite being a charming place, it’s important to mention that this waterfall is artificial.
Even though tree ferns are typical species of the rainforests of Australia and New Zealand (as well as other areas of this region of the globe), they became quite popular in Europe during the 19th century. Portugal and Sintra were no exception and the Park of Monserrate is home to a giant collection of ferns!
As these exotic species require special attention in terms of humidity and soil temperature, the Fern Valley was planted in order to receive the wind from the Atlantic coast. And the result is a very particular microclimate: it almost feels like you’ve traveled to another country!
Did you know that the Chapel of the Palace of Monserrate is actually a fake decorative ruin from 1790?
Hidden in a more remote part of the park, this chapel is reminiscent of the ruins of monasteries and abbeys in the United Kingdom, which punctuate the landscapes of the British countryside.
In my opinion, the artificial temple is one of the best outside nooks of the Monserrate property.
In addition to being little frequented – especially when compared to the Palace – it’s a very photogenic place!
The Mexican Garden was fully restored in the 21st century. And the name is due to the fact that almost all the trees and shrubs come from Central America.
With an area of 5000 m², the Mexican Garden is located in the hottest part of Monserrate – which seems impossible when you think that the Fern Valley is just a few meters away!
This feat was achieved with the diversion of the water line coming from Beckford’s Waterfall, the creation of terraces, and the planting of countless species of plants from hot, dry, and arid climates.
The easiest to identify in the landscape are palm trees, cactus, agaves, and succulents, all of different sizes.
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