The Villa Sassetti is the perfect fusion of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra: the architectural details are reminiscent of the Palace of Monserrate, while the garden’s winding path resembles those of the Quinta da Regaleira; the vegetation that hides the mansion recreates the bucolic atmosphere of the Chalet of the Countess of Edla and the Convent of the Capuchos; the pedestrian route to the Moorish Castle and the National Palace of Pena crosses this same property; and from here, you have privileged views of the National Palace of Sintra!
The history of the Villa Sassetti began in 1885 when Victor Carlos Sassetti decided to build a summer house based on the castles of Lombardy. And to design it, he invited Luigi Manini (the architect responsible for the Quinta da Regaleira). The result was a Mediterranean-inspired “villa”, thanks to the circular tower in Lombard Romanesque style, the terracotta tones, the Portuguese tiles, and the granite from the Sintra Mountains!
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- Brief History of the Villa Sassetti
- How to Get to the Villa Sassetti
- What to See at the Villa Sassetti
- More Posts about Portugal
- More Posts about Gardens and Parks
- More Posts about World Heritage
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Brief History of the Villa Sassetti
Born in Sintra (but descended from Italian immigrants), Victor Carlos Sassetti was the owner of the renowned Hotel Braganza (in Lisbon) and Hotel Victor (in Sintra). And in 1885, the wealthy businessman acquired land on the slopes of the Sintra Mountains, to build a summer palace there.
The project of the Villa Sassetti and its lush gardens was in charge of his friend Luigi Manini (the Italian architect and set designer, who would design the Quinta da Regaleira a few years later). And this one drew inspiration from the castles that dot the landscapes of Lombardy, a region in northern Italy.
The works began in 1890 and were closely followed by Sassetti himself, who wanted to fit his new residence into the surrounding landscape as harmoniously as possible. For this, Luigi Manini designed the gardens according to a naturalist aesthetic, which seems to have come out of one of his operatic settings!
When Victor Carlos Sassetti died in 1915, Vila Sassetti was inherited by his wife and son, who leased the property to the petroleum engineer and businessman Calouste Gulbenkian between 1920 and 1955. With the death of the Armenian millionaire that same year, Sassetti’s son sold the summer house to Isabel Armanda Luísa Real.
The new owner not only enlarged and changed the main building but also built the Farmkeeper’s House (in Portuguese, Casa do Caseiro) and changed the name of Villa Sassetti to Quinta da Amizade (ie, Farm of Friendship). The new name is an allusion to the Penedo da Amizade (ie, Boulder of Friendship), a granite cliff located very close to the West Wall of the Moorish Castle.
In the decades that followed, the Villa Sassetti (or rather, Quinta da Amizade) had other owners: first Isabel Maria Castro Santos (in 1979), then Sara Gabriel Teixeira Albergaria (in 1984), the Municipality of Sintra (in 2004), and finally Parques de Sintra (since 2011).
Did you know that the Villa Sassetti 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 Villa Sassetti, such as the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, the Convent of the Capuchos, the National Palace of Pena, the National Palace of Sintra, the Palace of Monserrate, and the Quinta da Regaleira, 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 Villa Sassetti
The Villa Sassetti is 550 meters (walking) from the National Palace of Sintra, the heart of the historic center. However, if you have a car, I advise you to leave it in a free car park (at the entrance to the town), as it’s very difficult to find a space outside the Villa Sassetti. Also, parking in Sintra tends to be 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, you have two options:
- Walk to the Villa Sassetti for 15-20 minutes (approximately 1200 meters, with slightly steep ups and downs)
- Take bus 434 (“Pena Circuit”) or 435 (“Villa Express 4 Palaces”) from Scotturb and get off at the “Sintra Vila” stop (where the National Palace of Sintra is located), and then do the rest on foot. This trip has a fixed cost of €6.90 and €5, respectively
TIP: There’s a bus stop at Ferreira Castro Square, a few meters from the entrance to Villa Sassetti. And although it’s not signposted on the 434 and 435 tourist routes, both buses stop here!
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Villa Sassetti is open every day of the year (except on January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, and December 24th, 25th, and 31st) from 10 am to 6 pm (during high season) or from 9 am to 5 pm (during low season). And if you’re wondering how much tickets cost, guess what: admission is free for everyone (at least, for now)!
What to See at the Villa Sassetti
The Villa Sassetti (in this case, the mansion itself) is the main house and structure of a homonymous property with 1.2 hectares of land. With dozens of halls and rooms spread over three floors, it took about four years to complete (that is, from 1890 to 1894).
WARNING: Unlike other monuments of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra that are also open to tourism, it’s not possible to visit the interior of Villa Sassetti. This is because the heritage intervention and rehabilitation works started in the last decade aren’t finished yet!
As I mentioned in the introduction, the Villa Sassetti is a leisure mansion inspired by Mediterranean architecture (especially Italian and Portuguese). And some of these architectural elements and decorative details are clearly visible on the Main Façade.
For example, notice the two panels of Portuguese tiles, dating from the 17th century and which were part of Victor Carlos Sassetti’s personal collection of antiques and art.
Or, the ceramic plate with a bas-relief, which depicts the scene in which Saint George killed the dragon with his spear (an episode known as the “Legend of the Dragon and the Princess”). Underneath this iconography, the coat of arms of the Sassetti family was also carved.
The Turret is probably the architectural element that stands out the most in the Villa Sassetti.
Conceived as the “heart” of the building, this large three-story circular tower communicates with various rooms of the house and has panoramic views over the Garden.
From this perspective, it’s also possible to admire other Mediterranean details, namely the use of granite from Sintra on the walls and ceramic materials in terracotta tones in the friezes, trim, and window arches.
This stylistic option is typical of Lombard Romanesque architecture and gave the Villa Sassetti a more “exotic” look – like the Palace of Monserrate!
The Roof of the Villa Sassetti is a true tribute to traditional Portuguese roofs.
After the terracotta bricks you’ve seen on the Main Façade and the Turret, it’s impossible not to notice the roof with its orange tiles, which seem to glow under the sunlight.
Once again, the use of this type of ceramic material was a choice of owner Victor Carlos Sassetti and architect Luigi Manini, as both were fans of terracotta tones.
But the Villa Sassetti’s Roof is not just made of Moorish tiles! The rows are interspersed with mortar channels, which aimed to facilitate the drainage of rainwaters.
Did you know that the Villa Sassetti is part of the hiking trail to the Moorish Castle and the National Palace of Pena? This pedestrian access starts in the historic center of Sintra and is an excellent alternative for trails and nature lovers!
If you want to know more about this hiking trail (one of the several existing in the Sintra Mountains), head to the Tourist Office!
The idea arose when Parques de Sintra bought the Villa Sassetti from the Sintra Town Council, in the year 2011. Until that time, tourists who wanted to visit the two monuments on foot had to opt for the Pena Road – which, in addition to being dangerous due to road traffic, has a much greater extension.
So, if you like hiking and don’t mind going up 2000-2500 km of the Sintra Mountains, I recommend you try this trail. Not only will you be able to walk through the Garden of the Villa Sassetti, but also visit the Boulder of Friendship, a very popular attraction for rock climbing!
At first glance, the Garden of the Villa Sassetti seems to have a hundred paths. But the truth is that it’s just an “infinite” Pathway, which winds through the entire property. This Pathway starts at the entrance/exit gate of the Villa Sassetti and goes up the slope of the Sintra Mountains, between curves, counter-curves, ramps, and steps!
Along the way – literally – you’ll pass hundreds of autochthonous and exotic botanical species, which were planted by the different owners of the Villa Sassetti. Among them are worth mentioning the palm trees (from South America), oaks (native to Europe and Asia), giant spear lilies (from Australia), and camellias (from Asia, more precisely from China and Japan).
The Stream of the Villa Sassetti is a long, artificial watercourse, which was carefully planned by Luigi Manini. This is because at that time – between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century – it was essential to include the water element in the landscaping of large manor houses.
Enclosed in the lowest part (in altitude) of the Garden, this watercourse runs through granite fountains, moss-covered waterfalls, and ponds with fish and water lilies, integrating the bucolic landscape of the Villa Sassetti in a simply fascinating harmony!
The Pergola is one of the most photogenic places in the Garden of the Villa Sassetti, with its dozens of granite stone columns covered with climbing plants.
You can find it before arriving at the Sassetti family’s house, as it forms part of the winding Pathway.
This long gallery also passes through the Farmkeeper’s House, the small chalet built by Isabel Armanda Luísa Real in 1958.
The last stop in this guide about the Villa Sassetti is the Dovecote, a circular structure located at the back of the mansion. It was designed by Luigi Manini, as another decorative element of the Garden (also conceived by him).
In architectural terms, the Dovecote is very similar to the Turret, as it has the same shape and uses identical building materials (such as granite from the Sintra Mountains and terracotta brick/tile).
From this point, you can continue up the slope, to have an even more impressive view of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra. Can you discover the Chalet Biester, the Seteais Palaces, the Quinta da Regaleira, the Quinta do Relógio, or the National Palace of Sintra?
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