“Another day, another palace.” This was our creed during our week-long stay in Sintra. Today, we’d be visiting the Palace of Monserrate, an eccentric estate constructed by a pair of wealthy Englishmen in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This was originally the location of a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrate, which was destroyed by the great 1755 earthquake. In 1790, Gerard de Visme bought the property and built a neo-Gothic mansion, which he soon leased to William Beckford, the famous British novelist, artist, and architect. Lord Byron visited in 1809 and, captivated by the romantic atmosphere of the estate, immortalized it in his poem Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage.
Perhaps it was Lord Byron’s description which led Sir Francis Cook to purchase Monserrate in 1856, as a summer home. A wealthy textile industrialist, Cook set about building on top of the ruins of the neo-Gothic estate.
The result is fascinating, as the palace brings together a wide variety of influences from around the world. The narrow gallery, with its columns and overlapping arches, might easily be from the home of some Moroccan sultan. The entrance hall is octagonal in shape, and features pink marble columns and Gothic arches, maybe Italy? The library is all dark red wood, and is the most English-feeling room in the house. And the alabaster panels in the main hall come from India.
The international theme continues outside, in a beautiful garden connected to the palace by a long, grassy lawn (the first lawn ever planted in Portugal). There are trees from China, New Zealand and Australia, cypresses from the swamps of the Mississippi Valley, and small gardens dedicated to the plants of Mexico and Japan, along with a circular rose garden.
The palace isn’t nearly as big as that of Pena or Sintra, but with the gardens, I’d plan on two hours to visit Monserrate at a relaxed pace.