The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
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The Palácio de Monserrate is a hidden gem of Sintra, which you must include in your visit to the region.
This 19th-century villa is a whimsical fusion of Arabic styles, surrounded by classical English gardens and set in the lush, forested hills of Serra de Sintra.
The tri-towered Palacio de Monserrate is the most visually striking building in Sintra, drawing inspiration from Islamic architecture and the ideals of symmetry. Inside, you'll find exquisitely fine lattice carvings and geometric patterns, creating the atmosphere of a luxurious Middle Eastern setting.
While the main building is a cacophony of exotic ideas, the garden offers a slice of England in the balmy climate of Portugal. The villa was commissioned by the Englishman Sir Francis Cook, who envisaged a classically English garden surrounding his opulent summer residence.
Leading up to the main building is a formal lawn, scented by the sweet aroma of the extensive rose gardens. Further from the villa, you'll discover a Mexican garden, refreshing fern gardens and dense forests, along with an abandoned chapel overgrown by ancient trees. These gardens of Monserrate are fascinating and intriguing, and arguably better than the grounds of the overly popular Quinta da Regaleira.
Despite being one of Sintra's finest attractions, the Palacio de Monserrate remains one of its least visited. Being located 3.5km from the historic centre of Sintra and less well known than the Palácio da Pena, it often escapes the attention of day-trippers. However, this relative obscurity ensures that Monserrate is always peaceful and tranquil, even at the height of the tourist season.
This article aims to highlight why you must visit the Palacio de Monserrate, and includes useful tourist information along with an image tour.
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The beautiful southern tower, which was designed as the grand entrance to the palace.
The intricate, lattice stone carvings along the Átrio Principal are as exquisite as those found in any opulent Middle-Eastern palace.
The Ruínas da Capela de Monserrate, the ruins of a chapel that are intertwined with the ancient forests.
The entrance fee for the Palácio de Monserrate is €8 for adults, €6.50 for youths (aged 6 to 17) and €6.50 for seniors. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket booth upon arrival, or in advance from the Parques de Sintra website or GetYourGuide.com.
Pre-purchasing tickets isn't necessary for Monserrate, as it rarely gets as busy as other attractions in Sintra. The advantage of buying tickets from GetYourGuide is the ability to make purchases in your home currency, avoiding conversion fees or poor exchange rates.
The grounds of the Palácio de Monserrate are open from 9am to 7pm, with the palace itself open from 9.30am to 6.30pm (last admission at 6pm). A typical visit will last around two hours, with one hour in the gardens, 30 minutes in the palace and 15 minutes walking between the palace and the ticket office.
A visit to Monserrate involves a significant amount of walking, including a very steep hill between the ticket office and the palace.
Insight: Always plan your visit to Monserrate on a dry day. This is not a tourist attraction to visit on a wet day or if rain threatens, as the majority of Monserrate's sights are outside.
As one of the least visited buildings of the Sintra region, Monserrate is rarely packed with tourists. This makes it a good option to visit during the peak hours (11am to 2pm) of the summer season, when the other sights will be very crowded.
Within the palace grounds is a modern café with pleasant outside seating, but sadly the range of food and drinks served is very basic, with coffee from a machine and no freshly cooked food (a real missed opportunity by Parques de Sintra). There are no other shops or cafes close to the entrance of the Palácio de Monserrate.
The music room fills the entire northern tower.
The Palacio de Monserrate lies 3.5km to the west of the historic centre of Sintra.
This is too far for most people to walk, and the route follows narrow, twisting roads that are not really suited for pedestrians.
The best method of travel to Monserrate is to catch the 435 bus service that departs from Sintra train station. A one-way ticket will cost you €3.75, but often the 24-hour hop-on, hop-off ticket for all Sintra buses (at €12.50) will be encouraged for sale first. This bus service can get very busy as it also serves the Quinta da Regaleira, which is where the majority of passengers will exit the bus.
Insight: With the banning of traffic from the historic centre of Sintra, the 435 bus route goes on a convoluted 8km journey to reach Monserrate. During the peak season, this bus ride can take longer than 20 minutes due to the large amount of tourist traffic.
Should you prefer a private means of transport, taxis and tuk-tuks are available. However, they are a costlier choice, with fares typically exceeding €20 for the ride from the station. A more cost-effective alternative is Uber or Bolt, with their fares falling within the €6 to €8 range, but there can be very high demand during peak hours.
There is a large car park at Monserrate, and this is one of the only monuments we would recommend driving to if you have a car.
The best route for exploring Monserrate is to visit the gardens first (the Floresta Nativa, Beckford waterfall, the chapel ruins, the Mexican garden and rose gardens), then walk up the lawns to the palace. After seeing the interior of the palace, the route back to the entrance passes the scented pathway, the Japanese garden and the fern valley.
This route is recommended since the majority of the gardens are hidden from the main building, and it is very easy to walk directly from the ticket office to the palace and inadvertently bypass most of the beautiful grounds.
The map below shows a suggested tour route of the Palacio de Monserrate, which is the basis for the image tour in the next section. The yellow line marks the hiking route to the Convento dos Capuchos (Note: zoom out to see all of the points).
Legend: 1) Ticket office 2) Arco de Vathek 3) Floresta Nativa 4) Beckford waterfall 5) Ruínas da Capela de Monserrate 6) Fern Valley 7) Ornamental lakes 8) Jardim de México 9) Rose garden 10) Lawn 11) Garden entrance 12) North Tower (music hall) 13) South Tower (main entrance) 14) Japanese garden 15) Indian gate 16) Boulder House 16) Café 17) Lagoa de Merendas 18) Lagoa dos Mosqueiros 19) Convento dos Capuchos
To the south of the Palacio de Monserrate (on the opposite side of the road) is the Lagoa de Merendas Lake, which is a pleasant location for a picnic.
Beyond the lakes lies a series of dirt roads that cross the Serra de Sintra hills. Maintained primarily for firefighting in the forest, these tranquil and scenic paths offer multiple routes, including those to the Lagoa dos Mosqueiros (1km) and the Convento dos Capuchos (2.3km).
The pristine forests close to the Lagoa dos Mosqueiros
There is a lot to see at the Palacio de Monserrate, and this image tour will help you get the most from the palace and gardens.
After purchasing your tickets, take the small path on the left, which follows the perimeter wall. This leads through the Floresta Nativa, a section of the original oak forest that once covered the entirety of the Serra de Sintra.
This leads past the Arco de Vathek, but the path down the hill has been sadly washed away by Sintra's constant rains.
The path weaves through the forest and descends down the hill to the base of Cascata de Beckford (Beckford waterfall) and the stepping stones that cross the pond. The waterfall is artificial, and one of the many streams that cross the estate had to be diverted to create it.
Next is one of the highlights of the Palácio de Monserrate, the Ruínas da Capela de Monserrate, which provides one of the best photo opportunities in Sintra (which surprisingly has yet to be discovered by social media).
The setting is magical and is often referred to as Portugal’s answer to the Ta Prohm temple (of Angkor Wat in Cambodia).
The ruins are actually not that old, being constructed (as ruins) at the same time as the palace in 1863. The majestic trees that grow over the faux ruins are Australian rubber trees, which provide a wonderful photo opportunity.
The Jardim de México is located on the sunniest (and hence driest) section of Montserrat and includes Mexican Taxodium, Giant Starlet and Bunya Pine trees.
To keep the ground of the Jardim de México suitably dry for growing desert plants, a complex series of water channels and lakes divert any groundwater from this area.
Next, walk around the edge of the Roseiral (rose gardens), which produce sweet, floral aromas that drift across the lawns and up to the palace during the flowering season. The restored rose gardens were officially opened by King Charles III in March 2011.
After enjoying the rose gardens, head up the lawn to the Garden Entrance of the palace. This lawn, which could sit proudly in front of any British stately home, was the first to be planted in Portugal. Being in Portugal, it requires a specialist irrigation system and constant maintenance to grow.
The view from the Garden Terrace overlooking the lawn.
The terrace leads to the Garden Entrance, where guests could access the gardens and their bedrooms without passing through the main house. In the first room is a sweeping staircase to the upper levels, but it is better to first head to the Gallery. This stunningly beautiful room extends the entire length of the palace and connects all of the ground-floor rooms. The beautiful geometric latticework is supported by rose marble columns.
At the centre of the palace, the Gallery opens out into the Átrio Principal, possibly one of the most impressive rooms in glorious Sintra.
The Átrio Principal fuses Arabic and Gothic designs and is topped by an impressive, octagonal-domed roof, inspired by the Batalha Monastery.
The Palácio de Monserrate was constructed as the summer residence of Francis Cook. The central feature of the Átrio Principal is a fountain, providing the refreshing sounds of running water.
Occupying the entire northern tower is the music room, which was designed to have outstanding acoustics.
The library has a much darker appearance than the rest of the light and airy palace, being decorated with walnut furniture. This was used as an office by Francis Cook, which could be closed off from the rest of the house by the beautifully carved door – this is the only door along the Gallery hallway.
Opposite the library is the dining room. This room lacks any furniture, as the palace was sadly abandoned for over 50 years and many of the original features were lost.
The southern tower was constructed as the entrance room, and one of the best views of the Palácio de Monserrate is from the outside of the entrance.
On the walk back to the ticket office, you will pass beneath the Indian arch, brought to Monserrate in 1857 from Delhi.
Just beyond the Indian arch are the café and the distinctive Boulder House, used as the administration building for Parques de Sintra.
The footpath then climbs a steep hill back to the main entrance.
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