Bussaco – Portugal Travel

The royal domain of Bussaco is 1,300 feet above the sea-level; and vies with Cintra in natural beauty. In variety of trees and shrubs the woods are without a rival in Europe. The views, ranging west to the Atlantic, and east to the Serra da Estrella, are as picturesque as they are extensive. Bussaco is reached by rail from Lisbon in about four hours and from Oporto in about three; and thence by a drive of one and a quarter hours. In the midst of the woods, on the site of a Trappist monastery supprest in 1834, rise the sumptuous battlemented buildings of a hotel, designed in the Emmanuel style by Luigi Manini and erected in 1888-1905. The elaborate ornamentation in carving and azulejos was executed by Jose Barata, Anacleto Garcia, and other Portuguese artists. Adjoining the main building are four pavilions, two of which are reserved for the royal family. In front of the hotel lies a beautiful palm-garden and all around are magnificent Portuguese cypresses. The only existing remains of a monastery are the modest church, the cloisters, and a few cells lined with cork as a protection against damp.

The decoration of the outside walls with mosaic-patterns in black and white or red pebbles is peculiar to Bussaco, and is found on other buildings contemporaneous with the monastery.

The woods of Bussaco are surrounded by a wall three miles in circuit with nine gates, and include not only trees indigenous to Portugal but a large number of exotic varieties, some of which were brought home by Portuguese navigators as early as the sixteenth century. Others have been planted since the middle of the nineteenth century. With the dark needles of the cypresses are mingled “the leaves of gigantic planes, chestnuts, and evergreen oaks, the long tassels of the sea-pines, the graceful crowns of the forest-pines, and the thick and gnarled stems of the cork-oaks.” Pears, apples, and plums flourish side by side with oranges and lemons. Ivy, broom-plants, and heaths attain an extraordinary luxuriance. Many of the trees are centenarian cypresses, but the boast of Bussaco is its gigantic cedars, among which the cedar of Lebanon, the Atlantic cedar and the Himalayan cedar or deodar are all represented.

A magnificent avenue of cedars, the Avenida do Mosteiro, marks the former main approach to the monastery from the Porta de Coimbra. The road from Luzo leads to the northwest portion of the wood, which was added by purchase in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Footpaths intersect the wood in every direction, leading to the monastic Ermidas, or hermitages, and Passos, or chapels of the Passion, which are still visited by the country-folk, altho they have long been empty. Excellent water comes from numerous springs. The water of the Fonte Fria, to the north of the hotel, descends into a small lake over a water-staircase of ten steps, constructed in 1886. The Fonte do Carregal flows out of a grotto to the south of the hotel.

Bussaco is famous for its walks. Two of them are in charming groves. The Cruz Alta (1,775 feet), the highest point in the southwest portion of the convent-domain, richly repays the ascent. A carriage-road diverging at the hotel to the right from the Rua da Rainha leads to the top, which is marked by a stone cross. The summit may be reached in half an hour by a picturesque foot-path which quits the carriage-road at a point five minutes from the hotel, and ascends to the right, finally in zig-zags passing chapels with the Stations of the Cross. The top commands a magnificent panorama. To the southeast are the denuded heights of the Serra da Estrella; to the south ensconced amid pleasant green hills, are Coimbra and the Mondego valley; to the southwest, far below us, lies Pampihosa, to the west of which are extensive pine-woods, a long chain of dunes, and the sea.