Fairy tale Bussaco Palace or should that be Buçaco Palace?

Friday, April 11, 2014, 19:39

Today I'd like you to come with me to a hillside above the town of Luso in central Portugal where we can visit the Palace Hotel of Buçaco and, as we are in Portugal, we shall spell it like that – but we shall come back to 'Bussaco' later.

Just a take a look at the picture below and, if you don't exclaim, "Wow!" I shall think you as dull of soul as Wordsworth thought those who could pass by the view of London from Westminster Bridge.

Bucaco Palace exterior

To read the rest of the story, click here

Built as a romantic retreat between 1888 and 1907, this is one of the homes of the last kings of Portugal, though the romantic style harks back to the glory days of King Manuel and the Age of the Discoveries. Let's take a closer look at one of the neo-Manueline windows, shall we?

great arched window

Isn't that glorious? Mind you, if you think this window is ornate just wait until we go inside where we shall see a great deal more elaborate stucco work and vast pictures made of blue and white Portuguese tiles.

But first a little history

Did you wonder why I seemed unsure of the spelling? It's because in 1810 'Bussaco' was a place whose name reverberated around the corridors of power in London but the British, not understanding the pronunciation of 'ç', chose to write the name with 'ss' instead. You will see both spellings in Portugal even today. So what, you may be wondering, were the British doing in a remote part of the country which is our oldest ally at the beginning of the nineteenth century?

During the Peninsula War, the Emperor Napoleon ordered his generals to invade Portugal three times and on the last occasion their task was to take Lisbon and drive the British, who were supporting the Portuguese, out of Iberia. In this, despite having a superior number of troops, Napoleon overreached himself.

Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, blocked the French advance, channelling their troops into the mountains of Buçaco, where he placed his smaller forces strategically on the surrounding heights where the French were unable to attack with artillery and soften up the enemy for an infantry attack. Eventually the French army was driven off with greater losses than the Anglo-Portuguese army.

In those days there was no palace at Buçaco but there was a Carmelite monastery and it was there that Wellington rested after the battle. However, a fact little known to the British, is that like England under Henry VIII - though for different reasons - Portugal too had a dissolution of its monasteries - though not of its convents - in 1834, leaving the future monarchs a wonderful site on which to build their palace. (We shall return to the dissolution of the monasteries at a later date.)

The palace today

Now it is not just Buçaco Palace; it is Buçaco Palace Hotel so you and I can stay there as guests. Let's go inside.

interior lobby 1

Are you impressed? I do hope so. Just look at all the stucco – branches, urns of flowers and clusters of foliage hanging from the arches - interspersed with huge 'azulejos', tile pictures in traditional blue and white. Let's look at it from another angle.

Entrance hal l2

Here a cluster of espalier stone trees seems to have been pinned to the wall. Branches curve, twist and twine around a central clock. There are even scars on the branches as though pruning has taken place in order to maintain the shape.

Lobby clock

Let's go upstairs for a moment. On either side are vast azulejos of battle scenes, and above them wall paintings.

staircase bottom

Here we are at the top. Ahead of us is a vast stained glass window with the evening light glowing through it. Isn't that delightful?

Top of the stairs

All this can be yours for a night or two, if you choose. Put on your best clothes, sweep elegantly down the monumental stairs and make a grand entrance into the dining room because, of course, hotels are not just entrance lobbies and staircases. You need to eat too. Wouldn't you just love to dine next to this magnificent arched window with its white tracery as I did in January?

Dining room

Outside, the sky was leaden, fog shrouded the gardens in white cotton wool, and it rained – but hey! Who cares when you can eat great food in such lovely surroundings? The floor is made of pretty hexagon parquet and the ceiling has little wooden stalactites with lamps at the ends. You can't see it properly? Well look here:

Dining room ceiling

Isn't that lovely?

But what about the food, you ask? Well here's breakfast. Do you think you might find something to satisfy your hunger from amongst all these cereals, fruits, breads, jams, cakes, cheeses, hams and cooked options such as sausages and scrambled eggs? There's even champagne if you'd like it – but I can't drink alcohol first thing in the morning!

Breakfast buffet

The Barefoot Carmelites would probably be appalled to see such luxury but they could still enjoy the surroundings. They created exotic gardens and planted trees from Portugal's overseas territories, notably Brazil. This was to be a new Mount Carmel, an earthly Garden of Eden, and most of it is still there for you to explore, along with the Stations of the Cross. We avoided the gardens because of the rain but if you were to come in summer, you could wander among the trees in the cool shade, turn a corner to find a gushing waterfall or sit in the formal garden after your scrumptious breakfast.

Formal garden

You see what I mean about fog? But, remember, most people don't travel in the depths of winter, do they? Imagine this with a summer blue sky above. Here the hotel is luckier than the Count of Calheiros – at least so far – as, unlike his, these box hedges are still green and growing. (The Paço de Calheiros; tradition, continuity and modernity) I do hope the fungal disease, box blight, spares this pretty formal garden.

Just supposing you wanted to spend a honeymoon somewhere beautiful, exotic and different, wouldn't Buçaco be just perfect? You could choose the romantic royal suite with its intimate dining-room and private terrace overlooking the gardens and forest. You could, in fact, have your whole wedding there, with all your guests, and your choice of menu created by chef Dionisio Ferreira. I can't show you the royal suite – I've been married a long time so I didn't stay in it - but if you go there, why not send us some pictures?

As an aside, not so long ago, I was re-reading Winston Graham's twelve volume family saga about the Poldark family of Cornwall and, in one of the later books, what should I discover but that Ross Poldark was sent out as an emissary to the British forces fighting in the Napoleonic wars and found the troops at.... you've guessed it already ... Bussaco!

Have you ever come across Portugal represented in the arts? If so, do tell us about it.

To contact the Buçaco Palace Hotel write to    bussacopalace@themahotels.pt

Web site: http://bussacopalace.com

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