Fairytale walk through an enchanted castle garden
Between Benfica and the green slopes of Monsanto, a magical garden in Italian style hides behind high walls and is completely cut off from the present by a wrought-iron gate. The pretty Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira was completed in 1675 and is one of the few palaces in Lisbon to have survived the devastating earthquake of 1755 almost unscathed, while the royal palace with its valuable library was completely destroyed by the earthquake, the tsunami and the great fire, and King José I, who happened to be absent with his daughters for a trip into the countryside, was to spend the rest of his life in a tent city above Belem for fear of further quakes – in other words, a feudal ‘glamping’ adventure, so to speak.
Unfortunately it is still not easy to get into the garden, as the palace is still inhabited by members of the Mascarenhas family and is only open to visitors from time to time. However, this difficulty also has the advantage of only having to share the park with only a few other strollers and getting a better sense of this long-gone time.
Along low geometric patterned hedges and past sculptures, you will repeatedly come across pretty tiled walls with fairytale motifs from past centuries. In addition to everyday scenes of country life, fishing and hunting, as well as court societies, you can discover many native and exotic animals, including mythical creatures such as mermaids and other sea creatures, planets, zodiac signs, allegorical representations and much more.
The tiles, which come from Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands, open up wonderful worlds of images for children and curious parents alike, from a time that we usually only know from history books. It is also hardly surprising that the palace was the venue for the most important literary salons in Portugal at the beginning of the 19th century, under the direction of the dazzling Alcipe, the Marquessa de Alorna.
A fountain, also richly decorated with azulejos, also enticed our children to take a detailed tour of it. The family members of the Mascarenhas are presented here in detail, and the stairs lead up to the Gallery of the Kings, where all Portuguese kings up to the beginning of the 19th century are exhibited with a marble bust. But beware of the black swan that guards the old kings’ busts, because he doesn’t let the common people view them without a fight!
The small grotto to the right of the fountain offers protection. The playful and very popular garden motif was built here into an old, cool chapel – the oldest building on the estate.
When the swan finally turns to other intruders, or when the little explorers have regained some courage, the walk can continue through two more generously laid-out gardens. By the way, a visit to the small palace toilet is highly recommended for the little ones, and not only because there is no other option.
And if you still feel like it, you can either walk through the quiet Calhau district to the left of the palace, which was more of a slum area until the Carnation Revolution but was then replaced by small, cosy houses, up to the Parque do Calhau in 10 minutes, where you can have a wonderful picnic and enjoy the summer evening, or you can follow the road to the right to the forest playground Parque Recreativo do Alto da Serafina.
Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira
Largo São Domingos de Benfica 01, Lisboa
GPS: 38.740345, -9.180510
Getting there: by bus no. 770 from Sete Rios.
The palace is rarely open. Best to inquire in advance.
Monday – Friday: 10:30am – 5:00pm
Saturdays: 10:30am – 4:00pm
Last admission half an hour before closing time.
Closed on Sundays and public holidays.
Entry: 7 €
Audio garden guide: 3 €