Friday, 23 May 2008

Monserrate Gardens



I first visited the town of Sintra in Portugal nine years ago. Then I was avoiding a significant birthday, working on the principle, if it happened when I was out of the country it wouldn't count. On that day I stumbled across a gift wrapped palace in a garden every bit as secret as Helligan.

At the time the Monserrate Gardens and their crumbling palace were teetering on the edge of ruin or restoration. Once the home of the louche gothic author and friend of Byron, William Beckford, its elegant filigree plaster walls and ornate marble staircases showed many years of neglect.

Though officially open as a public park, few people ever went there. The paths were broken and it was hard to find a way through all the overhanging greenery, but the romantic hidden treasures were well worth the struggle: a strange semi Christian temple locked tightly in the grip of a banyan tree, elegant groves of tree ferns, towering palms and bird of paradise lilies sprouting weed like out of every crevice.

This time, instead of wandering in through a broken down gate, I paid a fee at a neat little kiosk, Well scrubbed lavatories and even a few plants for sale indicated a whole new order. Would E.U. funding and renewed civic pride have robbed this horticultural gem of its secret and brooding beauty?



The morning may have been overcast but the garden was the same; as mysteriously lush and green as ever, slightly more accessible but still bewitchingly beautiful. As the heavy rain started the tiny number of other visitors vanished and once again Monseratte Gardens were mine.

On my first visit the palace was wrapped bizarrely in polythene pending restoration. Then the careless guard had allowed us in and we wandered around in secret, marvelling at a fairy tale beauty, even half fallen ceilings and damp green walls couldn’t disguise.



Now the outside is repainted and a polite attendant checks tickets as you enter, but even E.U money had its limits. It will be while before tasteful restoration takes over completely and turns it into a splendid teahouse or museum. Give me romantic decay with a hint of decadence anytime.

10 comments:

Pondside said...

Gorgeous! I love to explore places like that - musty and overblown and mysterious. The photos are beautiful and give a good sense of the atmosphere. Made me want to go there!

LittleBrownDog said...

Totally and utterly gorgeous, LWB. I love the thought of hidden paths and spooky trees - and there's just a hint of the exotic, too, in the architecture and odd palm trees here and there. It looks like the sort of place you'd find if you unlocked a magic door into a strange, unexplored world...

Blossomcottage said...

What magic, I went to Heligan the first week they opened it, I would love to have seen Monserrate in its early days,I know that they have to restore these places but sometimes the moment before they do is the best.
Wonderful Blog.
Blossom

Faith said...

Ooh delicious blog, I love these sort of places - lucky you to have been twice.

Milla said...

glorious pictures, my particular favourite being the 5th one down, but all of them are lovely. I'd love to visit it one day - when we last went to Portugal we had to go to the ghastly Slide'n'Splash instead. Nuff said.

Frances said...

I had never before heard of the house or garden. Thank you for introducing these exotics to us.

Your photos and words are beautiful.

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

How brilliant that you managed to get the garden to yourself a second time - sometimes places are to be enjoyed with other members of the public and sometimes they are just for you and the place you are visiting a lone.

mountainear said...

I hope when it is fully restored it doesn't lose that sense of mystery and decaying grandeur you describe so well. I would have loved to have crept around the overgrown gardens letting my imagination run riot.

elizabethm said...

Utterly lovely garden and very beautiful blog. I'd love to see it while it is still slightly shabby. it's on the list.

scrappysue said...

i never know which blog to comment on when someone has more than one! gorgeous pics and thanks for stopping by my blog!