Serralves, Porto
Gardens, Travel

3 surprising gardens in Portugal

There’s no gardening in Spectrum this weekend. My column was ditched in favour of a feature on Spectrum Now. I’ll save it for another time, but it seems wrong to have no gardening to read on the weekend so here are just three reasons to go garden-touring in Portugal that you might not have heard of.

#1 Serralves Museum, Portugal

I went for contemporary art displayed in a fabulous minimalist building by Alvaro Siza Vieira, so imagine the thrill when I walked through the garden and found this:

Serralves, Porto

It’s the original art deco mansion of the 2nd Count of Vizela, who built it on the grounds of his family’s summer residence on what was then the outskirts of Porto. The brilliant formal gardens, which manage to integrate French 18th century formal style with Art Deco geometries and Portuguese colours, were originally designed by Jacques Greber in 1932 and were restored in 2001. Other treats in the grounds include mature avenues of trees, a lake, contemporary sculpture and the ancient natural sculpture of a 1000-year old olive. I almost feel bad telling you about it becausse the thrill of discovery is so great!

Serralves, Porto

#2 Queluz National Palace, Sintra

This baroque royal palace is between Sintra and Lisbon and so most tourists who day trip to Sintra miss it. And that’s a shame. For as long as anyone can remember it’s been painted a rosy pink, but researchers discovered it was originally sky blue and yellow, which looks fantastic, and much more regal than the pink.


I particularly loved the lead sculptures of mythical characters by John Cheere. Cheere had a thriving business mass-producing lead and plaster sculptures in mid-18th century London. Yet so few remain in English gardens that the Queluz collection holds the only surviving examples of many subjects. A team of restorers has been trained through the World Monuments Fund to preserve the collection. And you’d have to agree they are doing an amazing job:


#3 Palacio de Fronteira, Bonfica, Lisbon

Ok, this one might not surprise you if you have been assiduously reading Phaidon’s brick of gardens to put on your must-see list, The Gardener’s Garden. But Frontiera takes some getting to, partly because the 13th Marquis de Fronteira and his family still live here. You need to book one of the limited viewing opportunities by phone and arrive early, as the guide (who speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and English) does his tour in the first two languages who turn up.

Fronteira, Lisbon

The gardens are grand, slightly overgrown, almost tropically lush, and full of mad stories, satires and tributes told in tiles. Oh, and there’s a cranky black swan who stops you getting too close to the moat. You’ll want to linger and settle into imagining what it might be like to have this as your backyard.

Fronteira, Lisbon

These are just three of the gardens I loved on my trip. (I have also written about Monserrate in Sintra). There are plenty more, and I’m keen to take a tour to Portugal to see them again, and to revisit the charms of Lisbon and Porto, and eat more delicious sweets – I promise you, custard tarts are only the beginning! –  in 2017. If that sounds like something you’d like to do send me an email as an expression of interest. If I can round up enough people I can lobby Ross Garden Tours to put something together. See you there!

Fronteira, Lisbon


3 thoughts on “3 surprising gardens in Portugal

  1. Bona articula, Robin(a) – bravo a ti! (boo on the SMH W/end editor…). Nice to see yew trees in prominence looking decidedly un-English. I can see how that Count-ish family wants to stay living there. Interesting how ‘elms’, ‘oaks’ and ‘yews’ supposedly English/Irish bob up right across Europe, even Nth.Africa in yews’ case.

    That 2017 trip sounds fun – wish i could join you. but alas, broke.

  2. Missed you in the weekend paper – I hope this is not a sign of things to come . My local papers decided last year that gardening was no longer of interest. More space for football!

    • Robin Powell says:

      Apparently it was just a one-off Liz, but some readers were worried, and pummelled with the ed. with a flurry of panicked emails. Which I must say was very satisfying!

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