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The Forest and Palace of Buçaco - Birdwatching Luso - Portugal

For centuries, the beautiful forest of Buçaco, a verdant woods on the side of a hill, was a monastic retreat. The Carmelite monks lived a life of seclusion inside the walled-off forest, and no women were allowed inside by papal decree. This was intended to keep the monks from temptation.

The legacy of these centuries is still apparent: at different points in the forest are small, secluded one-room structures called hermitages, where monks could go to be alone and meditate, as well as numerous fountains, small waterfalls and secret grottoes. During the Age of Discovery, Portuguese sailors and navigators brought back plants and trees from around the world, and today you can still enjoy them: look for species such as Mexican cedars and South American tree palms.

In 1810, the area around Buçaco was the scene of a great battle between French napoleonic invaders and a combined British-Portuguese force under the Duke of Wellington. The invaders were decisively repelled in spite of superior numbers, and were eventually driven from Portugal.

The forest brings many visitors: highlights include the Fonte Fria, a beautiful fountain and stone staircase, and Cruz Alta, where you can have a great view of the surrounding area. It is also worth it to check out the old walls and gates that surround the monk’s forest: the “Coimbra Gate” even features a marble reproduction of the papal bulls that protected the forest and kept the women out! There are numerous walking trails through the forest, and you can get a map of them at the Palace.

The Buçaco Palace was commissioned in 1888 by King Carlos of Portugal as a hunting retreat. The palace is rather small when compared to the palaces of Pena or Queluz, but nevertheless stunning. Ironically, it was only used once, by Carlos’ son Manuel II, before the Portuguese Royal family had to skedaddle in 1910. Manuel II was not hunting traditional game: he used the palace to shack up with French actress and dancer Gaby Deslys, with whom he was infatuated (his reckless spending on her is considered by some to be one cause of the Portuguese people rising up against him).

The Palace, a pretty impressive hunting retreat by any standard, is a fairy-tale collection of stone arches, tile murals, marble walls, rich furniture, beautiful gardens and towers. Some of the impressive tile murals depict scenes from the battle of Buçaco.

Since the end of the First World War, the Palace has been a luxury hotel, drawing well-heeled visitors from around the world. Staying at the Palace is an expensive proposition, but even if you can’t afford it, you should go see it and wander its elegant corridors and gardens, and maybe even spring for a meal or snack there.

Luso, Portugal

Birdwatching, Hiking, Historical Building, History

Getting There
The Palace and forest are only a few minutes from nearby Luso, and not far from the larger city of Coimbra.

Travel Tips: Get a good map of the trails before you go wandering in the woods!

Price Description: It is free to wander around the forest and palace: staying or dining at the hotel is quite expensive.

Open Hours to:Closed after dark

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
27 Sep 2007

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