BUCACO TOURISM GUIDE
A grandiose palace amid a magical forest
FIND BUCACO (LUSO) HOTELS »
Buçaco (or "Bussaco" in its old spelling) is a magical forest with around 700 varieties of trees. Many of them were brought to Europe by Portuguese explorers from Africa and the New World, including 300 exotic species such
as Himalayan pines and Mexican cedars.
It was once a monastic retreat, and dotted throughout the forest are secret grottoes, waterfalls, fountains, and tiny hermitages. Women were banned from this "garden of Eden" by papal decree to keep the monks free from temptation, and anyone who destroyed a tree was threatened with excommunication.
On the exterior façade of a 17th century Rococo gate to the forest (the "Coimbra Gate"), are two marble plaques displaying the text of these two papal bulls.
One of the major battles of the Peninsular War took place here, when the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon's troops in 1810. Outside the forest wall, a small museum dedicated to the Peninsular War explains the Napoleonic invasion through engravings, maps, uniforms, and weapons. Just above it is an obelisk standing as a memorial to the battle.
In the center of it all is the neo-Manueline Buçaco Palace, one of Europe's most grandiose smaller palaces. It is now one of the country's top hotels and one of Europe's oldest. Commissioned by King Carlos in 1888, it began as a royal hunting lodge and was only used once by his son Manuel II. He stayed at the palace with French actress Gaby Deslys, with whom he had a brief romance before his exile in 1910. Soon after that, in the years between the two world wars, it became one of Europe's most fashionable addresses for socialites as a luxury hotel.
Today it is still going strong, with many visiting Buçaco just to see this extravagant structure. It is an architectural fantasy, with influences from Lisbon's Jeronimos Monastery, Venice's Doge's Palace, and Bavaria's Graustark Palaces, consisting of galleries with flamboyant arches, armillary spheres, turrets, and spires.
Inside is a grand marble staircase and walls of tiles by prominent artists depicting scenes from Portuguese history, including the Battle of Buçaco. The most spectacular room guests can sleep in is the queen's suite, with a private parlor, dressing room, marble bathroom, and dining room.
The palace sells maps of the area, and is open to non-guests for meals or a drink. The restaurant has a carved Gothic ceiling and Manueline terrace, fine cuisine, and an impressive wine list, including the excellent quality Buçaco label.
Immediately to the south of the palace are the ruins of an old Carmelite monastery. Only the cloisters, chapel, and a few cork-lined cells remain, along with a plaque recording that Wellington slept inside after the battle.
To the west is a giant cross, the Cruz Alta, a phenomenal viewpoint, while to the north is the Fonte Fria, a spring cascading down 144 steps into a flower-ringed basin.
Nearby is the spa town of LUSO, from where Portugal's most popular brand of bottled mineral water comes from. The spa (open to casual visitors) is claimed to be beneficial to the treatment of a wide range of conditions, from arthritis to liver and kidney problems. Don't miss the 19th century Salão de Chá, a tea house with wonderful Art Nouveau décor.
Buçaco can be seen on a daytrip from Coimbra, from where buses to Luso or Viseu detour through the forest, stopping at the Buçaco Palace, taking about one hour.
FIND BUCACO (LUSO) HOTELS »
- Old university town; a tragic love story
Conimbriga - Roman village; Iberia's best preserved Roman mosaics
Figueira da Foz - The country's longest beach; exceptional Delft tiles; casino fun.
Aveiro - Colorful boats down attractive canals; a princess-saint; fine porcelain; a lovely fairytale castle
AND TAGUS VALLEY
Castelo de Vide
Vila Real de Santo António
BEIRAS (CENTRAL PORTUGAL)
Figueira da Foz
Serra da Estrela
PORTO AND DOURO
Gerês National Park
Ponte de Lima
Ponte da Barca
Viana do Castelo