A few months back I introduced you to one of the great Portuguese royal palaces, the Ajuda Palace, located in the verdant suburbs of Lisbon. Today, as I yearn for the dog days of summer, I’m doing as the Portuguese royals and aristos have done for centuries during the hot summer months and I’m heading for the cooler hills just 30 minutes outside of Lisbon to Sintra – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – to visit the fantastical (and uber eccentric) Pena Royal Palace.
Sintra is a charming town set in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains. Lisbon’s elite would come here to escape the heat of the city and in order to accommodate themselves for the summer months they built beautiful and fantastical architectural treasures. Towering majestically above the town is the Pena National Palace, a romantic Gothic/Moorish fairyland castle that even Walt Disney could not have dreamed up! Once a medieval monastery, by the mid-19th century it had all but fallen into ruin. It was King Ferdinand II who bought the land and set out to create this unique palace. Having himself grown up in Germany, you wonder if he was trying to bring a little piece of the Rhine to make him feel more at home in his adopted country. By 1854, Pena Palace was complete and joined the growing list of Portuguese royal palaces.
For anyone visiting Lisbon, a trip up to Sintra and to the Pena National Palace is a must. One approaches the castle by trails up the thickly wooded hills when suddenly like a mirage, an unexpected and surprising view of the castle appears before you. The eclectic mix of styles lend a rambling aspect that one associates with any good ol’ castle. And of course this being Southern Europe, this palace takes on a variety of hues from its gleaming gold circular tower, to the rosy pink of the Moorish inspired sections. I am not suggesting that you paint the exterior of your home in different shocking colors, but here it works wonderfully.
Frankly, from an interior design point of view, I would NEVER suggest that you replicate ANY of the interiors of the Pena Palace at home: they are full-on Victorian with heavy carved brown wood furniture and more patterns and fabrics than anyone should want in their lives. But, that said, there are some great points to take away.
A weekend home is a great place to experiment with styles that you wouldn’t dare to dream of using in your main home. The palace has very heavy Gothic styled rooms mixed with more fantastical spots like an Indian inspired lounge. For your own cottage or country getaway I would be more apt to try bold graphic prints and colors that lift the mood and create an atmosphere that lets you relax and really escape your Monday to Friday lifestyle.
Another great lesson from the Pena National Palace, is that although this is a castle built by a German prince and his German architect, they have not forgotten that they are actually in Portugal, so there are stunning nods to the heritage of local Portuguese craftsmen. For example, the entry gate looks back to the golden age of Portuguese stonemasons and the sumptuous Manueline style is pure 16th century Portugal.
The use of ceramic tiles on the walls and floors are also a good lesson to consider when living in hot places as they’re practical in keeping rooms cool during warm summer months. If you are redecorating a home in Aspen, blue and white tiles are not for you. But on the other hand if you are building a home in San Diego, then tile away my friends!
Just like the other house museums, Portuguese royal palaces give you a behind the scenes look at how the other half lived over a century ago … and they’re full of great stories that bring the rooms to life. Queen Amelia (1865-1951), after the fall of the monarchy, chose to spend her last night in Portugal at the Pena Palace, and after her exile, on her one visit back to Portugal, she visited the palace again – clearly it meant a great deal to her and it remains as enchanting today as it was back then.
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city
image credits: Parques de Sintra National Park; Richard Rabel