The freedom of a driving holiday. Isn't it absolutely wonderful? We were heading towards Porto in northern Portugal, aiming to stop in the old university town Coimbra. Or rather, we thought we had our sights set on Coimbra until we started reading a little about the city. An old university. How hungry were we for it, really? At the risk of sounding uncultured and boring, we honestly felt quite uninterested in an old university. By now we had seen so many charming little towns in Portugal and the day's quota of churches and cathedrals was full. So we changed the direction of the car and headed instead Mata Nacional do Buçaco, Bussaco forest, to get some fresh air and move around in the sunshine before we drove further north.
You understand quite quickly when you are in the forest. The greenery gets deeper, the trees look a little different and you are met by a high wall that surrounds the entire park. A lady sat in a booth and took entry from us. It was only a few euros, so it wouldn't be a huge financial loss if our last-minute change didn't work out. We drove all the way to the park's palace and parked next to it.
It was very green and fresh up here. Already in the 500th century, the monks of the area appreciated the magical mist and beauty of this forest, and at the beginning of the 17th century, a monastery was therefore built here. When Portuguese explorers later brought trees and plants from all over the world back to Portugal, it turned out that the climate up here on the mountain was perfect for the little plants. Rarely frost, a lot of rain and often thick fog during the summer. It is believed that the first tree planted up here in the monks' forest was a so-called Bucaco cedar, a tree brought home across the Atlantic all the way from Mexico in the mid-17th century.
Today, there are over 700 unique trees and plants here in the park. You might think this is a big forest, but the park is actually only 1,5 km x 1 km in size. A compact ecosystem with lots of greenery. We decided to walk to one of the most beautiful parts of the park - Fonte Free – the "cold fountain".
We started walking the path down one side of the mountain. It was an easy path, although the stairs along the path sometimes had strange step depth and step height. On the way down we passed an old ruin, covered with winding branches and with the rays of the sun as its only roof. We did not see a glimpse of the famous fog that usually covers the forest and for which the area is known.
The path took us to Fonte Fria's highest step and we walked down the steps to be able to enjoy the fountain from the "right" direction. We were strangely all alone, so we could stroll quite slowly and really allow ourselves to enjoy the rippling water and the beautiful moss. It smelled of dampness and cold water.
How beautiful this fountain is when the fog is thick I can only dream of, but when the sun's rays fought their way through the thick layer of leaves, the feeling became almost a little religious. What a beautiful forest – and what a beautiful fountain!
We had the stairs to ourselves for several minutes, before another couple of tourists suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs. The spell was broken. Time to hike back.
For some strange reason, there were more steps to walk on the way up (?), it suddenly felt like walking in a damp, endless green tunnel. Maybe there was something magical about the forest for real...
Once back at the hotel, we took the opportunity to explore the castle – this architectural princess cake. The castle began to be built in 1888 by the king of Portugal, Carlos I. It was to be a summer palace in neo-romantic style, i.e. in the same style as Neuschwanstein Castle, for example.
The castle was built on the site of the old monastery and it took almost 20 years before everything was completed. Unfortunately, the king never got to visit his new castle, as Carlos I was assassinated in Lisbon in 1908. The coup d'état for the castle's glory days came two years later, when the revolution in Portugal put the royal family on the run and Portugal became a republic. The disused castle was sold as a hotel in 1917 and has been a hotel ever since.
You don't have to stay at the hotel (now a luxury pousada) to enjoy all its details and frills, but if you have the opportunity, I think you should check out the option of staying a night at this beautiful castle. When we passed the English Garden at 10 o'clock in the morning, guests were still sitting up on the terrace eating breakfast in the sun. The juice glasses clinked and the white shirts of the waiters almost shone in the sun. It looked nicely decadent. Can't help but love neo-romanticism.
How do I get to Bussaco Forest?
Bussaco Forest is located 3 miles north of Coimbra, on a small mountain. Expect a 45 minute drive from Coimbra by car.
Mata Nacional do Buçaco
Is it worth going here?
If you're passing by, you should definitely stop by, it's one of the nicest parks we visited in Portugal. The entry for the car (5 Euro) is affordable. Expect your visit to take an hour.
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