- Location: North of Coimbra in central Portugal
- Attraction type: National Park
- Significance: Famous for thick forests and a Palace Hotel
- Best Time to visit: May to October
- How to Reach: By road from Coimbra
- Nearest Airport: Coimbra Airport
Serra do Bussaco in Portugal is a vibrant dense forest grown around Palace of Bussaco. This Portuguese mountain offers a breathtaking view of the forests, Mondego Valley and Atlantic Ocean. The forest abounds in gigantic trees like evergreen oak, cypress, and cork. Over 400 varieties of endemic trees and more than 300 plant species from Japan, Mexico, and Chile have enriched the Bussaco National Park in Portugal.
Inside this forest, Discalced Carmelites, an order of barefooted monks built a monastery and had the adjoining 105 hectare of forest surrounded with a wall. However prior to the coming of the Discalced Carmelite monks, the forest was occupied by Benedictine monks in the 6th century and later by priests from Coimbra Cathedral in early 17th century. The barefooted Carmelite monks occupied Bussaco forest in 1628 and made it inadmissible to women. At the entrance of the forest there are two plaques, one threatening to excommunicate women entering the forest, and the other threatening to excommunicate those who harm trees.
The Palace of Bussaco constructed between 1888 and 1905 is a marvelous representation of Neo-Manueline architecture and is now a luxury hotel. On the southern hill slopes of the Serra Mountains, you would notice a monument constructed to commemorate the victory of Portuguese and English forces under Lord Wellington over French troops led by Marshall Massena in the Battle of Bussaco.
Activities at Serra do Bussaco
The forests of Bussaco are best for an invigorating stroll. As you make your way up to the High Cross you would come across a number of shrines with life-size images of Christ, his disciples and other Biblical characters, all made of terracotta. At the end of your stroll, you would find the High Cross or Cruz Alta, and the Palace Hotel.
Explore the remains of the Carmelite Monastery especially the old monks’ cells insulated with cork for preventing the cold from coming in. A chapel with numerous photos depicting Biblical incidents is also remarkable. Take the Fern Alley to visit the ‘cold fountain’, which rushes down 144 steps into the forest. The Fern Alley leads to Grottoes Gate and then to Coimbra Gate. The Cedar Alley would lead you back to the Palace Hotel.
Staying in Serra do Bussaco
The Palace Hotel constructed as a summer palace and hunting lodge for the Portuguese royal family in Manueline architecture was converted into a hotel in 1910 by the king’s Swiss chef. Since then it has become a heritage luxury hotel where you would be treated like a monarch. At the restaurant, you would be offered exotic recipes from Portugal and France. The wines served are of the finest varieties.