One of my treats to myself on my visit to the Algarve was the Garden Fair, being held at Estoi Palace for the first time this November. When I came here 10 years ago, the palace was a down-at-heel ruin, but with enchanting grounds that cast their own spell. The past was cupped in the chipped and empty fountains, and breathed through the azulejos adorning the walls.
I was half delighted, but half concerned to hear of a proposed restoration that would turn the palace into a pousada, one of Portugal’s elite hotels. The transformation took many long years but, when the hotel finally opened its doors, I was hugely impressed. The grand salon was grace and elegance, with incredible ceilings, and the gardens had been given a modern twist, yet retained the features that had made them so beautiful. The new ‘add on’ for the hotel guest rooms was not so pleasing, but I was simply grateful that this lovely ruin had been given a life.
At this stage there was still much to do, and the ongoing work on the fountains and flights of stairs had placed them ‘out of bounds’. I remembered wistfully when I had been able to wander at will, conjuring with dreams. So it was, with a flutter of excitement, that I returned to Estoi for the Garden Fair.
I didn’t expect that tiny Estoi would be playing host to so many people that day, but as the sun beamed with unseasonable heat, it became clear that this was to be a popular event. I was glad that I had arrived promptly for the 11am opening. As one of the wardens pointed out to me, this is the Algarve’s only historic garden.
I have to admit that I didn’t linger as long as I might, delightful though it all was. I could not wait to move on from the plant stalls and into the gardens. The former coach house had been transformed into a magnificent exhibition space, with gleaming floors and chandelier embellishments. Air plants nestled amongst the crafts, with potions made from herbs, and exquisite mosaics. I eased myself past temptation and out into the garden.
Looking back at my photos I don’t think I did the palace gardens justice, but you will have a general impression which I hope might tempt you to go there some day. The palace itself is beautiful. Perhaps I might take afternoon tea there one day and show you inside.
It may not reflect quite the type of warmth that Paula was thinking of, but I think this post might sit nicely on her Thursday’s Special. Come with me and admire.
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