Palácio de Queluz's ceremonial facade, as viewed from the gardens — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
The Palácio de Queluz is one of the most sumptuous palaces in all of Portugal.
To appreciate its regal splendor, you'll have to jump on a train and head northwest out of Lisbon, a 20-minute journey. Located deep in suburbia at Queluz, around 12 kilometers from the city centre, the palace is nevertheless easily reached on foot after you've exited Queluz railway station, about a 15-minute saunter down the high street. Just follow the way signs.
Eventually, the road melds with the pretty cobblestone Largo do Palácio. Here – protected like a rare orchid from pre-fab progress and haphazard town planning – stands the palace, its almost film-set appearance incongruous against the backdrop of encroaching high-rises.
Actually, the sobriety of the façade facing the road initially fails to excite. But the impression is deceptive. Once across the threshold, the true personality of the Palácio de Queluz is revealed, and it's akin to learning of a long-kept secret!
The building is a majestic Rococo pile built around formal gardens, a verdant tapestry embellished with fine statuary and gurgling water features. The property and the estate are extensive, and you should allow a good two hours to explore this 18th-century architectural gem.
Built in 1747, originally as a summer bolthole for the Portuguese monarchy, the palace eventually became the permanent residence of Queen Maria I after the death of her husband, King Pedro III.
The sumptuous Throne Room in Palácio de Queluz — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
A tour of the building begins in spectacular fashion, with visitors first being ushered into the Throne Room. This is the palace's biggest and stateliest room, and it features an interior of splendid gilded statues and delicate mouldings and motifs, some with intricately carved fillets and vines.
Ornate mirrored doors and pilasters reflect the light that filters through huge French windows. Above, suspended from a ceiling illustrated with vivid allegorical paintings, is a pair of enormous crystal chandeliers that positively shimmer with exuberance.
The Music Chamber beyond is far more restrained, but no less elegant. Completed in 1759, this is one of the oldest rooms in the Palácio de Queluz. It would have hosted musical soirees, including performances of opera. In fact, concerts and recitals are still held here today.
The palace's magnificent Ambassador's Hall — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
The tour continues past a chapel and several smaller salons, including exquisitely furnished bed and sitting rooms, and through the stunning Mantle Corridor, decorated floor to ceiling with colorful and decorative tiles.
The walk-through then reaches another palatial highlight: the glittering Ambassador's Hall. This opulently styled chamber is where audiences with diplomats and foreign ministers of state were conducted. A pleasing decorative feature is the porcelain chinoiserie set on gilded and carved pedestals on one side of the hall.
The elegant Dressing Room, one of the most finely decorated salons in Palácio de Queluz — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Of the remaining rooms, two are certainly worth lingering in. The Don Quixote Room, named for the theme of the paintings above the doors and on the ceiling, is where King Pedro IV was born and also died.
Further along the same corridor is the Dressing Room, an intimate boudoir, whose inlaid wooden floor radiates in fascinating geometric patterns and provides a clear parallel with the intricate design of the gilt-banded ceiling.
Included in a tour of the Palácio de Queluz are the landscaped gardens, although these can be explored separately if desired. However, walking the grounds – the Malta Garden and the Hanging Garden – is a delightful way to conclude a visit to the palace.
The view back across the estate towards the ceremonial façade evokes images of the Palace of Versailles; the gardens and façade were, in fact, designed by the French architect Jean-Baptiste Robillion.
And a real treat during the summer months is the weekly display of horsemanship presented by the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art within the grounds. There are also exhibitions of falconry organized throughout the year.