Lisbon may be everything the guidebooks promise, a vibrant and fascinating destination bustling with life and full of energy. But it’s still a busy city, and sometimes the visitor will want to put the brakes on and press the pause button.
But where can you go for a bit of peace and quiet?
Fortunately, there’s a pocket of tranquility located right in the heart of the Portuguese capital. It’s a botanical oasis of calm: the Estufas, or "greenhouses."
The interior of the verdant and decorative "estufa fria" — Photo courtesy of Mark Harding / Portugal Travel Guide
Tucked into the northwestern corner of Parque Eduardo VII, the Estufas are in fact three greenhouses positioned under a canopy of slated bamboo roof, so well hidden that most people don’t even realize they are there.
And therein lies the appeal.
This is the ideal place to unwind and re-charge your batteries. And you can do so while meandering through a jungle-like environment of tropical flora - cultivated from Portugal’s former colonies in Asia, Africa and South America (Brazil), as well as other far-flung countries such as Australia, India and Mexico.
The estufa fria ("cool greenhouse") is the largest of the three. Landscaped with lofty palms that almost push through the roof, this zone is flecked with delicate azalea and camellia, colorful flowers that sparkle like beacons in a sea of greenery. Feather-like tree ferns, decorative fuchsias and sturdy banana trees further embellish the gardens.
A series of paths wind figure eights around ponds brimming with carp and overlooked by a number of statues. Some of these were produced by Leopoldo de Almeida, the Portuguese sculptor responsible for the historical figures that grace the Padrão dos Descobrimentos ("Monument to the Discoveries") in Belem.
Exploring the estufa quente ("hot greenhouse") is akin to entering a sauna. Flourishing in the humid climate are coffee and mango trees, among other exotic plants and fruits. This is an especially beneficial place to linger when it’s cold or raining outside!
The third greenhouse to wander through is the smaller estufa doce ("sweet greenhouse"). On show here is an extraordinary array of cacti and succulents, including aloe.
The estufa fria was opened in 1933 on the site of a basalt quarry that was mined during the early 20th century. The facility was later expanded to incorporate the hot house as part of the alterations neighboring Parque Eduardo VII, and in 1975, the sweet greenhouse was inaugurated. All three estufas underwent extensive renovation two years ago.
In October 2013, a new project to create a multipurpose space to complement the existing structure was announced, which will see visitors eventually regaled with a state-of-the-art interpretation center and a gallery where conferences, exhibitions and upscale catering events will be hosted.