Destination weddings are a memorable way to celebrate your love story, and the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais will provide you and your guests with an experience beyond compare. A short drive from Lisbon is the enchanted town of Sintra. Sintra was the first European Site to receive the UNESCO designation as a Cultural Landscape. The Serra de Sintra mountains chain rolls for about ten miles down to the Atlantic Ocean to Cabo da Rocha, the western most part of the Iberian Peninsula. Known for its forested beauty and proximity to the coast, Sintra has attracted royalty since the 15th century. The lush mountainside is adorned with numerous castles ranging in architectural styles from Moorish, Gothic, and Renaissances periods.
Our destination is the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais. Built in the 18th century by Dutch Consul, Daniel Gildemeester. The construction was completed in the 19th century by the Dom Diogo José Vito de Meneses Noronha Coutinho, 5th Marquis of Marialva. The Palacio was unified by a triumphal arch was erected in honor of a visit by King João VI of Portugal and his wife, Queen Carlota Joaquina of Spain in 1802.
Upon our arrival, we are immediately awestruck by the scale and elegance of the building. The brilliant neoclassical façade is gleaming in the morning sun. The deep driveway creates a border for the manicured lawn and gardens, and I can easily picture the guests seated on the lawn as the bride makes her entrance in a horse drawn carriage, vintage car, or stretch limousine. The Palacio gardens are beautiful, and they include a maze garden, lemon trees and blooming camellias. The backdrop is magnificent. The location is a scene right out of a fairy tale; it is timeless, elegant, and sophisticated.
The design of this 18th century Palacio was intended to make the visitor feel that they were ascending into the heavens. This was achieved by the elevation of the site, which sits just above the marine layer of the valley. The original entrance foyer is at the back of the building. There, sun-drenched double staircases entice you upwards above the clouds to the magnificent view of the valley stretching out to the ocean.
The Portuguese State took over the Palacio in 1946, and in 1954 it was converted to the luxury hotel that it is today. They engaged 14 workshops and a team of 30 expert artisans who worked for about a year on restorations, including the fresco paintings by renowned French painter Jean-Baptiste Pillement. It is an opulent setting with old world refinements. The hues are cream tones and soft greens with touches of gold. Lush silk drapes adorn the windows, and the elegant furnishings are a mix of Neo-Classic, Neo-Romantic, and Empire styles. The hotel is decorated with over 2,000 pieces of art including paintings, tapestries, and porcelain which transport you to another time and place.
There is a legend tied to the Palacio. There is a courtyard where a Moorish princess was hidden by her Portuguese lover behind the Penedo da Saudade – a rock outcropping. When her betrothed returned from war to find she was in love with another, a curse was put on the princess; and when sighed “ai” for the seventh time, her betrothed killed her. Hence, the name Seteais – “Sete” meaning seven, and “ai’s” for her sighs.
It’s clear to see why Tivoli Palacio de Seteais reputation has attracted aristocrats, celebrities, and the global elite. The courtyard is large and has peacocks who spend their days there. It’s the perfect spot for a glass of wine while watching the sun set. The setting is resplendent, and the service is impeccable. You feel it the moment you arrive. The hotel has a guest book which includes the signatures of many famous people from Richard Nixon to Agatha Christie to Bono. It is said that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston honeymooned there. Sintra is such a special picturesque area that Madonna has a home here and it was the location for the movie The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depp.
There are many sites to visit while in this magical setting. We hopped on a tuk tuk and visited Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle both of which we can see from the grounds of the Palacio de Seteais. Other sites that shouldn’t be missed are the Quinta da Regaleira directly adjacent to the Palacio, the Park and Palace of Monserrate, Capuchin Convent, and Sintra National Palace which is in the quaint town square.
The day of our arrival, we enjoyed afternoon tea on the terrace. The menu was titled “Tea at Five” and an image of Queen D. Catarina D Braganca was prominently featured. It is said that it was a 22-year-old Catherine, who sailed from Portugal to England to marry Charles II, who introduced tea to the English high court. Catherine’s tea boxes were initialed Transporte de Ervas Aromaticas which translates to, “transport of aromatic herbs,” or TEA. Tea was part of her daily life, and it became a tradition in England’s high society.
The tea was a selection of pastries, scones with butter and jam, finger sandwiches, Moet & Chandon champagne, and French Earl Gray tea. The terrace space is sunny and serene. It runs along the backside of the building adjacent to the wine bar and interior dining room. Guests can easily pass between the indoor and outdoor spaces. From the terrace you can see the gardens and pool area. The saltwater pool is very inviting and sits on the edge of the property, almost creating an infinity effect. It is surrounded by numerous inviting cabanas decked with comfortable pillows and towel baskets.
A romantic private dinner was planned for us. We were escorted to the dining room. They hesitated for a moment and then the piano music began to play. We entered to find a table perfectly placed before the French doors that overlooked the fountain in the formal gardens below. It was dusk and the valley lights were just beginning to twinkle. Our chef, Helder Damiao had planned a delicious menu that harkened back to the opening of the hotel, as they were celebrating their 66th anniversary.
We started with lobster Parisian style, fillet of sole, Seteais turkey with Colares asparagus, and an assortment of Portuguese pastries. Each course was paired with the appropriate wines and aperitifs. When dinner was done, we danced beneath the crystal chandelier. It was a sublime experience.
The following day, we were invited to a picnic. Catarina Correio, one of the event planners at Tivoli Palacio de Seteais, had a picnic set up for us. She led us down a white tiled path past the pool. There, we entered a semicircular alcove that had a mature tree that shaded the area. They had placed a jute rug and silk pillows around the table. The table was abundant. There was an assortment of cheeses, charcuterie, hand pies, figs and prosciutto, fruits, and pastries. This spot has a stone bench that creates a balcony overlooking the valley below. We spent more than 2 hours there. It was stunningly beautiful and very intimate. We hated to leave – it made us feel like we were transported to another time and place.
The staff is comprised of exuberant professionals who are immensely proud to share the rich history of the Palacio. Their experience team will seamlessly coordinate with local and international event planners. When asked about their most memorable event, I was told of a wedding that was held there, during which the hotel was transformed into an Alice in Wonderland themed event.
They have had as many as 1200 guests outdoors and can accommodate approximately 280 guests inside. There are 30 rooms at the palacio, plus a sister hotel in Sintra. The team recommends tented events outside due to Portugal’s humid climate. Horse-drawn carriage rides, picnics in the mountains, and helicopter rides over the coast can all be arranged for you or your guests. The Anantara Spa Seteais has three treatment rooms, including a couple’s room which will leave you revitalized with a vast assortment of treatments.
If you’re planning a luxury destination wedding or a private luxury honeymoon, this is one of our favorite places. It is the best of both worlds because of the tranquil mountain setting, and the proximity to the coastal towns of Estoril and Cascais.
Many thanks to Graziela Vieira, the hotel manager, for introducing us to her wonderful staff who made our experience at the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais so very magical.
Visit tivolihotels.com for more information about the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais.
>Written By: Lynda Terhune