On our road trip through Portugal, we visited the Bussaco Forest. This 259-acre natural reserve is mostly famous for the Bussaco Palace Hotel, but we discovered there was so much more to see at the Buçaco Forest in Portugal.
If you’re looking for inspiration on what to do near Coimbra Portugal. Or you wish to roam in a unique eerie historic forest, continue reading.
I’ll share my experiences during our visit and practical tips on how to visit it yourself.
I paid for everything in full myself. I was not paid or sponsored. All my opinions and experiences are my own.
Probe around the Globe does use affiliate links. If you decide to follow one of my links and make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you.
Portugal’s Bussaco Forest – More than the Buçaco Palace Hotel
What is the Bussaco Forest and why should you go?
The Bussaco forest is also known as Buçaco Forest or Mata Nacional do Buçaco. It is a 259-acre big forest in the middle of Portugal, northeast from Coimbra. The forest area is walled and the trees and fauna go back over 600 years.
Besides all the green stuff, you can find the ruins of the Buçaco convent and the Bussaco Palace Hotel. The Bussaco forest offers amazing views across the heart of Portugal and offers natural tranquility for relaxing.
We visited the Bussaco forest on a weekday in March but the National Park offers great opportunities for a weekend’s picnic or a day trip out in nature.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the Bussaco forest. As my boyfriend is a great tree hugger and loves all that is nature and outdoors, we decided to leave the monasteries and ruins behind us, and visit the Bussaco forest on our way to Coimbra.
We spent half the day in the Bussaco forest and followed a path that highlights the best features of the park. It was not like walking in the forest near my home town where the trees are all planted in neat rows and the path goes straight.
In the Bussaco forest, we walked on an ancient path, explored the viewpoints and took selfies near the water staircase! A lovely day out in nature.
Where is the Bussaco Forest Portugal?
The Mata Nacional do Buçaco is part of the Serra do Buçaco (the mountain range of Buçaco). The base to visit the Bussaco forest would be the little spa town called Luso. The forest is 33 km (20 miles) north from Coimbra in the heart of the Centro region in Portugal.
The Bussaco Palace Hotel
The main structural feature of the Bussaco forest, and a great start-off point, is the Bussaco Palace Hotel. The former convent of the forest was destroyed and used to build a 19th Century Manueline style Palace. Built between 1888 and 1905, it was first used by the Portuguese royals but it now serves as a unique place to spend the night.
The Palace Hotel of Buçaco and her palace gardens are lovely, and you can visit it, even if you’re not sleeping there. The hotel has a restaurant and with good weather, you can enjoy the food and the view on the terrace.
The hotel is decorated with antique furniture and tapestries and you’ll find an abundance of azuljo tiles on the main staircase, depicting scenes of hunting royals. The rooms are styled according to 18th-century fashion or the art nouveau movement. If you look for a unique place to stay in the heart of Portugal, and you don’t mind the extravagant prices for the food and the wine, a night at the Bussaco Palace Hotel would be perfect.
Check for prices and availability here.
View Points at the Bussaco Forest
With the highest peak in the Serra do Buçaco, the Cruz Alta at 549 m (1801 feet) gives sweeping views across the Bussaco forest. You can see the Serra da Estrela, the Mondego River valley and on a good day also the Atlantic Ocean. As the Bussaco forest is walled, there are several gateways, that offer great views too.
The good thing is, you can drive up to Cruz Alta, so you do not have to walk up all the way. On our walk through the forest, we encountered 2 amazing viewpoints. One is at the Coimbra Gate, where you can see the city lying in the distance.
At the Coimbra Gate, you can find the two Papal verdicts from the 17th century. One states that women are not allowed inside (puh!) and the other (more important and modern) is that everyone who harms the trees and flora, will be ex-communicated.
I’m not sure if that will still make an impression these days, but it does show that even the Vatican was concerned to protect the forest and the trees. The other amazing viewpoint was not far from the Coimbra gate but offered a whole different view of the forest and the Serra do Buçaco.
The oldest tree in the forest
As the Bussaco forest is a forest, let’s talk about the trees. Now, I am no tree hugger or flora friend. But I can appreciate the beauty of nature. The Bussaco forest has hundreds of different tree varieties that were brought to Portugal by their mariners when they set out to discover the world.
In the academic world, scholars love to quarrel over the origins of the trees and how old they are. For me, this is of less importance. If someone puts a sign next to a tree that says this tree has been there since 1644, then I believe them!
The Bussaco forest is made up of an arboretum with all the different trees and scrubs, like cypresses, planes, evergreen oaks, cork trees and many more.
Other parts of the Bussaco forest are called the Forest Relic with special species of Oak trees. There is also a part with maritime pines (the Pinhal do Marquês) and the Valley of the Ferns and the Bussaco hotel gardens are a different landscape.
As mentioned, the park has trees dating back to 1644. The most impressive tree we found was close to the Bussaco Palace Hotel. The Tasmanian Mountain Ash (a Eucalypt) has a massive diameter and is really hard to snap in a picture because of its size! I tried!
Fonte Fria Fountain at Bussaco Forest
The forest doesn’t only consist of trees and plants. I liked the fact that during our walk through the forest, we found all kinds of small buildings and structures. One of the biggest and most impressive ones was the Fonte Fria (the cold fountain) and the swan pond that captures all the water from the fountain.
The Fonte Fria was first built in the 17th century but it needed to be altered in 1866 and 1886. What we see today, is mainly from 1886.
The fountain is a giant staircase in the modernist style, letting the water flow down in an orderly fashion. The inspiration for it is the divine creation and the beauty of the earth. (What do you see?)
It makes for great pictures going up and down along the flights of stairs. A walk around the pond was a bit wet, as the area was overflown and some trees were heavily damaged, blocking the path.
Threats of nature
The Bussaco Forest is a great place to visit if you’re in the heart of Portugal. Either for a day trip or to stay overnight at the Bussaco Palace Hotel and enjoy the park and forest for multiple days. However, the Bussaco Forest is seriously threatened. Basically by nature itself.
On the drive up to Bussaco Forest, we saw nothing but blackened trees and demolished forests. Last year, the center of Portugal suffered from immense forest fires that clearly left a path of destruction across nature. Keeping the forest safe and to protect it, is almost an impossible job.
In January 2013, a cyclone (named Windstorm Gong) damaged Portugal, and thus also the Buçaco forest. Although at the time of writing it has been 5 years ago, the damage is still visible and apparent.
The Cedro de São José, the earlier mentioned Ceder from 1644 is seriously damaged and everywhere around the park, giant trees are felled and the grounds damaged.
According to the Fundação Mata do Buçaco (the managing body of the Bussaco forest), 40% of the forest was damaged by the storm. Out of the 86 remarkable trees, 6 were critically harmed and more than 10 were felled.
It would cost over 6 million Euros to restore the forest of Buçaco but there is no funding from the government. Volunteers (donating both time and money) have helped to clean up the forest and restore the ancient arboretum.
Since 2004, the Bussaco Forest is on the UNESCO tentative list of natural World Heritage sites. In 2010, the foundation launched a program to help protect the forest against threats by non-indigenous species.
The project is called BRIGHT (Bussaco’s Recovery from Invasions Generating Habitat Threats). The program protects the Buçaco forest against modern-day non-indigenous but invasive fauna. These new plants threaten to overrun the natural balance in the park.
How much time to spend at Bussaco Forest?
This is a tricky one. I do understand you will not fly to Portugal, just to see the Bussaco forest or to stay at the Palace Hotel of Buçaco.
But if you’re in the area and want to explore a unique piece of nature, then the Bussaco forest is perfect for that.
We arrived around noon and left at 5 o’clock. This was only enough to walk around the Bussaco Palace hotel and its garden and to walk the route given to us by the kind people of the information center.
The route would take 1.5 hours but we spent so much time at the Fonte Fria Fountain and hugging trees, we took a bit longer. We had a lovely snack at the cafe next to the information center (which was so much cheaper than the restaurant at the Palace hotel- but then again, it is a Palace restaurant).
But we didn’t see the monastery and we didn’t take the car to drive to the highest point (as we were both too tired after 10 days in Portugal).
When we left, there was still so much to see and do. If we would have stayed overnight, we could have explored more of the park and the national forest of Buçaco.
I’d recommend to at least give it half a day to visit. This is easy to manage and if you’re really into trees and forests and want to sleep at a unique location, you can always stay overnight at the Bussaco Palace hotel and spend 2 days there!
How to get to the Bussaco Forest?
We visited the Bussaco Forest on a road trip through Portugal. It was easy to navigate to the park as we came from the IC3 from Viseu. At the park entrance, there is a toll booth, where you pay €5 to enter the park with a car.
Costs to enter the Buçaco Forest by car
The park is free to visit when you enter on foot or bicycle. You pay €2 for a car with 2 seats, €5 for a car with 5 seats and €7 for a car with more seats. Campers or mobile homes pay €12 and busses need to pay €30. All this money will help preserve the park and restore its natural beauty. (prices are accurate in 2018- expect them to go up slightly in the coming years).
Arrive by train or bus
If you don’t have a car, you can reach the Bussaco forest by train from Coimbra. It is a 15-minute walk from the Luso/Buçaco train station to the town of Luso. From Luso, you need to walk half an hour (uphill) to the Palace Hotel of Buçaco.
It seems easier to take a bus from Coimbra to Luso. In July and August, the buses even drive up to the Bussaco Palace Hotel. We had a car, but if it was me, I’d try to hitchhike and catch a ride from Luso to the forest.
On this page, you can find the bus schedule from Coimbra to Viseu via Luso (and Buçaco). Make sure to check updated information on the spot.
Have you ever visited the Bussaco Forest? Would you want to go? Let me know which is your favorite picture in the comment section below!