Portugal is dotted throughout with some very striking and grandiose architecture that covers centuries of history and have, I am sure, some wonderful stories surrounding them.
One example of this fine architecture are the magnificent Portuguese manor houses or country estates, the ‘casa antiga Portuguesa’, that feature mainly in the central/northern part of the country. These solid yet elegant structures, made from granite blocks, mirror a rich heritage that in many cases is still preserved today. Some however, either through family differences over inheritance laws or lack of funding have fallen into ruins and are quite a common site today.
One particular building worth mentioning is the Grande Hotel do Parque located in a small spa town of Gerês (Caldas do Gerês) and which today lies sadly abandoned. Located in the northwest heart of the Peneda-Geres National Park (Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês – UNESCO classified as a World Biosphere Reserve) and surrounded by lakes and mountains, the Gerês spa is considered to be the most famous in the country. The hotel obviously played an important role in the history of Gerês from the early XX century.
The thermal baths of Gerês (previously written as Gerez), open from 1st May to 31st October, were and still are highly recommended for liver, gall bladder, obesity, diabetes and hypertension ailments. They were originally exploited by the Romans and it was only during the reign of the Portuguese King John V (1689-1750) that the first buildings for bathing with warmed granite tanks were built. The Portuguese Royal family, namely King Ludwig I (1838-1889) and Queen Maria Pia (1847-1911) accompanied by Prince D. Carlos and Queen Amelia of Orleans, were frequent visitors to the Gerês spa. In 1897 the original buildings were demolished making way for new constructions that included a water catchment.
With the growing popularity of the spa in the late 19th century, the sumptuous Grande Hotel do Parque was purposely built for accommodating the upper class visitor looking for treatments for their ailments. In her book “O Gerês: De Bouro a Barroso”, the author Dra. Rosa Fernanda Moreira da Silva, describes it as being built from the turn of the century and that the architectural and functional structure of the property was shown as qualitatively different from the other hotels in the town. The size and refinement of the functional areas offered more features with regard to interior comfort such as the presence of a lift. The surrounding green space areas were adapted for leisurely activities such as playing tennis and bathing in the spring water swimming pool.
The hotel was first owned by Vicente Paulino da Silveira and his wife Hortense and from there passed to the Teixeira family. This enlightening advertisement below, circa 1900, describes exactly what the hotel had to offer:
“This magnificent hotel, purposely built for receiving guests at this choice location in Caldas do Gerez, besides possessing magnificent amenities and fine service, has an excellent park with a garden and forests with shady trees, waterfalls, springs of the finest and the most delicious drinking water and a large recreational room, whereby offering guests enjoyment as no other hotel in the country.
All correspondence should be addressed to the proprietor and director.”
Interestingly, within the garden and forest area there existed an enchanting area called ‘Largo do Paraiso’ but it is difficult to pinpoint the exact location of this spot. An original postcard dated 21st August 1925, with an image of this garden area (from Foto Marques, Braga) can be seen on this very informative blog carris-geres.
In 1928, the Parque was acquired by a hotel group but sadly closed from the beginning of XXI century where it has now fallen into a sad state of degradation. The hotel group did some redevelopment to the interiors and outside area with regard to the tennis courts and swimming pool for the general public’s use. This article from a 1934 newspaper on Beaches and Spas does say that the hotel was completely renovated but there is other mention that it was.
A further collection of beautiful old black and white photos can be seen on this excellent historical blog Restos de Colecção which show what the hotel looked like inside with its beautiful dining room, billiard room and hallway. The blog also has a wonderful array of advertisements for the Parque (dated 1943 & 1960 as seen below) both focus on the fact that for those looking for liver treatments should come to Gerês as there are plenty of hotels to stay in.
Many buildings in Portugal are covered in exterior tiles not only used ornamentally but with a specific functional capacity such as temperature control. The four storeyed Parque is an excellent example of this being covered in two different tiled patterns, the major part in an unusual and charming, intricate lilac, chocolate and white pattern whilst the attached building is in a simpler small green and white symmetrical pattern.
There are eye-catching windows and doors all around the building in many beautiful and different styles. Some remain with their shutters closed and curtains in place whilst others have broken panes showing sad and tattered grey curtains hanging loosely in the breeze.
The south façade of the building which leads into the original garden area, has an elegant and unique singular tower with beautiful Gothic windows and is painted in a crisp sage green. Its rooftop bears a broken weather vane. Although in a different style to the rest of the building, according to old photos this was part of the original construction. A further selection of beautiful old postcards issued by the hotel (circa 1930’s) can be seen on this excellent blog carris-geres.
The green symmetrical tiled building attached to the tower has an unusual and beautiful eye-catching gable in the same crisp sage green – almost like a Wedgewood china pattern to look at. Really beautiful.
When I took these photos it was only possible to observe the building from the street outside as a protection barrier has been put up but it is understood that much of the old interiors still remain as they were in its heyday. I am really hopeful that someone or a hotel group will take on the massive task of restoring the Grande Hotel do Parque to its original glory in Gerês ensuring that future generations can enjoy this beautiful building and its magnificent surroundings.
The slideshow below shows the photos of what is looks like today – enjoy.