Serralves (Se-RAL-vesh) hosts the Portuguese national museum of contemporary art. But its delights go well beyond your regular museum. Serralves started in 1925 as a villa for a wealthy industrialist, surrounded by a beautiful park. After having ben bought by the state, the villa and park opened to the public with art exhibitions in 1987. Ten years later, a brand-new museum designed by Pritzker-prize winning Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza started being built at the opposite end of the park. Work was concluded in 1999, and since then Serralves offers visitors art, architecture, and landscaped gardens without match in Porto.
The villa was for a long time the main attraction at Serralves. Originally conceived as a private residence in the 1920s, it is a prime example of art deco architecture. It was build over a period of almost twenty years, between 1925 and 1944. Its exquisite wrought-iron gates, modernist marble stairways, and magnificent views of the garden make it one of the finest villas built in Portugal during the first half of the twentieth century. Serralves is considered the most notable example of an art deco building in Portugal, even though it was completed well after the end of this style’s golden years. Ironically, the owner was plagued by financial problems and had to move out only three years after completion of his lifetime project. The house was kept private until the 1980s, when the heirs of its last owner sold it to the state in 1986. Currently, the villa serves as an extension of the Museum, featuring temporary exhibitions. Among the many delightful rooms, one of the highlights is the 100%-pink-marble bathroom of the main suite, which is often closed to the public. Try to talk one of the staff-members to open it for you.
The Serralves park has always been a must in Porto. It is rather unique in Portuguese landscape gardening history. There are wooded areas, artificial lakes, rose gardens, perfectly-manicured lawns, and a main garden with a sequence of water tanks surrounded by flower beds. Serralves is perfect for a stroll or to read a book on one of the benches. You feel completely isolated from the city around you.
With the opening of the Museum in 1999, Serralves now has a third major attraction to offer. The National Museum of Contemporary Art is the permanent home of one of the best collections of Portuguese twentieth-century art (the others are, you guessed, in Lisbon). The works on show span from the end of the 1960s to the present, covering all genres from pop art to conceptual projects, and including great pieces representing the experimentalism that dominated Portuguese art of the (literally) revolutionary 1970s.
The museum’s building, by architect Alvaro Siza, is worth a visit even if you don’t like contemporary art. It is an exponent of the Porto school of architecture, with its clear lines, exterior walls in white stucco and stone, and a playful interaction with natural light. It also makes the most of the lovely park views. So it should be no surprise that it is a magnet for architecture buffs from all around the world, who roam there to learn from the great Portuguese master. As in most of Siza’s buildings, the furniture and fittings were also designed by him, without neglecting the smallest detail — including lighting fixtures, handrails, and doorknobs.
Besides the villa, park, and museum, Serralves has an excellent cafeteria, a fine-dining restaurant, and an auditorium offering dance, music, and performances on a regular schedule. The lunch buffet at the cafeteria is particularly good, so arrive early before the place gets packed. Our favorite spot, however, is the tennis-court teahouse, which offers an assortment of teas, scones, and tarts in a hard-to-beat environment. It is located halfway between the museum building and the villa, making for a mandatory stop during your visit to the park.
Price point: entrance to the museum and park costs 5 euros; 2.5 for the park only. On Friday and Saturday, entrance for the museum costs 3 euros after the park closes. For details on discounts for seniors, students, etc., check the Serralves website.
Address: Rua D. Joao de Castro 210, Porto.
Phone: (+351) 22.615.6500.
Opening hours: from October to March, Serralves is open from Tuesday through Sunday 10:00am till 7:00pm. The cafeteria opens seven days a week — from 12:00pm to 7:00pm on weekdays, and 10:00am till 7:00pm on weekends. The restaurant opens from 8:00pm till midnight from Tuesday through Saturday. The teahouse opens from 10:00am till 7:00pm on weekends only. During the Summer months, the park closes at 10:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 8:00pm on Sundays; and the teahouse is open every day.
Getting there: Serralves is easy to reach by car. If you’re driving from downtown, follow the directions to Boavista. Once you get to the Boavista roundabout (known informally as Rotunda da Boavista and formally as Praca Mouzinho de Albuquerque — you can’t miss it; there is a tall column on the center, with a lion crushing an eagle at the top), take Av. da Boavista heading down to the sea (Casa da Musica, an unmistakable building shaped like a quartz crystal, is on the corner). After about one-and-a-half mile, take a 45-degree left towards Av. Marechal Gomes da Costa. There is a large glass-and-metal fountain (actually, a sculpture) at the intersection. Once on Av. Marechal, Serralves is on the inside of the long wall you will find on your left after the Shell gas-station. As soon as the wall ends, turn left and park. The entry is at the intersection of Av. Marechal Gomes da Costa and Rua D. Joao de Castro. If you’re not driving, a taxi should take 20-30 minutes from downtown.
Images via: Jsome1/Flickr, YaYapas/Flickr, JulianEBeckton/Flickr]