Secreted away in a little corner in Sintra, are the Chalet and Gardens of the Countess of Edla. Edla was a personality that characterised cross-Atlantic relations during the second half of the 19th century. Born in Switzerland, Elise Hensler was educated in the United States and, later on, in Paris. When she was 24, she performed in Lisbon, which was where Ferdinand II of Portugal met her for the first time. The rest is history.
For the most part, King Ferdinand and Elise Hensler lived a private life in Sintra, the King living in the Palace of Pena. Both Ferdinand and Elise had a passion for botany, sculpture and the decorative arts. These passions of theirs can be seen in Elise’s Chalet, which she built in the middle of the Pena gardens.
The Chalet was inspired by Swiss chalets and typical rural houses found in the United States during that time.
The interior of the Chalet, however, is quite something else. The walls and ceilings are decorated with patterns from a wide variety of sources, Art Nouveau and Neo-manueline, mixed together with French romantic motifs, in beautiful wooded rooms typical of unpretentious country homes.
Much of the relief decoration of the walls is done in virgin cork, a material that grows in abundance in Sintra, and is a feature of many of the famous architectural landmarks on the mountain.
Among the peculiar decorations of the house is an “optical illusion” room. It’s not done on purpose, to be an optical illusion, I don’t think, it is simply that the black and white tiles laid out against each other, floor to wall, trick up the viewer’s senses as to what’s the floor and what’s the wall.
Part of the grounds of the Chalet also holds a large stable. I’m unsure if this stable was around since the Countess’ time, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be. These days it stables horses that can be ridden around the Palace grounds and the rest of Sintra itself for a rather reasonable fee.
Although it is a small attraction and Sintra has so much else to offer, the Chalet is nevertheless worth a visit. It’s a lovingly restored time capsule of the era and of a beautiful, cross-Atlantic romance.