Portugal is technically a Catholic country, but there are some 35 hectares (86 acres) of fields, lakes, manicured sculpture gardens, bamboo forest trails, Buddhist statues, and contemporary art sculptures in Bombarral — just over an hour’s drive from Lisbon — that would suggest otherwise.
The Buddha Eden Garden was commissioned in 2007 by none other than the eccentric Portuguese investor and art patron José Berardo (who is most famous for the Centro Cultural Berardo in Belém and his Bacalhôa wine company.) Berardo was moved to create this homage to peace after the Taliban’s destruction of the giant Gandhara period Buddha sculptures in Afghanistan in 2001.
Fast forward to today, and what was once prime hunting and pear-growing land is now home to 6000 tons of marble Buddhas, intricately carved Shivas, Miyazaki-like stone forest gnomes, and of course, a cobalt blue replica of the famous Chinese Terracotta Army, making it the “largest oriental garden in Europe.”
Not feeling the tranquility? That’s alright. There’s a little something for everyone inside the gardens. For the modern art aficionado, the Garden of Modern and Contemporary Sculpture is dedicated to showcasing another side of Zen with works by Alexander Calder, Tony Cragg, Fernando Botero, Allen Jones, Lynn Chadwick, Yves Klein, and other big names in sculpture.
For those who favor scrap metal and welded cogs, check out the oversized mechanical-mashup skeleton party one hilltop over, and be sure to keep an eye out for the matching steampunk aviary complete with typewriter flamingoes and hand-hammered owls.
If you’re more into tribal art, there are over 200 African works arranged “under the shade of 1000 palms,” according to the park’s map. The African Sculpture Garden is dedicated to the Shona people of Zimbabwe, who for over a thousand years have carved stone by hand into works of art.
Thirsty? Luckily, Berardo also owns a ton of different wine labels. Pick your poison and sit (and sip) at the cafe in peace. Have an ice cream while you’re at it. They say excess leads to the palace of wisdom. That’s good enough for us.
While this type of roadside attraction might not be entirely your cup of tea, there’s sure to be a nook or cranny of your liking tucked away someplace inside the park. If it’s not contemporary art, fat Buddhas, steampunk skeletons, or nature trails, maybe it’s the split level treehouse hidden in plain sight at the top of a hill.
The Berardo Foundation’s mission to create a space of acceptance for people of all religions, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic standings has achieved that happy balance of kitsch and creativity. Come to commune with nature, meditate next to a sculpture that speaks to you, sit back with a glass of wine and stare into the fountain, or simply have a moment with yourself or friends.
Bacalhôa Buddha Eden
Quinta dos Loridos
For more information, visit the Buddha Eden website.
Phone: +351 262 605 240
Mobile: +351 913 005 087
Daily: 9h to 18h (closed Christmas and New Years)
Admission: €5.00 per adult, €4.00 train ride, children under 12 free.