The towering cliffs of Sintra have a long history of attracting anyone in search of beautiful sights and balmy weather. Over the centuries, one location in particular, Domaine Monserrate, has hosted a score of illustrious and rustic guests all the same, counting the likes of textile moguls, famed authors, and farmers.
We sat down with Aline and Alex Saupé, owners of Domaine Monserrate, to learn more about their property’s appeal, history, and the place they’ve taken up in it.
HOMES WITH A HISTORY
Aline and Alex had been after a Portuguese pied-à-terre for some time before their story with Domaine Monserrate began. In fact, they had originally been set to purchase a different home, champagne popped and pen in hand ready to sign the deed, until Aline inexplicably felt something was wrong.
An odd feeling overcame her and convinced her to pull out of the sale. The couple soon found out that the home they were set to buy had a troublesome history, and though back at square one, they were glad not to have signed.
When the couple discovered Domaine Monserrate, they were greeted by a very different story. The property’s history was laid out plainly before them: it had been built by the Cook family, owners of a sprawling textile empire, beside their own palacio in order to house Sir Francis Cook’s secretary, a right-hand that he had taken a particular liking to. Rumour has it that the two properties are connected by underground tunnels so Sir Cook could visit his mistress at night without getting caught!
The domain later passed hands of illustrious owners, from viscounts and tycoons to actors and writers, not the least of which was Sir Arthur Connan Doyle.
The domain wasn’t on the market when Aline and Alex visited it, but they knew from the moment they crossed its stately gates that they wanted to acquire this historic home. At the time, the owner was very attached because of her own history there and the memories it held of her and her late husband.
It was in conversation with the couple that she decided to sell them Domaine Monserrate, because she knew they would honour its past. History was at the heart of their attraction, and they would be sure to keep it at the heart of their design.
RETURN TO FORMER GLORY
With the key to this majestic domain and its history in hand, the couple set out to imbue the home with a more noted palacio atmosphere. Though the property was bathed in sun and had tremendous architectural potential, its layout didn’t take full advantage of the domain’s attributes.
For a time, it had welcomed farmers who worked on its agricultural estate, so functionality had been emphasised above the decor and arrangement. Aline and Alex imagined the original former elegance of the house and, through careful and deliberate renovations and decoration, restored it to that vision.
One of the domain’s most impressive rooms, the kitchen, was a major undertaking. For years, the room had been used as a tractor shed. Alex was immediately drawn to the space for its unparalleled sun exposure: “the tractor must have been enjoying really nice sunsets,” he jokes. As such a precious space, he set out to convert it to a kitchen that would be the heart and soul of the home.
The kitchen had been typical of such an estate, though the configuration was awkward, so Alex reconfigured the room to make better use of the space and to restore it to the grandeur called for by a palacio. He designed a space to cater parties: a large pantry and food preparation station were added to the formerly sprawling kitchen, and a finer dining room was furnished in the adjoining room. Above all, the goal was to elevate the home in keeping with its history, not to rewrite its past.
Though you'll certainly want to make use of the impressive kitchen and dining room, you can also savour a delicious meal at one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants in Portugal.
Throughout the renovations, the couple went to great lengths to ensure the palacio would remain authentic. As such, none of the materials used in the renovation were new. Instead, they favoured vintage materials carefully curated from different suppliers. When building the grand staircase, Aline and Alex found antique tiles from a demolished property to incorporate into their design.
Each decorative choice was made with careful attention to the domain’s narrative, restoring it to an authentic and historical glory, not merely imbuing grandeur by modern standards.
A HOME THAT TELLS A STORY
After nearly ten years of renovations, the couple ended up with the Domaine Monserrate you find today. Now, each room shares a piece of its history. Take the Sherlock room, which honours the years Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spent living at the estate. Not only does this room exist as an homage to a former owner, it’s also a nod to the Sherlock Holmes stories that the author wrote on site, like “The Hounds of Baskerville,” which is rumoured to have been inspired by Doyle’s time here.
In the past, fans of the Sherlock Holmes novels have sought out this location for its connection to the famed author and the timeless slice of history that it serves. It's the perfect destination for luxury Portugal holidays.
Another member of the Doyle family is integrated in the home’s design and history: Arthur Conan Doyle’s youngest son, Adrian Doyle. The latter finished several of his late father’s novels from the comfort of Domaine Monserrate, but was also an artist.
His studio spanned the top floor of the palacio, which has now been made into a penthouse suite that honours Adrian’s time there. The youngest Doyle was often locked away painting in the so-called Royal Suite, which boasts high vaulted ceilings and bay windows on three of its four walls for a perfectly illuminated room and a stunning view that in itself is art.
Each room harbours unique designs reflecting different eras of the property’s history, but timeless, elegant, and classic threads are woven through them all. The couple still have plans to further showcase this location’s memorable past — like adding a library with only Doyle’s books on its shelves or hosting Sherlock Holmes themed events.
Since acquiring it, Aline and Alex have celebrated Domaine Monserrate’s history and respected the role they’re playing within it without overtaking the narrative, delivering a classic design with modern comforts.
Inspired by this traditional and inviting gem? See our guide to your getaways to Portugal.