In the mid-19th century, the estate’s next owner, the Viscount of Praia, replaced the house with a larger mansion. The viscount also added more land and created formal gardens featuring water, groves of trees, and patterned flower beds.
But it was his son, the second Viscount of Praia, who, with the help of British and Portuguese garden designers, developed the Picturesque features, including the lagoons. Many of the trees they planted, imported from all over the world, still survive. The oldest of them are approaching 140 years old.
The hotelier Vasco Bensaude acquired the garden after he built the art deco Terra Nostra Hotel in the 1930s, and he and his head gardener, John McEnroy, continued expanding and restoring the plant collections.
In 1990, Mr. Bensaude’s son, Filipe, oversaw yet another expansion and refurbishment. Although they opened the garden to the public, the Bensaude family still maintains it and still owns the Hotel Terra Nostra.
The current Terra Nostra Park brochure announces, “You are about to discover a 200-year-old garden.” Discovery applies to the garden’s botanical collections as well as its design.
Nourished by the ocean mist and, perhaps, by the warmth of the underground volcanic springs – hotel guests can soak in a pool of hot, ochre-colored water near the garden – diverse temperate plant species thrive, creating startling juxtapositions: camellias and tree ferns (cycads), gingkos and palms, red oaks and Norfolk Island pines.
Around each bend lies a new view and another choice: Should you take the left fork to the lower level, or the right fork ascending the bank? Are glimmers of water enticing your eye, or the dark, cool foliage of the grove?