In Spain, we call this building “the prince’s little house,” but it’s actually a very small palace with no bedrooms surrounded by a French garden. Weird, I know, but beautiful and fancy.
It’s located very close to the San Lorenzo del Escorial, a monastery and Spanish royal palace built by King Felipe II in a very austere style. When the Bourbon dynasty arrived in Spain, they thought that the old Austria buildings were dark and oppressive and tried to redecorate some rooms, but, in the end, it was easier to build new palaces like La Granja.
The Lower Cottage was built in 1774, 200 years after El Escorial, by architect Juan de Villanueva for the Prince of Asturias, the future King Charles IV. Its purpose was to allow him to enjoy his greatest interests, like music, theatre, and hunting, and to permit him to have a private life in the company of his circle of friends and away from the protocol surrounding the palace. It was the fashion of the times for royals to have such hideaways, the most famous of these being La Petit Trianon.
The building was inspired by Italian villas, and its use was purely recreational. There are no bedrooms because the prince was not supposed to sleep there. There’s a central section and two wings. The façade looks a lot like the Prado Museum because the same architect was in charge of the design. There is a big garden that’s surrounded by an oak forest. It’s very private and secluded but conveniently close to the court.
Most of the 18th-century decoration is still in the cottage, untouched, and the bronze clock collection is wonderful. The main floor is decorated in a Pompeian style, and there’s a small room totally covered with porcelain; superb fresco ceilings were painted by Francisco Bayeux, Goya’s father-in-law. Most of the paintings on the walls are Italian, from Luca Giordano, Corrado Giaquinto, Domenichino and Guido Reni. King Alfonso XIII commissioned some furniture, but most of the decorations of this little house are still original and authentic. This is its biggest asset. People tend to forget it exists while visiting the Escorial, but it’s worth your time if you decide to take a look.
Is there an Upper Cottage? Yes, the “Infante’s Little House,” is very similar but built for his brother Gabriel of Bourbon, son of Carlos III too. The decoration is not original; it was restored recently because mold caused damage to the walls. Even if the garden is beautiful and the Infante’s House is famous because King Juan Carlos lived there in 1960 before getting married, the Prince’s cottage is more beautiful.