What would you do with a second-hand palace?

When it came to wealth, I thought the Habsburgs reigned supreme but apparently the Esterházy family topped them on the who’s richest list of the day. If you visit northwestern Hungary, you’ll find yourself tripping over the Esterházy name. It seems as if any building worth noting in the region was once part of their estate: the hermitage at Majkpustas; the castle at Csesznek; the palace at Csákvár.

From what I gather, the family got this particular castle in 1629 and over the course of two generations, completely restored it and its surrounds. It looks like János was the one to settle into the place and make it his own. Back in its day, it featured a huge library, an art gallery, a hunter’s hall, and a riding school. And there’s no doubt in my mind that tucked away somewhere was a ballroom.

The one-time palace was passed down from generation to generation – resting with Móric János around 1917. He had three children: Marcell, Mátyás and Mónika but it was his two grandchildren that staked their claim to fame:  the writer Péter and the footballer Márton. The family lived in the castle until 1944 when they escaped Hungary and settled in Austria.

The castle was ravaged in the war years and renovations didn’t begin until 1957. It’s now a state-run sanatorium for pulmonary diseases (and I know this because????  I saw a sign inside saying pulmonary and one outside saying Florena szanatórium and one blog post I found confirmed it – nothing like a little Internet detecting). Although it’s a few stars short of a ‘come hither’ listing, it still retains its sense of grandeur and has been listed as a national monument since 1960.

The ghosts of Elizabeth Bennett and her ilk stroll through the gardens and you could be forgiven for imagining the sound of horse-drawn carriages pulling up to the front door. The day wasn’t particularly fine – we’d been driving through mist and fog for most of the morning – but it didn’t take much to imagine the place in the height of the summer.

Not knowing that we were supposed to check at the porter’s gate to arrange a tour, we simply wandered in. No one asked what we were doing. We met a couple of residents in wheelchairs and a few who looked as if they didn’t quite belong. Sans cameras, these I took to be visitors, but unlike ourselves, had probably brought grapes. Apart from the woman busily closing down the buffet at 10am, I didn’t see anyone remotely resembling a doctor or a nurse and this made me wonder.  It could have been one giant movie set. Try as I might to retain some sense of perspective and keep my already tenuous grip in reality,  images of Mr Darcy’s boots kept coming to mind. Perhaps a stay at a sanatorium is really what I need!

If you do decide to visit Csákvár, my mate David McCall, commenting on a previous post via Facebook, highly recommends a local restaurant: By the way, in Csákvár, did you go have lunch at Publó? Probably one of the best restaurants in Hungary — and much cheaper than anything similar in Budapest! Not that I need much of an excuse to go back. I have this thing about boots…

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6 Responses

  1. The Esterházys were certainly loaded, but I don’t know whether they could beat the Rákóczi holdings, which in their hey-day ranged from Munkács (now in Ukraine) to Rovne and Lednice, not so far from Vienna. And then Ferenc II lost the lot . . .

  2. Not too far away there’s Tata, too, which is small and sweet and boasts two Eszterházy-related castles (from different periods), a lake, and an English garden complete with romantic ruins. Not that you seem to lack inspiration when it comes to travelling…

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