10 June 2020

Empress Elisabeth of Austria: The Perpetual Traveler

Empress Elisabeth of Austria was indeed a perpetual traveler, and you can follow in her footsteps not only in Austria and her birthplace, Bavaria. You find her trail all over Europe and beyond. Sisi traversed the Mediterranean Sea and visited much of Europe and even the Middle East and Africa. Although her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph, would not allow her to visit the Americas or the Far East, she went where most women of her time had never been. 

Sisi's travels were numerous, and in the last years of her life, she was almost always on the go, or on the run, to be more precise! To escape the stifling protocol of the Viennese court, the Empress embraced every opportunity to get away. Many of her journeys were health-related, as she traveled around Europe to find relief for her numerous ailments. Of course, she couldn't avoid traveling for political reasons and official state visits to places like Hungary and Italy. For the restless Sisi, the journey was always more important than the destination. The euphoria of reaching a new destination never lasted long. Although she loved some places more than others, such as Corfu and Hungary, she never found rest anywhere. 


Roughly 9 miles south of Vienna, you find Schloss (Castle) Laxenburg. It is a vast complex, encompassing a park along with several buildings. The term "Laxenburg" mainly refers to the “Franzensburg”. Built by Emperor Franz II and his grandmother Maria Theresia, it was completed in 1835. This replica of a medieval castle was never meant to be inhabited. Instead, it was meant as a celebration of the history of the House of Habsburg. 

The first building in this area was the "Old Castle", built by the von Lachsenburgs. When that family went extinct in the 14th century, the castle became the property of the House of Habsburg. Duke Albrecht III of Austria, turned the place into a hunting lodge. During the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683,  everything around the city was destroyed, including this castle. Today, only the original core of the building still exists, while the reconstructions and enlargements were added later.

Blauer Hof
The "Blauer Hof" (Blue Court) was built in the 15th century. The baroque palace was a favourite summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs. Here, Emperor Franz Joseph and his new bride, Empress Sisi, honeymooned. While the scenery was thought to be romantic enough, the Emperor had to rush back to the Hofburg Palace daily as a diplomatic crisis demanded his constant presence. This, in turn, meant that the Empress spent her honeymoon effectively alone. A 16-year-old girl, surrounded by a crowd of strange courtiers, and, of course, her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie - one might imagine how well that went. The only fun Sisi had was horse riding through the woods all day, much to the Archduchess Sophie's dismay.

Sisi's children, Archduchess Gisela and Crown Prince Rudolf were born at the 'Blue Court". Crown Prince Rudolf and his wife, Princess Stephanie of Belgium, also spent their honeymoon here. Although theirs was probably just not quite as romantic as the one his parents spent here, since theirs was an arranged marriage. Their daughter and only child, Archduchess Elisabeth, affectionately referred to as "Erzsi", was also born at Laxenburg.

Sisi loved Tyrol and Carinthia, because of the strong resemblance to her homeland of Bavaria. The Empress was particularly fond of the Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl. The building was an engagement present from her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie and Emperor Franz Joseph. The imperial family gathered here every year for Easter and especially the Emperor's birthday, which was celebrated all throughout the Empire; even the children got the day off from school on that holiday.


Gödöllő Castle
The first official visit of Empress Elisabeth and her husband to Hungary took place in 1857 and ended in a disaster. Her daughters Sophie and Gisela both got gravely ill. But while Gisela recovered, little Sophie died from an abdominal infection. After this tragic event, Sisi was suspended from parental authority by her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie. Despite this tragedy, Sisi fell in love with Hungary and the Magyar people and traveled there often. When the imperial couple was crowned as King and Queen of Hungary in 1867, they received the baroque castle of Gödöllő as a gift from the Hungarian government.


Royal Yacht "Osborne"
Empress Elisabeth sailed to Madeira in 1860 on the Royal Yacht "Osborne", which Queen Victoria lent her. Sisi's physician feared that she might have tuberculosis and advised a change of air. A suggestion she happily accepted. She spent six months on the island, away from her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph, and her children.

For her 56th birthday, on the 24th of December 1893, the Empress returned to Madeira. Upon arrival, she received an imperial salute by British naval vessels, and they continued to do so every morning for the duration of her stay. During this time, Sisi was a guest at Reid's Palace and occupied a suite on the ground floor.


Steephill Castle
Empress Elisabeth's first visit to England with her youngest daughter, six-year-old Marie Valerie, was in the summer of 1874. Sisi stayed at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight for a two-month holiday. From there, she made several shopping trips to London and a hunting trip to Leicestershire. The Empress rented Steephill Castle, a Gothic-style mansion on the Undercliff. To pass the time, she bathed in the ocean, went riding, observed her first athletics competition and tried to avoid invitations from the Queen of England, who was in residence at near-by Osborne House. 

The Netherlands

In 1884 and 1885, Empress Elisabeth visited the Netherlands for several weeks. She came to see Dutch doctor Johann Georg Mezger (1838-1909), whose parents originally were from Württemberg, Germany, studied medicine, and graduated in 1868. He specialized in physiotherapy and worked in Amsterdam. Sisi stayed in Amsterdam, but soon discovered the beach between Santpoort and Zandvoort. She loved to ride on her horse there or took one of her infamous long walks. By the end of the third week, she rented rooms in the Hotel Kaufmann in Zandvoort for eleven days. During that time, she traveled to and from Amsterdam by train to visit Doctor Mezger. 


Achilleion Palace
During September of 1867, Sisi's imperial yacht landed in Greece, and she visited many places of antiquity and discovered Corfu. She fell in love with the beautiful Greek Island. The Empress loved the place so much, she decided to have a magnificent palace built there dedicated to Greek history, culture, and mythology that she admired so much. She christened it the "Achilleion", named after the greatest of Greek mythological heroes, Achilles. 


Hotel Beau Rivage
Switzerland was a popular destination of the Empress. Of course, it is known for the tragic assassination of Empress Elisabeth in Geneva in 1898. She was traveling incognito under the name Countess von Hohenembs, as she often did. 

On that tragic day, she was accompanied by only one lady-in-waiting, Countess Irma Sztáray. The other members of her staff had already departed for Territet by train. However, Sisi wanted to travel by boat. As she walked from the Hotel Beau Rivage towards the steamer, that was to transport her back to Montreux, after a visit with Baroness de Rothschild. 

After Sisi was stabbed by the mad anarchist, Luigi Lucheni, she was taken back to Hotel Beau Rivage. She died in her hotel room from the deadly wound in her chest.

While I realize that this fairly short list doesn't even begin to cover all the places Empress Elisabeth of Austria has visited, I thought it would give you a good idea. She was definitely a well-traveled woman who had seen much of her part of the world. She was as sea-worthy as any sailor she met and enjoyed traveling by train, carriage, on the back of a horse, camel or mule, and on foot. 

Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added five historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her MajestyThe Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, The Perpetual Traveler, and Excerpts from the Imperial Diary. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.
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