I found a quote in Wikipedia that I’m going to want to remember, so have included it here. According to Gene Smith’s 1973 book Maximilian and Carlota: A Tale of Romance and Tragedy, French colonel Charles du Barail, returning from arduous service in Mexico, sighted the ship Novara (carrying Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg toward Mexico) during its Atlantic crossing, and wrote to the Archduke: “If you succeed in bringing order out of this chaos, fortune into this misery, union into these hearts you will be the greatest sovereign of modern times. Go poor fool! You may regret your beautiful castle of Miramar!”
For me, that quote frames our visit to the castle today. It’s a place you’d definitely regret having to leave behind.
Some historic perspective:
Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg was the younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, who distinguished himself as commander-in-chief of the Imperial Austrian Navy.
At a time when France, Spain and Britain (whose monarchies all had ties to the Hapsburgs) had all invaded Mexico for various reasons, Maximilian accepted Napoleon III’s invitation to become Emperor of the Second Mexican Empire (even though it meant renouncing any claim to a Hapsburg throne) – a reign which lasted only from April 1864 until June 1867, when his execution was ordered by a restored Mexican Republic.
Prior to that ill-fated move to Mexico, Maximilian built a beautiful castle overlooking the sea for himself and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium. The castle was named Miramare, literally “sight of the sea”. Sadly, they never actually lived together in the castle before leaving for Mexico, and it became a kind of seaside holiday home for various other Hapsburgs until WWI.
The castle exterior looks very “castle-y”, with crenellated walls and a high square tower. Somewhat uncharacteristically after seeing so many yellow summer palaces, Miramare is white stone, which absolutely gleams against blue sky and sparkling blue/green waters.
The “Castelleto” or Gartenhaus (the yellow-coloured castle annex/garden house) is currently under repair and was completely shrouded in hoarding. Apparently it is where Maximilian and Charlotte lived while Miramar was being built. Sadly, it is also where Charlotte was confined for a time after she succumbed to depression following being unable to prevent her husband being deposed and executed.
Inside, the main floor and reception rooms have retained their original decor: lots of red, lots of damask and silk on the walls, a ridiculous number of royal portraits (not only Hapsburgs, but also the rulers of the other European lands), fantastic wood inlay, glorious crystal light fixtures, and incredibly ornate wooden ceilings. It doesn’t compare to Maximilian’s birthplace of Schönbrunn (frankly, nothing does), but it is quite magnificent nonetheless.
There are a few upstairs personal rooms that were updated in the Art Deco style after the castle became the residence of Prince Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta, captain of the first Italian air division stationed in Gorizia, and his wife Princess Anne of Orléans, who lived there continuously till 1937 when the duke was appointed viceroy of Ethiopia. I’m generally a big fan of the clean lines, interesting wood grains, and artistic shapes of Art Deco furniture, but after all the stunning woodwork in the Hapsburg rooms these felt a little underwhelming.
The park, even with fountains mostly turned off to conserve water, is beautiful and tranquil: lots and lots of trees and groomed walkways, dotted with statuary. Maximilian apparently designed much of the park’s 54 acres himself.
What drew us back over and over though was the spectacular view of the sea. It is inspiring from every angle (well, perhaps less so the angle toward the beach with hundreds of Speedo and bikini-clad senior citizens, and zaftig grandmothers sunbathing topless, but almost every angle.) I can only imagine that at the end Maximilian regretted not choosing Miramare over becoming an Emperor.
For those missing food pics, last night I finally figured out our gas stove (thanks to our landlord’s husband) and made zitoni alla funghi with an insalata misto (yup, mushroom pasta and a salad). Tonight we opted for antipasti and wine for dinner.