Autumn at De Haar Castle

6 November 2011

Weather forecast from Piet Paulusma (the least favorite Dutch weatherman of the hubby because of his very nasal way of talking) was all sunshine and the temperature will hover between 14 to 17 degrees Celsius. He was completely wrong for not only was the sky completely overcast, the temp never rose above 12 degrees.

We went to De Haar Castle (Kasteel de Haar) for our usual Sunday outing, something that has become rare and scarce as of late given our very hectic schedules. I love autumn and being in the surroundings of the woods and of couse, castles. Perfect time for taking pictures of the fall foliage would have been the week before as now, most trees have shed off their leaves and the colors are mostly headed to shades of brown. Never mind, last week was just too hectic with the yearly activity in our neighborhood (collective pruning of the trees and shrubs before the first winter frost arrives and general clean-up) and of course, hubby then had to prepare for his trip to Serbia. He left early Monday morning and was back only on Saturday evening.

Even though I was initially upset that the sun did not show up, in the end I was glad that the day was just the way it was. Autumn weather is typically wet and gray so to capture real autumn moment should be against that backdrop.

If the weather was sunny, I wouldn’t be seduced to do a tour of the castle as the lure of the fall foliage will just be too difficult to ignore. We did the children’s guided tour of the castle where Francesca was dressed in her Cinderella gown and tiara. Other kids were dressed as knights, fairies, etc. which was interesting.

The guided tour started with a bit of lecture on the castle’s history and on some of the house rules during the visit. The castle is huge, perhaps the biggest in The Netherlands with about 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms. It was funny to hear those kids asking questions as to how can the baron and baroness who owned the castle make use of 30 bathrooms.

Taking pictures was prohibited but I managed to secretly take a few without using the flash. We did not explore the entire castle, just a few of the places starting with the kitchen at the basement which in early 20th century was the most modern of its kind. I loved those copper pots abd pans which were custom-made for the castle. The guide also explained the mechanics of the refrigeration system employed then before the advent of refrigerators and electricity. Quite interesting!

From the kitchen we ascended to another level of the castle and on to the dining room which was richly embellished. The guide explained the sitting arrangements especially as the baron and baroness hosted parties and entertained choice crowds from royalties, politics, finance (the first baroness, Baroness Helene was from the Rothschild family which was prominent in the banking world), and the international jetset. Some of the gowns from the previous baroness (Baroness Gabrielle) were on display in the dining, living and bedrooms. Among the names I can recall were YSL, Ungaro, Dior, Madame Gres, Givenchy…

From the dining room, we went to the biggest open space in the building which must have been the venue for those parties that they loved to host in their heydays. The ceiling was richly decorated with real gold leaves used for adornment. There was a marble structure in this area which looked like a tomb but was open on top with a depth of about a foot. When the guide asked the kids as to its purpose, there were all kinds of answers. Indeed it looked like a tomb and would have suited that purpose but the guide explained that the baron found it useful for cooling numerous bottles of champagne.

The next room we explored was the ballroom. Again, several of the designer gowns of the baronness were on display here. It was an interesting room, richly decorated with tapestries, wall carvings of dancing mythical gods and goddesses plus some children’s carriages were also on display.

We next took a look at the baron’s sleeping chamber which was pretty austere and spartan compared to that of the baronness. Interestingly, the baron and baronness did not sleep in the same room. The bed is canopied and as explained by the guide, way back then, the canopy and the curtains served as deterrent for animals like bats which can easily take residence. Never thought of that, huh!

The sleeping chamber of the baronness was more roomy and decorated with more feminine charm. Warm colours and plenty of light characterize the room. Some more of her designer gowns were on display as well. We could also take a peek at the en suite bathroom which was also tastefully furnished. Oh, how I’d love to be a baronness even for a day! No, make that a week ;-)

The last room we saw was yet again a working and sleeping room for the baron with an amazing view to the castle’s spectacular park. Oh, who wouldn’t want to wake up to such an enchanting scenery of trees and with spectacular colors in autumn!

When the first baron and baronness came to restore the castle and create the park, no expense was spared. The Rothschild family fully financed the castle’s restoration which was then in ruins and has employed the famous Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers whose work includes the Amsterdam Central Station and the Rijksmuseum. The baron did not have the patience to wait at least 20 years for the trees to grow from seedlings so he had 7,000 mature trees uprooted elsewhere, transported and re-planted in the castle’s park.

Not only that, the baron also trasported the original village a kilometer away when creating the park. He bought all the houses in the village, tore them down to give way to the forest park. The village is also interesting to explore because it still carries the family’s colors of red and white. Window shutters in red and white will make you aware that you are in Haarzuilens.

The castle’s ownership is now in the name of a foundation although the baron’s family still enjoys a right to stay in the castle for a month every year. Thus, the castle is closed to the public in September. Hubby told me later that the previous baron and baronness squandered the family’s money in their frivolous party lifestyle so the present baronness who inherited the title lives as a simple school teacher in the South of France. Oh well, being noble and mixing with the jetset crowd comes at a price and that’s one point for reflection.

We enjoyed our tour of the castle. Strangely enough, Siefko and I also did this tour 7 years ago and around autumn time as well. I don’t remember much of what I’ve seen then because I was an obedient visitor who did not take pictures.

About Malou
I'm a mom to a five-year old little girl with interest in cooking, baking, traveling and photography. Castles and palaces are special favorites so when weather permits for a good walk on weekends, me, hubby and little girl are always out for a bit of adventure.

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