This post has been a long time coming. The trip itself actually predates the start of this blog, but since it includes some of my favorite places on earth, I think it’s only fair that I go ahead and share it with you all. Hopefully, it might inspire you to visit a few of these places yourself or at least better inform you about the regions we traveled through. No matter what, I hope you will enjoy what you see here.
In September of 2017, my mother and I set out on a road trip that would begin in Hungary and circle around through Croatia, Italy, and Slovenia. My mother had previously seen many of the sites we visited during the time that she and my father spent living in Bosnia and she had been itching to share them with me ever since. I also managed to find quite a few places that she hadn’t been to before, so there were a lot of pleasant surprises in store for her as well.
We arrived at the Budapest airport in the late afternoon on a Sunday. We promptly collected our rental car and hopped on the road. I don’t typically like to get in the car for a drive right after disembarking a long haul flight, but our lodging was only supposed to be about an hour away according to Google and it put us closer to the area where we intended to begin the rest of our journey. The drive definitely took us a little longer than an hour, it was probably closer to two hours, and my mom certainly had her doubts about where we were headed, as we rumbled down the back roads of Hungary in search of the village of Székesfehérvár. Please don’t ask me to try and pronounce that. We did eventually have to ask a woman walking down the road whether or not we were headed in the right direction. She didn’t speak much English, but assured us that our hotel was just around the next corner.
We proceeded in the direction as advised and lo and behold, we at last arrived at our destination, Károlyi Kastel. Yes, you heard me right, a CASTLE! I was pretty sure that I had found a gem when I had made the initial booking, but the castle or chateau as it is sometimes referred to, accommodations were even better than we might have imagined and well worth the detour it took to get there. My mother was quick to forgive me once she saw the mansion herself.
The Castle, which is still in the possession of the Károlyi family, is now used as a hotel, restaurant, and special event venue. The grounds of the castle feature a public park, surrounding a large pond. The house is also open for tours daily. The hotel features a total of 18 guest rooms and two suites, all of which are uniquely decorated. Each room is equipped with a private bathroom and all of the modern conveniences you would expect in a nice hotel. One thing to note is that the majority of bathrooms feature a bathtub rather than a stand up shower, which didn’t bother us one bit. Upon check in we were led to a lovely twin bedroom on the second floor, which overlooked the front entrance with its manicured garden and water fountain.
The price for our one night stay was less expensive than the moderately priced hotels in Budapest and well under one hundred U.S. dollars. Included in each overnight stay is breakfast at the downstairs restaurant and a free guided tour of the house.
We quickly settled in before venturing downstairs to the restaurant. After browsing the menu, we settled on the lamb shank and potatoes and salmon fillet with roasted vegetables. The menu clearly states any potential allergens found in each meal and our waiter was happy to help me find something without dairy. If I remember correctly, the waiter and chef worked together to customize the fish and vegetable plate that I ultimately ordered.
We were pretty exhausted after our meal so we went right back to our room and called it an early night.
The following morning we were up early and headed down to breakfast at the restaurant. Since the meal was included in the price of our room we weren’t quite sure what type of meal to expect. The meal ended up far exceeding the typical hotel breakfast we’re accustomed to. Instead of a buffet or continental breakfast, guests are given a small menu of dishes to choose from. The meal is cooked to order and served in a skillet, which is probably the best way I can think of to enjoy bacon and eggs.
After breakfast, we went back to our room to pack up and load our luggage into the car. With that done, we headed back to the front desk to wait for the daily guided tour of the castle. Since we were there during the off season, the only tour scheduled for that day was offered in Hungarian. We were prepared to follow along at the back of this tour, which consisted of a large group of Hungarian day trippers, in order to view more of the castle itself. However, the young lady working the desk offered to make a few phone calls and was able to find a local woman who spoke English and was willing to come over and give us a private tour.
The tour was fascinating and we learned a lot more about the castle and the Károlyi family. We would have missed out on a lot of interesting information if it wasn’t for our last minute English guide. The Károlyis were relatives of the Hapsburgs of Austro Hungarian fame and the mansion was constructed in the 1800’s in order to serve as a country retreat for the family. The castle has served as everything from a school to a military barracks and survived both World Wars, though it was ransacked and heavily damaged during both. Most of what is seen in the house today is a replica of what was originally there. The beautiful floors in the formal dining area for instance, are replicas of the original floor, which was stolen. There are still parts of the house that are undergoing restoration work, but the family has worked hard to restore one area at a time. It was nice to know that our patronage would be a small contribution toward the preservation of the estate.
The house has a number of unique features including a chapel, circular library complete with a hidden staircase, vast wine cellars, and a lace ironwork veranda with a view of the lush park. We were able to view several large paintings on display in the attic, which had been found recently and restored to the Károlyi estate. The paintings themselves were not actually original to the castle itself, but it was interesting to hear their story and to see the type of artwork that the original inhabitants owned and displayed.
The Károlyi family has loaned many of their surviving family heirlooms and artwork to museums in Budapest. From the way that our guide talked, I could tell that the family is very much respected in the local community for their conservation work and contributions to the country of Hungary as a whole. The current heir, Georges Károlyi, was serving as the Hungarian ambassador to France, during our visit.
Honestly, we could have enjoyed the whole day and another night relaxing at the castle, but we needed to get on the road and headed toward the next stop on our road trip.
Have you ever stayed in a castle before? How was the experience?