Karolyi Chateau – Where You can Experience Hungary’s Amazing Past

Karolyi Chateau gives travelers a chance to experience living in a bygone era in Hungary. The Karolyi Chateau located in the village of Fehérvárcsurgó, in the west of Hungary, is about 80 kilometers from Budapest. Staying at Karolyi Chateau, you will experience the Hungarian countryside living before WWII. The Karolyi family owned this magnificent stately home from 1853 until the end of WWII. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the house was renovated giving it the central court look it has today, with its semi-circular façade. Modern day comforts such as electricity, central heating, and telephones became part of the home. Sadly after the second world war, the chateau and the surrounding estate was nationalized by the newly installed Hungarian government without compensation.

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The Karolyi Chateau

Nationalization in Hungary

This true-life story fascinated Keith and I. Now I am sure we learned about some of the things that happened in Eastern Europe after WWII, but that was back in high school. Neither of us remembers learning about nationalization. If you are unaware of this concept, here it is in a nutshell: Shortly after the transfer of power in Hungary to the Soviet-style socialist regime, private property and land became the property of state without compensation. So, the Karolyi family had no more than a few days to pack some bags and flee the country before the government came for their property. The family could stay in Hungary but without a private home or means of income. If they waited, they might not have the ability to exit the country. 

Wenckheim room

The government confiscated big estates and distributed the land among the landless. Sort of a modern day Robin Hood deed to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Consequently, big estates of over 470 hectares went first. But eventually, this land nationalization reached the small family holdings of  94 hectares or more too.

The Karolyi Family Flees

The Karolyi family fleeing Hungary was a young family, the mom, dad, and a six-month-old baby. Subsequently, they fled to Paris. The family left the country in three waves because it was not easy to exit Hungary as a family at this time. Being that, the mom and dad left first under the guise of a tennis competition. Shortly after that, the family nurse traveled to Paris with the six-month baby boy. Then the grandmother followed, thinking she could travel back after a few months visit. But that turned out to be impossible. 

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Some of the many antique paintings in the chateau

The Karolyi family’s escape was possible because of the father’s uncle. What’s more, the uncle was the first president of the Hungarian Republic in 1920. At the time of the escape, in 1946, he was the Hungarian Ambassador to Paris. He helped the family obtain a visa for France. The idea at the time was that the family would leave Paris for Argentina, but that never happened. The family was able to take three trucks filled with clothes and household goods to start their new life.

A New Life in Paris or Africa?

While living in Hungary, the family made their living from lumber. Seeing that they now live in Paris and own nothing, the family needed to work. The mom was a strikingly beautiful and intelligent woman and not afraid to work to provide for her family. She married into nobility but was not a Nobel herself, so maybe she found working easier than her husband. Her husband did not find work that suited him, a Nobel, so he moved to North Africa to look for something better there. He wanted his family to join him, but the mom had found perfect work for herself in the fashion world of Paris.

Festetics room

First, she worked as a mannequin and as a skirt designer. She created a small “Maison de couture,” later she became responsible for the “prêt-à- porter” at Hermès where she worked for 20 years. Most notably, she was the designer who created the  H logo for Hermès.

By this time the marriage was suffering. In time the parents divorced. 

Change is Hard, but the Strong Survive

Once the father was in North Africa, it did not take long for him to realize he would not be a Nobel in Africa either. Ultimately, he took a job as a night watchman. Then he took a job in a chicken factory. Finally, he joined a company that managed the ship traffic in various harbors. The father worked in Marocco, Mauritania, and Congo returning each year to Paris for a month’s holiday.

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The rooms are set up with pictures of the past on other era specific items

After working in Africa for 25 years, he came back and settled in Paris flipping apartments before flipping became a thing. He found love and married again. When retirement rolled around, he had enough money to travel around the world! He began his third life, eventually going seven times to India, traveling to Latin America and Asia. Alas, he had little desire for Hungary. He did travel twice to Budapest after 1989 for opera performances. He had a great appreciation for music, especially opera. Ultimately the soviets era ended, and Hungary became a democracy. But, after living abroad from 1946 to the 1990s, he had no desire to restore his stately home in the Hungarian countryside. 

Georges Karolyi Undertakes a Dream

Now fast forward to 1997, that six-month-old baby, Georges Karolyi, is now a grown man. Even though he left Hungary as an infant, he wants to see Hungary restored to the place it once was. So, he took the lead in the re-birth of the chateau and signed a 99-year lease with the Hungarian government to rent the estate. Therefore, the Hungarian government is the landlord of the property. With his own financial resources and the help of the Hungarian government and the European Union, restoration of the Chateau began. The work lasted for fifteen years but was finally complete in 2011. The decorating of the chateau began in 2013 and was complete in 2018. There are other buildings on the property that need restoration, so this is still a work in progress.

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History in pictures
The Napoleon Room

The Chateau Today

Today the Chateau has twenty bedrooms, several libraries richly stocked with books on the social sciences, eight meeting & conference rooms, a 500 square meter baroque cellar, and a restaurant seating eighty people. I would recommend this chateau as your destination. So spend a few days here and unwind. The grounds are great for walking and are simply lovely. There is a back terrace offering a panoramic view of the valley extending behind the chateau. Without reservation making this a perfect spot for reading or just reflecting. 

Two story library
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Cellar at the Karolyi
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Backyard terrace

Keith and I stayed in the lovely Daisy suite. All of the rooms are named; either after the members of the Karolyi family who occupied them or after features of the local landscape. “Daisy” bears the name of the present tenant’s grandmother.

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Entering our double-doored room
Huge room and lovely bed
Sitting area in the room
Large bathroom

Dining at the chateau is a treat with its Hungarian and French specialties. Each dish is carefully prepared using only fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Spring through fall you will have the choice of dining inside or on their sheltered terrace beneath the colonnades. The al fresco area offers an outstanding view of the central court with its fountain. We enjoyed having a late afternoon glass of wine on the terrace while we did some writing all while soaking in some of the rays of the sun. The back terrace offers a panoramic view over the valley extending behind the chateau.

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Enjoying a glass of wine on the terrace while writing
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The dining room
Outdoor dining terrace
hungary food
Black lentils and zucchini
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Pork tenderloin
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A tasty pork belly dish

The Chateau park consists of 50 hectares created at the end of the 19th century by landscape designer János Hain, a prize winner at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1884. The park itself is a historical monument and includes a large number of rare species of trees such as Greek white fir, wild chestnut, black pine, red beech, yew, Turkish hazel, weeping willow and more. Also, there is a  lake, promenades, and bridges.

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A small gazebo on the lake

The Gaja River is famous for the purity of its water throughout the area. It crosses the former hunting grounds of the Karolyi family estate (still in use), of which is now, part of a hiking trail. The hiking trails begin at the edge of the local village.

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Relaxing on a beautiful day
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One of the bridges on the property
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Beautiful trails around the lake

The Karolyi Family Has Always Had a
Deep Respect for Music

The Karolyi family has always had a love for music. Therefore, this stately home built in roughly 1845, contained a music salon or chapel that was the ideal place for numerous “house concerts.” The Georges Karolyi family wanted to bring music back to the home. So in 1999, the tradition of music did return to the home. Each year a summer academy is held at the chateau for masterclass students as well as musicians who are guests of the Karolyi Chateau. They emphasize no compulsory pieces or instruction, only making music for the love of it. The owner’s wife told us the home rejoiced and came to life when the music returned. She told us they foster an environment that is every composer’s dream; an island far from the noise of the city: truly appropriate for artistic effort.

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Waiting for the concert to begin

Keith and I stay at Karolyi Chateau in late summer just in time to be present for the student concert. The music was phenomenal, and the students who performed came from far and wide. All of the performers were young, but their talent was immeasurable. It was a magical night. 

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One of the many practice rooms set up for the musicians

If you simply can’t stay in this area for a night then get to know the chateau and the history of the Karolyi family with a tour. The chateau is open for visiting every day of the year. There is a fee for the tour so check their website for the hours and cost. 

Things to Do Close to Karolyi Chateau

We were lucky enough to have a rental car from AutoEurope which allowed us to explore the nearby area. The Chateau is close to the beautiful baroque town of Székesfehérvár where in former times, Kings of Hungary were crowned. Keith and I loved this walkable city; it is a must see in Hungary! Székesfehérvár is the ninth largest city in the country. In the Middle Ages, Székesfehérvár was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary. So the first kings of Hungary were ultimately crowned and buried here.

Our rental car at the Karolyi

Székesfehérvár a
Hidden Gem

Not far from the Karolyi Kastle in the countryside of Hungary is the beautiful city of Székesfehérvár. The tree-lined winding roads from Karolyi to this city are lovely. When you arrive at this area, you can’t see the city, that is because the old town is entirely pedestrian only. You will need to park your car and walk a couple of blocks into the city center. Szekesfehervar is one of the most ancient towns in Hungary, dating to the late 900s. The city with its cobblestoned streets is fastidiously clean and manicured. There are plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and bistros. Our visit was during the summer, so we enjoyed some light bites and of course a glass of wine al fresco.

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Enjoying a drink and lunch at one of the cafes

A Clock Made of
Flowers

One of the interesting attractions in Szekesfehervar is a
garden clock that began in 1960. Each spring new flowers give the clock a new
look. The clock tells the correct time from spring till autumn. And, next to
the clock is the date.

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The flower clock not fully in bloom yet

Orajatek, History
Told Through Animated Time

Another attraction in Szekesfehervar is the animated clock. The characters of the clock represent the legendary kings and well-known people of Hungarian history. The historical figures first appear at 10 in the morning along with music. Then the clock comes to life again every two hours until 6 p.m. The figures of the clockworks are the trombone player, St. Stephen, Prince Emeric, King St. Ladislaus, St. Elizabeth, St, Margaret, King Mathias, and Queen Beatrix. And below the figures is where the clock face is. The dial is an interstellar map listing the names of the months. The dial rotates adjusting the correct picture to the name of the month thus going around the face of the dial once a year.

There is also a clock museum. The museum has many hundreds of wall-clocks, grandfather clocks, pocket-watches, wrist-watches and even the mechanism of a tower clock from the 17th century. You can visit the museum, but a reservation for a minimum of 10 guests is required.

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The animated clock in Szekesfehervar

Karolyi Chateau Experience the Past

Karolyi Castel is your chance to experience living in a bygone era of Hungary. The fact that it exists at all is because someone wanted to remember. A lot of effort has gone into the renovation of this Chateau so that those of us who love history can experience its glory. Today in Hungary, the name of the Karolyi’s, one of the most well-known historical families in Hungary, is synonymous with support for science and art. Must be remembered, if you visit in the late summer, you will experience a concert fit for kings! 

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Aerial view of the Karolyi chateau


QUICK ANSWERS

Where’s the best place to stay outside of Budapest?

The Karolyi Chateau is a beautiful place to stay and only a short distance to Budapest.

Where is the best place to rent a car in Europe?

The best car rental company is AutoEurope. They work with many European auto rentals and will find you the best price.


Watch our video tour of the beautiful Karolyi Chateau

Explore the nearby country of Slovakia in it’s capital Bratislava.

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Karolyi Chateau – Where You can Experience Hungary’s Amazing Past

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