Located in the province of Utrecht, Kasteel De Haar or De Haar Castle in Haarzuilens dates back to the 13th century. Reportedly, it is the biggest and most luxurious castle in The Netherlands. A medieval fortress with towers and ramparts, moats, gates, drawbridges and a majestic parkland covering over 135 acres surrounding the estate.
Originally, the castle belonged to the De Haar family. The ownership remained in the family until 1440 when the last male heir died childless. Through marriage, the castle was eventually passed down to the Van Zuylen family.
Etienne van Zuylen and his wife Baroness Hélène de Rothschild inherited the castle in 1890. The imposing old fortress was in a derelict state as it fell into disrepair in 18th and 19th centuries. They contracted architect P.J.H. Cuypers in 1892 who designed the famous Rijksmuseum and the Central Station in Amsterdam. Castle de Haar was a Neo-Gothic restoration project funded by the Rothschild family.
Cuypers restored and rebuilt De Haar Castle from 1892 till 1912. His grand design included all around architecture, interiors and the gardens. He equipped the castle with the most modern gadgets at the time such as electrical lighting with its own generator. There was even a central heating system by way of steam. The restoration project was so extensive that the nearby village was moved 1.5 kilometers to the west to make way for the park and hunting grounds. The church within the village was rebuilt and incorporated into the new park.
I have read that this castle has 200 rooms and 25 bathrooms! Only a small section of the castle is open to the public. It has been a century long tradition for the Van Zuylen family to reside in the castle for one month a year in September. They have had lavish house parties, entertaining international prominent guests such as Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, Yves Saint Laurent, Joan Collins and Brigitte Bardot back in the days.
My visit was a couple of weeks ago. The museum-castle section was not operating at its fullest. The English audio tour (€1.00) was not offered and several areas were closed for upgrading. It was the peak of the winter season and the castle was rather deserted. However, there were ‘zaalgidsen’ or ‘hall guides’ available in every room of the castle to enlighten us with many facts and wonderful stories. This was engaging and certainly connecting us with its history on a personal level. There were also ‘inzoomkaarten’ or ‘zoom maps’ available in each room written in both Dutch and English explaining room/hall function, architecture details and various objects.
The interior of Castle de Haar was overwhelming! There were richly ornamented wood carving decoration just like a Roman Catholic church, extensive use of cast iron, a beautiful relief carved out of one block of limestone found in the Ballroom, stained-glass windows portraying a medieval bishop in the Main Hall, a stylish kitchen filled with copper pots and pans and many elaborate fireplaces. To top it off, the castle was furnished with a large incoherent collection of valuable antiques from all over the world, ranging from Chinese porcelains, old Flemish tapestries, sculptures from France, musically-themed artwork from Germany and more. One notable showpiece was a rare 18th century Japanese covered litter sedan coach known as Norimon. It was once belonged to Mrs. Tokugawa, the wife of a Shogun (a Japanese military commander).
The exterior parkland surrounding estate was extensive. Although it was the coldest winter day at almost -20 degree wind chill, we braved the cold wind and took a quick walk. There were several ponds, monumental trees, a grand canal, different type of gardens, water features, a labyrinth, bridges, winding paths, picnic area and a deer park. I can only imagine a gorgeous landscape fully grown in the warm summer months.
I was amazed by the un-Dutch luxury of this castle. This is how aristocracy lives! My fascination for castles continues.
Address: Kasteellaan 1. 3455 RR Haarzuilens
Opening Hours: Castle – daily from 11am – 5pm and Park – daily from 9am – 5pm
Entrance Fees: €16.00 for adults and €10.00 for kids age 4-12 years old to visit Castle and Park. €5.00 for adults and €3.50 for kids age 4-12 years old to visit just Park. Free entry for Museumkaart holders. Audio tour is available at additional €1.00.
Getting There: http://www.kasteeldehaar.nl/english/address-route/
Castle De Haar is a non-profit private foundation which depends entirely on its revenues from ticket sales, activities and events.