[by Marjolein] Travel in style is our middle name. So, when Alexandra Baroness van Zuylen van Nijevelt invited us for a preview dinner of the new exhibition ‘Bon Voyage! The Golden Age of Travel’, the RSVP was quickly sent. The location? Kasteel De Haar. As in castle. My choice of dress is a silk Giambattista Valli cocktail number and purple Prada heels, ready to be immersed in chateau chic.
Kasteel De Haar
Kasteel De Haar is Holland’s largest castle and was built between 1892 and 1912, on the foundations of the original 13th century building. It was a dream come true for Baron Etienne van Zuylen and his extremely wealthy wife Baroness Hélène de Rothschild. They hired Holland’s most famous architect of the time, Pierre Cuypers (he of the Rijksmuseum and Central Station in Amsterdam) to build a fairy tale medieval castle for the couple. Not ‘merely’ the building, but also the interiors, gardens, chapel and the nearby village of Haarzuilens. A true Gesamtkunstwerk.
Always travel in style
I enter the castle enter through an immense wrought-iron pair of doors. In the neo-gothic Main Hall, Baroness Alexandra, eldest daughter of the last male Baron Thierry, greets me cordially. Together we explore the luxury travel artefacts assembled here, from that glorious day and age around the turn of the 20th century.
An era when Baron Etienne & Hélène travelled with custom-made dressing cases, trunks, staff and more across the globe. Destinations like Nice, Paris, Egypt and elsewhere. To stay with equally glamorous globetrotters such as the Maharaja of Kapurthala. This was a time when transatlantic steamers, trains and automobiles made the world accessible to the super wealthy. Oh, if only we could step back in time!
This exhibition can be seen throughout the castle and shows lots of personal family items: the impressive guest book (open on a page signed by Queen Regent Emma who visited De Haar in 1901 with her entourage), post cards, photos and anecdotes. About emperors, buffalos and a Japanese dinner gong. I spot a large display case with several necessaires de voyage, on loan from the Rijksmuseum. Large ‘boxes’ with silverware, candle sticks, sewing kits, scissors, crystal flasks, cigarette holders, tweezers and cork screws. In short, essentials.
Those famous dinner parties
As Alexandra – who insists I simply call her by her first name – explains, Kasteel De Haar is a not-for-profit private foundation which does not receive any regular subsidies. Funds needed for the upkeep of the place come in through ticket sales and (private) events.
Rather intriguing are the famous international jet-set dinners with guests such as Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Roger Moore and Yves Saint-Laurent. The days of lavish house parties. These were thrown by Alexandra’s parents Thierry and Gabrielle back in the swinging sixties, during the month of September, when the family was (and is) always in residence at De Haar.
In a Chapter Fifty portraits-style question, I ask Alexandra what her own ideal travel destination would be, no restrictions in time or money:
“I have pretty much travelled the world, but would love to take early 1900’s two-week trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, drinking tea and vodka”.
I can relate to that. Can’t we all?
Kasteel De Haar ‘Bon Voyage’ till September for more info click here