Most of us try chocolates and a nice dinner when our spouse seems tired with the relationship. Emperor Franz Joseph built a huge summerhouse in idyllic surrounds for his wife, Elisabeth. (Sadly, it didn’t really help.)
- Small summer palace and stables in a large nature park
- Built for Empress Elisabeth in the 1880s
- Gustav Klimt contributed to the interior decor
- A bit out of the way for the casual visitor
- See also:
(Hermesvilla garden view; press photo: Lisa Rastl © Wien Museum)
Vienna has a habit of surprising you with historical buildings in unexpected places. Turn down some innocent-looking street and you stumble on one of Beethoven’s old residences or a turn-of-the century film location.
So it is with the Hermesvilla.
The 2,450 hectare Lainzer Tiergarten nature park dominates the southwest of Vienna out beyond Schönbrunn Palace, providing fresh air and hiking opportunities for the Viennese. But not even woodland is safe from the pervasive touch of imperial architecture.
For many years, the Tiergarten hosted Habsburg hunting parties rather than picnics and Kindergarten outings. A place for Archdukes and Emperors to put the cares of office behind them and go out and slaughter some innocent animals instead.
In the 1880s, Emperor Franz Joseph decided to put up a summerhouse in the hunting grounds: not for hosting shooting parties, but for the pleasure of his wife, Elisabeth.
The empress never really took to court life in Vienna, so spent much of her time on her travels (much to the disappointment of Franz Joseph). The Hermesvilla represents one of his forlorn attempts to encourage his beloved Sisi to remain in town.
The idea was to offer Elisabeth the kind of delightful summer refuge she relished, but close enough to the capital that the Emperor would still get to enjoy her company.
Star architect, Carl von Hasenauer, produced a renaissance-style villa and stables which has the feel of a miniature palace about it.
(Empress Elisabeth’s bedroom; press photo: Lisa Rastl © Wien Museum)
Riding was Elisabeth’s passion, so much effort went into ensuring, for example, nice and even meadows for her to exercise her horses. The task included a war of attrition against the neighbourhood moles, who I like to think were exacting their own particular revenge for all that hunting.
Did the plan work?
Elisabeth and her husband only lived a few days in the villa each year in late spring until the Empress’s untimely death in 1898. But I guess that’s better than nothing. Elisabeth’s daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie, also spent time there with her husband, Archduke Franz Salvator, and children.
(If you’re wondering what makes an Archduke or Archduchess, see here.)
For long periods after WWI and the end of the monarchy (and again after WWII), the Hermesvilla fell into disrepair. It eventually found its way into the portfolio of the municipal Wien Museum group of historical sites and residences.
Meander through the Lainzer Tiergarten today and you suddenly find yourself encountering a pristine 19th-century summer residence, fully renovated and restored to its former glory, and complete with a nearby restaurant.
You can wander around the insides and admire various original items and furnishings from the imperial pair’s household (Elisabeth’s bedroom is a particular treat).
(The statue of Hermes; press photo: Lisa Rastl © Wien Museum)
And the name?
The Empress decided on the moniker herself based on the statue of Hermes in the villa’s gardens.
The Hermesvilla enjoys a couple more famous connections, too, beyond Franz and Sisi.
The celebrity painter, Hans Makart, designed some of the wall frescoes, for example. And Gustav Klimt had a hand in some of the interior paintings, back in the days before he turned his attention to more avant garde projects.
Tickets & visitor tips
At the time of writing, a standard adult ticket to the Hermesvilla at the door costs €8. Check opening times (at the official website – see below) before planning a visit.
The location closes for winter, so it opened in mid-March in 2023, for example, and will close again at the start of November.
How to get to the Hermesvilla
Ah. Given the Hermesvilla served as a country retreat, it’s not exactly close to the public transport network. And you can’t take a car (or even a bicycle) into the nature park.
The villa is just over 1km from the park’s main entrance at the Lainzer Tor. A sporadic shuttle service may operate on certain days for disabled visitors (see the official website below for details).
Mind you, Lainzer Tiergarten makes for a lovely walk. With a bit of luck you may see a fair bit of local wildlife, too.
To reach the Lainzer Tor…
- Take tram 60 or 62 to Speising / Hermesstraße, then catch the 56B bus
- Alternatively, catch that same bus from the Hietzing subway station on the U4 line (takes around 23 minutes from the subway to the park entrance)
Address: Lainzer Tiergarten, 1130 Vienna | Website