Looking for some unusual things to do in Austria? Schloss Hof, or Hof Palace, fits the bill. In this guide, I tell you everything to see at the magnificent former imperial palace.
Hof Palace is less than an hour from Vienna in the Marchfield region of lower Austria. It’s the largest rural palace complex in the country. The palace was the country seat of Prince Eugene of Savoy and later the famous Empress Maria Theresa.
The Baroque-themed complex consists of the opulent main palace, beautiful gardens, and a manor farm. It’s an idyllic rural escape, complete with roses and ponies. You’ll get a glimpse into 18th century courtly life and can do some imperial-style relaxing.
Hof Palace is much less crowded than the uber-popular Schonbrunn Palace. I thought it was a far superior palace-visiting experience, with no lines or shoving.
Schloss Hof is often a stop on a Danube River cruise. If you visit via a tour, you’ll have a charming guide dressed in period costume to explain all the history and details.
Hof Palace is only 30 minutes from Bratislava Slovakia. So you can combine both destinations in one day trip.
History of Hof Palace
In 1726, Prince Eugene of Savoy bought Hof Palace. The prince was one of the most important military commanders in Austrian history. He laid the foundation for the Habsburg Empire.
With the help of architect Lucas von Hildebrandt, Prince Eugene turned Hof Palace into an extraordinary hunting lodge with beautiful grounds. But he bought the property late in life and only enjoyed it for a decade.
In 1755, after his death, Empress Maria Theresa bought the palace from his niece. She transformed it into an imperial country manor and summer escape pad.
The empress bought it for her husband Francis and to help “relieve the soul of the burden of ruling.”
Maria Theresa was a force to be reckoned with. She was the Habsburg dynasty’s first and only female ruler.
Maria Theresa came to power under a cloud of doubts about her competence and legitimacy. Nonetheless, she became a remarkable ruler.
Maria Theresa successfully overhauled Austria’s antiquated systems of finance and administration, modernized the army, and revolutionized the country’s foreign policy.
When the notoriously thrifty Francis died, Maria Theresa rewarded herself. She redecorated and expanded the palace, adding another story to the schloss.
But the subsequent Hapsburg generations didn’t appreciate Maria Theresa’s bucolic retreat. An age of great splendor was followed by decades of decline and neglect.
Schloss Hof was eventually leased to the imperial army, to shift financial responsibility. In 1945, the Soviet army occupied the palace for 10 years. It was largely forgotten.
In 1986, Hof Place was resurrected and the first extensive renovations were launched. The palace was reopened to the public in 2005.
Many of the original period furnishings and art works were subsequently returned. Because inventories were drawn up at the time, the apartments could be reconstructed just as they were in Marie Theresa’s time.
Guide To Hof Palace: What To See
Here are the 10 best things to see at Hof Palace:
1. Banqueting Hall
The Neo-Classical banqueting hall is very white, with austere aesthetics. The white stucco relief on the ceiling dates from the time of Prince Eugene. The ceiling depicts the goddess of the hunt, Diana.
Besides the pretty crystal sconces (which are replicas after the originals), three large glass chandeliers illuminated the hall with 140 candles. This space is often used as a wedding venue.
2. Sala Terrena
The Sala Terrena is one of the prettiest and most elaborately decorated rooms in Hof Palace. It’s on the ground floor. Maria Theresa redesigned the Rococo room in 1775.
Sala Terrena was used as a setting for smaller social gatherings. It also served as a link between the architecture of the palace and the natural scenery of the garden.
If you step outside, you’ll see the goddess Cybele in the middle of a sculpture-filled fountain. Today, the Sala Terrena is used for concerts.
The palace chapel is a gaudy marble and gold Baroque space. It’s two stories with a dome. The chapel still looks the way it did in the time of Prince Eugene.
The walls of the two lofts show oval medallions in white with depictions of the Christian virtues. The stucco decorations are by Santino Bussi and Alberto Camesina.
4. Dining Room
The dining room is beautiful. It has gorgeous reconstructed wall coverings in red patterns. The white wood chairs repeat the color theme.
5. Imperial Apartments
The Imperial Apartments were originally the private chambers of Prince Eugene. In 1773-75, the rooms were altered in appearance and function.
The rooms consist of a coffee room, bedroom, dining room, parlor, and drawing room. The highlight is the bedroom.
The colors are classic Baroque era. You’ll see dark-blue damask walls and a four poster bed in yellow silk. The bedroom windows provide a stunning view of the estate’s farm and gardens.
6. Marie Theresa’s Apartments
Marie Theresa’s apartments are in the southern wing. By the time her husband died, Marie Theresa had had 16 children and was devastated. She redecorated the rooms in somber and elegant shades of ivory, black, and gray.
The apartments are filled with paintings, including one of Marie Theresa in widow’s attire in her bedroom. She slept in a beautiful four poster bed with exquisite Indian textiles.
Her apartments also had an antechamber, audience chamber, drawing room, and servant’s room. The most opulent room is the audience chamber. It has a fireplace, gilding, mirrors, and portraits of Marie Theresa’s family by the Vienna Academy of the Arts.
7. Baroque Garden
To my mind, the most outstanding feature of Hof Palace is the seven-tiered Baroque gardens. The gardens were initially the creation of Prince Eugene. He commissioned Lucas von Hildebrandt and Anton Zinner, the designers of the Belvedere Palace gardens in Vienna.
The gardens spread out like a geometric carpet. Everything is ordered.
The flower beds are modeled on filigree designs. Trees and bushes are trimmed into creative geometric forms. The intent was to re-create a carpet with plants.
The gardens close to the palace are more elaborate. In the middle distance, the gardens have tree-lined paths and labyrinths of hedges.
Along the central axis, there’s a gorgeous monumental fountain. River gods live in niches of the fountain grotto.
The grounds are dotted with whimsical sculptures from ancient mythology. Many of the sculptures were intended to glorify Prince Eugene. They were created by Bohemian-born sculptor Johann Christopher Mader.
Gardening still continues to this day. In addition to routine maintenance, 10,000 bulbs are planted annually in the Hof Palace gardens.
8. Marchfield Gate
Six wrought iron gates once separated the gardens from surrounding areas or separated the individual gardens. They were made by master metal workers Christian Kremer and Johan Georg Oegg.
The Marshfield Gate is the only one preserved in its entirety. It’s decorated with tendrils, flowers, and leaves.
Mars and Mercury are seated on scrolls at the sides of the gate. The message was clear: the palace owner excelled in both cultural and martial arts.
The Meierhof was the manor farm for Hof Palace. It doesn’t look much like a “farm” compound. It’s very elaborate and Baroque in style too.
At the Schloss Hof farm, you’ll find artisan craft shops, specialty herb gardens, and some furry creatures. The fruit and vegetables are grown according to strict organic guidelines.
The Orangerie is especially grand. The glassed indoor rooms were for the display of exotic plants — bitter oranges, agave, lemons, pomegranate.
The southern facade of the Orangerie is made entirely of glass. This means the rooms are always drenched in sunlight. It’s supposed to evoke a Garden of Eden effect.
10. Shops & Restaurant
There’s an on site restaurant where we had lunch, Zum Weissen Pfau, or the White Peacock. It serves regional delicacies and classic dishes. The chef will also use seasonal ingredients like asparagus or game.
There’s also a patisserie, grocery store, and palace shop on site. You can pick up specialty ingredients or souvenirs.
On Sundays, the petting zoo is open for children. You’ll find rare and domestic breeds — sheep, camels, chickens, goats, etc. The rarest is the blue eyed Austrian-Hungarian White Baroque donkey.
Schloss Hof also hosts a Christmas market in the winter.
11. Niederweiden Palace
You can combine your visit to the Hof Palace with the nearby Niederweiden Palace. It’s a small hunting lodge around the corner that was another joint Prince Eugene-Maria Theresa effort.
The palace, which is really more of a castle-home, received his current appearance under Maria Teresa. She hired court architect Nikolaus Pacassi.
I didn’t see this place on our tour, so I can’t speak to whether it’s worth visiting.
Can You Do Schloff Hof and Bratislava In One Day?
It’s possible to visit both Schloss Hof and Bratislava in one day. The palace and town are about 30 minutes apart. You might be a little rushed, unless you can stay for dinner in Bratislava before heading out.
Bratislava is the tiny capital of Slovakia. Bratislava’s vintage-y old town is filled with pastel colored houses, cobbled streets, quirky bronze sculptures, and the world’s most adorable pastry shop, Konditorei Kormut.
Bratislava is crowned with a historic castle, which is really the iconic spot in the town. Bratislava also boasts a unique, almost over the top, blue church, the Church of St. Elisabeth
Practical information and Tips For Visiting Hof Palace
If you’re wondering whether it’s worth it to visit Schloss Hof, the answer is definitely yes! We loved it. It was welcome break from the big city.
Address: 2294 Schloßhof 1
Ticket Price: € 17.50
Getting there: It’s about a 45-50 minute drive from Vienna to Schloss Hof. You can also take the train from Vienna to Marchegg. From there, take a taxi the 3.7 miles to Schloss Hof. There’s also a shuttle bus.
Hours: The palace is open from late March to early November daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. You can get an audio guide or go on a themed tour.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to Hof Palace. You may enjoy these other Austria travel guides and resources:
- The Best Museums in Vienna
- 3 Days In Vienna Itinerary
- Guide To the Wachau Valley
- Guide To the Danube River
- Beethoven Guide To Vienna
- Klimt Guide To Vienna
- Guide To the Sisi Museum
- Guide To Melk Abbey
- Guide To the Belvedere Palace
- Things To Do in Vienna in Winter
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