When the 20 year old Queen Victoria of England married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, they must have seemed the dream couple of their age. The young German prince from Coburg turned out to be a loyal husband and their marriage was a happy one, producing nine children. When we visited Albert’s birthplace in Coburg I could understand why he felt so homesick for the rolling countryside and forests of his native Germany and how Victoria shared his love of Coburg, writing “it is a feeling as if I had spent my youth here.”
Victoria and Albert had been introduced by their Uncle Leopald with a view to making a suitable match for the future Queen of England. Victoria’s mother Victoire and Albert’s father Ernst were brother and sister, and the marriage of cousins was common in the royal families of Europe – keeping power and wealth in the family. Once Uncle Leopald became the first King of the Belgians, he used his influence to secure advantageous marriages for his nephews and nieces, including Victoria and Albert, resulting in his nickname ‘The uncle of Europe’. It was joked that while others built empires through war, the Coburgs did so through marriage.
Albert’s birthplace at Schloss Rosenau
A few years after their marriage, the royal couple made their first trip to Coburg where Albert was able to take his wife to Schloss Rosenau, the childhood home he felt so nostalgic for. Just as Victoria and Albert must have done, we entered the park along a drive lined with chestnut trees, glimpsing the castle on the hill through a gap in the trees. It’s easy to see why they would have both loved spending time here, with freedom to ride and walk in the 36 acre park, away from the public gaze and formality of the English court. Perhaps in the elegant and romantic Schloss Rosenau, Victoria could imagine what life might be like as an ordinary wife and mother, writing in her memoirs, “If I were not who I am, this would be my real home.”
Albert’s father, Duke Ernst I had remodelled the ruined castle in a style that harked back to its medieval origins, drawing on the romantic tales of the knights of old, with a gilded Marble Hall where balls were held in medieval costume. Prince Albert was born at Schloss Rosenau and it was used by the family as their summer residence, while they spent their winters at Ehrenberg Palace. In the 1940s the castle became an old people’s home and some of the fine decoration was lost but more recently the castle has been restored by the Bavarian state to its original splendour and was re-opened to the public in 1990.
There are guided tours every hour at the castle and we were lucky enough to have a tour in English – although this would normally need to be requested in advance. The castle is on a very domestic scale and the pretty dressing room and bedroom of Albert’s mother Louise reminded us that she was a young girl of just 16 when she married the 33 year old Duke Ernst. The castle was so small that guests would have to walk through her bedroom, so there was a wooden box placed on top of the mattress to store her clothes from public view. Sadly the marriage ended unhappily due to infidelity and the couple separated and later divorced with Louise dying of cancer aged only 30.
Schloss Rosenhau must have held poignant memories for Albert of his childhood, and to overcome his homesickness for his homeland, Queen Victoria commissioned a series of watercolour images of the castle interiors, including a view from Albert’s schoolroom over the park. The paintings now reside in the Royal Library at Windsor, but copies are on display at Schloss Rosenau and these were used to guide the restoration of the castle to its original bright colours and furnishings.
Beside the drive through the park is a small tree, planted to mark the ‘Queen’s View’, the spot where Queen Victoria could stop her carriage as she left and have one last look back at her beloved Albert’s birthplace on the hill.
If you go: Scloss Rosenau website
Ehrenberg Palace in Coburg
Another palace that holds many connections with European royalty is Ehrenburg, its splendour rather overwhelming the modest town of Coburg. This is where Duke Ernst I and his wife Louise, parents of Albert, spent the winter months, while Schloss Rosenau was more suitable for summer use since the thick stone walls were difficult to heat. When we visited the palace, our tour took us through a series of beautiful rooms, where we could admire the full length portraits of Albert and Victoria at the top of the grand staircase.
Their grandparents Duke Franz Frederich Anton and Countess Augusta had succeeded from impecunious beginnings in creating a powerful dynasty through their marriage policy. By marrying their children into almost all the royal households of Europe they rose in wealth and influence, and as if to emphaise their success, the portraits of the Coburg extended family hang throughout the palace.
Among the many beautiful rooms, stuffed with chandeliers and tapestries, we admired Duchess Louise’s bedchamber, renovated in vibrant green silk to replace the original faded furnishings. The Hall of Giants, with its ornate wedding cake ceiling, was where in 1863 the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph met Queen Victoria, a convenient location half way between their mutual kingdoms.
Pride of place on the tour is the bedroom where Queen Victoria would stay on her visits, complete with the mahogany panelled water closet that she had installed. Ehrenburg Palace seems to overshadow the small town of Coburg, but then it’s quite understandable that with relations in all the royal households of Europe, the Dukes of Coburg would need somewhere suitably impressive to entertain when they came to visit.
If you go: Ehrenburg Website
Visiting Schloss Callenberg, home of the Coburgs
Our final stop as we followed in the footsteps of Victoria and Albert was Schloss Callenberg, the family home of Prince Andreas, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and head of the Coburg family. The castle is filled with beautiful artworks, and antiques but we especially enjoyed the two rooms dedicated to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children.
The Ducal Art Exhibit displays the portraits of all nine children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with information about the ties of family and kinship that the House of Coburg holds to Europe’s ruling nobility. There are many other beautiful collections in the castle, although the large open rooms had more of a museum feel, compared to the domestic scale and character of Schloss Rosenau.
There’s also a German Shooting Museum which is a quirky change from all the portraits and antiques, taking you through the history of archery and shooting as a sport complete with laser firing range for those that want to test their skills.
If you go: Schloss Callenberg Website
Albert’s statue in Coburg
After Albert’s untimely death in 1861, Queen Victoria commissioned a statue of her beloved husband for his hometown of Coburg. To emphasise his achievements he stands wearing his robes of a Knight of the Order of the Garter and holds the plans for the Crystal Palace in one hand. Originally the statue was planned to stand in Albertsplatz and a whole block of houses was demolished to create an open space.
However Queen Victoria would not hear of her beloved Albert ending up in the second square of the town and ordered that he should be placed with rightful importance in the main square of Marktplatz. The Queen even visited the town in 1865 with her children to personally unveil Albert’s statue which stands proudly in the heart of the town, and on our visit we stood under it in the Christmas market drinking our Glühwein.
Victoria’s final visit to Coburg was in 1894 when the royal families of Europe gathered for the wedding of Victoria’s grand-daughter to the Grand Duke of Hesse. It was only 20 years before the outbreak of the First World War when even the close family ties of Europe’s royal families could not prevent cousin fighting against cousin.
The Coburg’s ‘marriage policy’ had been spectacularly successful but as the English royal family changed their name to Windsor during the First World War, many of the Coburg connections have been forgotten. We enjoyed re-discovering them on our visit to Coburg and seeing the town through Victoria’s eyes as she visited her beloved Albert’s hometown in Germany.
Read more about our visit to Coburg
Christmas in Coburg – discovering the seaonal magic in Germany
A weekend in Coburg: Castles and Royal Connections
Plan your Visit to Coburg
For more information about what there is to see and do in Coburg, visit the Coburg Tourism website and follow them on their social media channels: Facebook and Twitter. You can also find information to plan your holidays in Germany at the Germany Tourism Website.
From the UK you can reach Coburg via Nuremberg airport (1 hr 15 min drive), Frankfurt (2 hrs 50 mins drive) or Munich (2 hrs 50 mins drive) and we recommend hiring a car, which will enable you to easily visit all the castles and places of interest around Coburg.
We flew from Bristol to Frankfurt with bmi regional who fly up to three times daily between Bristol and Frankfurt. One way fares cost from £93 and as with all bmi flights, include a generous 23kg of hold luggage, a complimentary in-flight drink and breakfast snack, allocated seating and a speedy 30 minute check-in.
Where to stay in Coburg
We stayed at Hotel Villa Victoria in Coburg (so many things are named for Victoria and Albert), which was the perfect place to spend a few days while exploring the town and the castles nearby. The accommodation is in a very pretty turn of the century villa, just outside the old town walls, with convenient parking outside for our hire car (although the spaces quickly filled up). In the villa are 12 rooms and ours was a most delightful suite with adjoining sitting room and view of the city gatehouse.
The house had been beautifully renovated and we had the use of a guest sitting room on the same floor, with a tea and coffee station on the landing. We especially enjoyed breakfast in the charmingly furnished ground floor room, with pretty floral china and lace tablecloths. Across the road is a more modern residence, and guests staying there can also have breakfast in the villa, but I would check when you book that you can have a room in the older house if possible.
Despite the name, you should be aware that Hotel Villa Victoria is more of a guest house than a hotel; for instance when we arrived mid afternoon there was no-one manning the reception and we had to call the owner who gave us instructions on how to find our key. When staying here be sure to let the owners know at what time you will be arriving and make arrangements accordingly.
Thanks to German National Tourist Board who hosted my visit to Coburg and to BMI Regional who covered my flight via Frankfurt.
This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here
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