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Kasteel de Haar
Kasteel de Haar Review
The spectacular Kasteel de Haar is not only the largest castle in the Netherlands, but also the most sumptuously furnished. Thanks to the fortuitous way the Barons van Zuylen had of marrying Rothschilds, their family home grew into a Neo-Gothic extravaganza replete with moat, fairy-tale spires, and machicolated towers. The castle was founded back in 1165, but several renovations and many millions later, the family expanded the house under the eye of P. J. H. Cuypers, designer of Amsterdam's Centraal Station and Rijksmuseum, in 1892. Inside the castle are acres of tapestries, medieval iron chandeliers, and the requisite ancestral portraits snootily studying you as you wander through chivalric halls so opulent and vast they could be opera sets.
At de Haar, be sure to explore the magnificent gardens and park, dotted with romantic paths, fanciful statues, and little bridges. As was the wont of aristo owners in the 19th century, entire villages were relocated to expand their estate parks, and in this case, Haarzuilens was reconstructed a mile from the castle. Designed in 1898 around a village square, all its cottages have red-and-white doors and shutters, reflecting the armorial colors of the Van Zuylen family. Every year in September, the village fair is kicked off by the current baron to the accompaniment of a fireworks display. As for the castle itself, you can view its grand interiors only via one of the guided tours (no kids under five), which leave on the hour and are led only in Dutch. No matter, the objects of beauty on display can be understood in any language. Once you explore this enchanted domain, you'll easily understand why Marie-Hélène van Zuylen, who grew up here, went on to become Baroness Guy de Rothschild, the late 20th century's "Queen of Paris," famous for her grand houses and costume balls. Directions for car travelers are given on the castle website. For public transport, take Bus No. 127 leaving hourly from Utrecht Centraal Station, direction Breukelen/Kockengen, until the Brink stop in Haarzuilens, a 15-minute walk from the castle. You can also train it to Vleuten and then take a taxi.
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