There is a hidden spot in Wien that unites Empress Sissi fans, nature and manor lovers: Hermes Villa. More precisely, Empress Elizabeth of Austria’s romantic bolthole is set in 6,000 acres of Natural Reserve in Lainz, a few kilometres West of Schönbrunn Palace. In fact, I am totally biased as I have been there and loved it. To help you decide, I’m sharing three key reasons you should make time for this local favourite. Additionally, you will find details how to get there and what you should know before you go.
Empress Sissi In Private
First, if you liked the Empress Sissi Museum at Hofburg Imperial Palace, Hermes Villa lets you cast an eye on her private life with Emperor Francis Joseph. In the mid 19th century he commissioned the villa to keep his globetrotting wife in Vienna. She was desperate to escape the formal court ceremonies at Schönbrunn Palace. However, Francis Joseph wasn’t too successful, and Sisi kept travelling.
Nonetheless, Elizabeth called Hermesvilla her Palace of Dreams (Schloss der Träume). In her poetry, she referred to it as Titania’s Magic Castle. Most strikingly for visitors today, Hermes Villa beautifully displays the private lifestyle of these 19th century Habsburg Emperors, including many of their personal objects.
In the photo below you can see Empress Sissi’s bed at the villa – from the times of Empress Maria Theresia (18th century). Most of the furniture at the villa is original.
In addition to visiting this local attraction you will also discover a piece of residential Vienna in a well-off charming neighbourhood. Many locals spend their family weekends strolling through the park, and having lunch and coffee at the villa’s restaurant. (My family is not from the area, so it feels wonderfully special every time we go there.) It’s a bit like Bois de Boulogne in Paris or Hampstead Heath in London.
Top Sightseeing Off The Crowds
Second, going off the city centre doesn’t mean you get second class: None other than Carl Hasenauer designed Empress Sissi’s hideaway. Hasenauer was a celebrity architect of many town palaces, the Museum of Fine Art and the Museum of Natural History along Ringstrasse boulevard. Accordingly, the villa boasts interior designs of Historism and Art Nouveau geniuses Gustav Klimt, Hans Makart and Franz Matsch. My favourites are the painted walls and ceilings of Sissi’s gymnastics room (see photo on the right), and Empress Sissi’s collections of little busts and statues. Altogether, Hermes Villa is a stunning little gem and easy to fall in love with.
Sadly, the villa, which belongs to the Vienna Municipality, has been in need of restoration. Surprisingly, you don’t notice this in the interior, and the cast iron balconies have been finally renovated.
When it comes to the gardens, expect a perfectly landscaped courtyard, with delicate cast iron arcades and manicured bushes. (Not too much, though, my kids still managed to climb around in the trees…). At the front of the villa you will find the statue of Greek god Hermes to whom the villa is dedicated. The back of the villa leads you to the historic stables separated by a fountain and more gorgeous garden art.
A Day In Vienna’s Countryside
Third, the area of the Lainz Natural Reserve has such a great recreational feel that it feels like spending a day in the countryside. I love the mix of relaxed Imperial culture and nature. If you have kids, Hermes Villa provides ‘light touch’ sightseeing with plenty of space to play around.
While Lainz was once one of Emperor Francis Joseph’s hunting grounds it has now transformed into a biosphere park. Its area and wildlife, including wild boar, red deer, wild sheep, and loads of different bird species, are under special protection. There are various nature trails, animal enclosures and forest playgrounds – my children loved them. Depending on your available time, you can either head straight for the villa or explore the Reserve.
Empress Sissi’s Hermesvilla is usually open in the spring and summer, between Palm Sunday and All Saints’ Day. Visit the website for exact opening times, and check for any extraordinary closures, these happen occasionally.
As for transport, the fastest way to reach Empress Sissi’s villa is through Lainz Gate (Lainzer Tor). Take tramway 60 to Hermesstrasse, then bus 60A to Lainzer Tor. The villa is a 10-15 min walk from the gate through the park.
Map of Lainz Natural Reserve