• Salzkammergut Bad Ischl - Lehar Villa

    Building like an Emperor

    Bad Ischl is Salzkammergut's secret capital and something like the birthplace of the Sommerfrische (summer vacation in the countryside). With the vacationing emperor, many others arrived too, and because many started to come every summer, they soon started to build fabulous villas. Today, these buildings still define the image of the town.

    Before the Salzburg Lake District became the Salzkammergut, that is, before the region was discovered by regents and aristocracy (and later on by other well-to-do city dwellers in need of relaxation) as favourite summer location, before this development, houses here looked like houses all over the Alps used to. Modest, with strong walls, built to withstand wind and weather, with steep roofs to bear the weight of snow masses and small windows to keep out the cold. Then came the townsfolk who only stayed here during the summer. They had villas built with balconies and large windows, little gingerbread palaces and townhouses such as you would only find by the seaside. 

    „On a walk through Bad Ischl, one can still stroll from one villa to the next."

    The historian Marie-Theres Arnborn in the Kaiservilla - Bad Ischl , Salzkammergut / Kaiservilla Bad Ischl
    Marie-Theres Arnborn (Autorin, Historikerin, Kuratorin)

    To the Villa Herzfeld in the Wiesingerstraße, for example, which once belonged to the hungarian aristocrat Ladislaus Dirsztay. Then on to the extravagant Villa Landauer, which was bought from the imperial family by banker Adolf Landauer. And of course to the famous Villa Seilern, where countess Elise von Seilern und Aspang held court and guests such as actor Alexander Girardi and Johann Strauss provided the fitting evening entertainment. There was no shortage of artists for theatre and concerts in Ischl. They, too, came for the mild summers in the Lake District and sought inspiration from mountain air and nature.

    Portrait of Emperor Franz Joseph - Kaiservilla Bad Ischl, Salzkammergut / Kaiservilla Bad Ischl

    How did it all start?

    It all started with the emperor. His parents remained childless until they went to Ischl to take baths in the healing brine. Soon after, Franz Joseph was born, and since he basically had Ischl in his veins, he would spend eighty three of his eighty six summers here. 

    Of course, an emperor never travelled alone. The longer Franz Joseph reigned, the higher the number of people who accompanied him during his summer travels. At some point, half of Vienna was away for the summer. „In Ischl, I always feel as if the mountains were mere decoration put up around Vienna’s Ringstrasse boulevard,“ one satirist quipped. By then, the small Ischl had been transformed into an imperial spa town.

    Blick vom Katrinberg auf Bad Ischl

    Perhaps that was the reason why the emperor left the town in the early morning hours whenever his duties allowed it. Franz Joseph seems to have loved Ischl for what was to be found outside of town. He loved to spend time in the mountains and enjoyed the rare hours when he could savour a little bit of solitude. More than one thousand antlers mounted on the walls of the imperial villa are less a mark of enthusiasm for the sport and more a testament to the opportunity it afforded him to enjoy a bit of freedom during each hunting expedition. 

    The Kaiservilla (imperial villa) in the city resembles a little palace. The furniture is surprisingly comfortable and you get the impression that the villa’s inhabitants just left this morning for a day trip and will be back any time. Even the desk in the office looks as if someone had been working on it just the previous evening. Here, the emperor wrote the manifesto “An meine Völker!“, which he used to declare war on Serbia and thus triggered catastrophic events for Europe and the world.

    „In Ischl, I always have the best ideas.“

    Salzkammergut Bad Ischl - Lehar Villa
    Franz Lehár, Komponist

    After the first World War and the end of the monarchy, Ischl, called Bad Ischl since 1906, changed once more. Now it was mainly artists who came to visit. „In Ischl, I always have the best ideas,” wrote Franz Lehár, who bought his Villa an der Traun in 1912. „Der Zarewitsch“, „Paganini“ and „The Land of Smiles“ were written with the sound of the river in the background.

    A little further afield, the Berlin art critic Oscar Blumenthal built his Villa on a green meadow, in a style reminiscent of a mix of gothic haunted castle and nordic stave church. Blumenthal had seen the pre-fab home at the world exhibition in Chicago, bought it and had it sent to Europe. In his villa, the critic turned into an artist himself and wrote the comedy „Im Weißen Rössl“ (White Horse Inn) – borrowing the name of a nearby Inn whose owner he fancied, for the title. In the later - more famous - edition, the Weiße Rössl was unfortunately relocated to another lake, the Wolfgangsee. Otherwise, Bad Ischl would have become more famous still.

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