The Kaiservilla, Bad Ischl

The life and times of Austria's grand old man, the Emperor Franz Joseph, via the Kaiservilla.

A modest, low-built villa set in parkland in Upper Austria, its classical-style frontage washed in a subdued Imperial yellow, remains today as still the hest point of entry to the character of ' the man who ruled the vast sprawling Habsburg domains from 1848 to 1916. For all but a handful of those sixty-eight years, Franz Joseph deserted the stiffness of Imperial Vienna to spend his summers at Bad Ischl and pursue the chimera of the simple country life.

The Habsburgs were no strangers to the Salzkammergut, the Austrian 'lake district' interspersed with Alpine scenery, into which Bad Ischl slips nearly a mile above sea-level as a spa-town. The name 'Salzkammergut' incorporates the German word for salt, and in local tradition, Franz Joseph owed his very existence to the alleged properties of Bad Ischl. After a period of infertility, his mother Archduchess Sophie produced Franz Joseph and his two brothers in the 1830s after taking the waters at the spa's brine baths. Local people immediately christened the trio the 'Salt Princes'.

It was at Bad Ischl, that in circumstances worthy of a Lehar operetta, the young emperor met and had a whirlwind romance with his young cousin, Elisabeth of Bavaria in August 1853. After their marriage the following April, Franz Joseph's mother presented the young couple with the villa at Bad Ischl as a wedding present. Franz Joseph consolidated his summer base in the Salzkammergut by buying a hunting lodge nearby at Offensee, where he and his young family could walk and enjoy days of 'Kaiser-weather' – piercing blue sky, sharp sunlight and the sparkling green-blue water of the secluded mountain lake.

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