American Friends of Versailles Trip to Vienna and Prague


By Sharon King Hoge



(Editor’s Note:  Please enjoy our second installment of Sharon King Hoge’s dispatch from Vienna and Prague.)

The American Friends of Versailles at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Raising funds to help preserve Versailles while enriching their knowledge of Marie Antoinette, the American Friends of Versailles visited Vienna and Prague this year to study the Hapsburg dynasty that produced the fated queen.

Founded by Chicago resident Catharine Hamilton with help from Frederick Krehbiel and the Vicomte de Rohan, the AFV participates in important restoration projects for the palace, which enhances Franco-American friendship.  Past efforts have renewed the Bosquet des Trois Fontaines, the Pavillon Frais, the baroque ceiling fresco of the Queen’s Guards Room, all highlights of visitor tours.  Monies this year are contributing to restoration of the Bosquet de la Reine, a garden once reserved for Marie Antoinette.

The Trois Fontaines Bosquet.

The Pavillon Frais

 The ceiling of the Queen’s Guards Room before restoration

The Queen’s Guards Room after restoration.

A view of the Bosquet de la Reine.

Catharine and David Hamilton, along with Chicago residents Elizabeth Parker Crow and Keith Crow and former Chicagoans Michele Fieschi-Fouan, James Hanson, and Sharon Hoge were among two dozen travelers from New York, New England, Florida, Houston, California, Washington DC, France who assembled in October in Vienna’s Imperial Palace Hotel for five days of tours and meals before spending three days in Prague.

American Friends of Versailles Founder Catharine Hamilton

Old and new American Friends of Versailles gather in the Imperial Hotel’s Marble Hall

Elizabeth and Keith Crow

David Hamilton

Michele Fieschi-Fouan

Jim Hanson

AFV members Josee Nadeau,  Katherine Harris, Claire Dwoskin

xxx xxxxxxx  Robert and Jaquine Arnold xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx 

Dr. and Mrs. Alan Bentz and Josee Nadeau.

Photographer Francis Hammond.

 Born an Austrian Archduchess, Marie Antoinette was betrothed to the dauphin and sent to France in her teens.  We traced sites of her youth from the Hofburg Palace where she was born in an armchair, to the delightful rooms and gardens of Schönbrunn, the palace that was her childhood home, and the architecturally iconic Belvedere Palace which was the site of her wedding supper and a masked ball.  The Archduchess had married by proxy, her brother Ferdinand standing in for the French dauphin, since it was necessary for her to renounce her Austrian heritage before entering France, in a procession of 57 carriages, as Madame La Dauphine.

The Hofburg was the seat of Hapsburg power

Schönbrunn Palace was a Hapsburg summer residence

 A blossom in the Schönbrunn garden

Stately Belvedere Palace was said to be patterned on Versailles

Each year AFV benefit trips are organized by AFV Board Member Her Royal Highness Princesse Béatrice de Bourbon Deux Siciles, and trips are enhanced by rare opportunities for private visits with her family and friends.

In Prague a dinner in honor of the Princesse was hosted in his residence by Cardinal Dominik Duka.  Now Archbishop of Prague, his authorization to work as a priest had been revoked by the Communist government in 1975 and he worked in secret but was imprisoned from 1981-82 for publishing unauthorized samizdat literature.  A fellow prisoner was future Czech president Vaclav Havel.

Princess Beatrice arranges and manages the AFV benefit tours

 Lorenz, Count Gudenus led a tour of Grafenegg Castle.

Princess Marie of Leichtenstein a relative of Princess Beatrice, welcomed us to the Liechtenstein Palace.

Princess Marie arranged a private tour of sumptuous Liechtenstein Palace

Archbishop Cardinal Duka welcomed us to dinner at the Archbishop’s Palace

Archbishop Cardinal Duka toasted dinner honoree Princesse Béatrice

The Archbishop was a jovial host.

Former Société des Amis de Versailles President, Baron Roland de l’Espée, now an art consultant in Prague, helped organize private visits to Czech sites of interest.  During a stop at the UNESCO Heritage village of Cesky Krumlov, in a unique private visit we were guided by famous art curator Pavel Slavo through one of the world’s best preserved baroque theaters, which is rarely opened. The Krumlov Castle theater is comparable to Versailles’ recently restored 1780 Queen’s Theater which had been commissioned by Marie Antoinette.

Picturesque UNESCO Heritage site Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov’s baroque Castle Theater is preserved from the 18th century

Preservationist Pavel Slavo showed features of the theater

Stage settings from the 18th-century are still in use

In both cities, visits took us to public and private sites which touched on aspects of Hapsburg life.  Palaces, historic libraries, significant museums, and galleries were on the itinerary.

Approaching Grafenegg Palace for a tour and lunch

Interior of Vienna’s iconic St. Stephens Cathedral

Private visit to the stables of the Spanish Riding School

Statue in the Austrian National Library of its founder Emperor Charles VI, Marie Antoinette’s grandfather

An antique tram was chartered to take us uphill in Prague

AVF members with Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek and President of the Bohemian Heritage Fund Pavel Smutny

Veltrusy Castle dates from 1715.

Veltrusy displays a portrait of Marie Antoinette’s mother Empress Maria Theresa who had been a visitor to the palace

Portrait of Marie Antoinette’s older siblings.  The 15th of 16 children, Antoinette was not yet born

 Photographer Francis Hammond in a Veltrusy room which appeared in the film Amadeus

During a private tour of Prague’s historic Strahov Monastery that houses a famous 800 year old library, we viewed gorgeous illuminated manuscripts, maps, terrestrial and celestial globes, and engravings from the Middle Ages in its precious collection.

Received at a cocktail reception by French Ambassador Alexis Dutertre, we able to see a recently restored painting of French King Charles X which hangs in the embassy, the Palais Buquoy. Built in the Malastrana Quarter in the 17th century the Buquoy is one of the gems of late baroque architecture.

The American Friends of Versailles outside Strahov Monastery Library overlooking Prague

Historic treasures at the Strahov Monastery Library.

Library Director Canon Gajza Sidlovsky described the collection

French Ambassador Alexis Dutertre welcomed us

 Explaining restoration of the painting showing King Charles X reviewing troops in Paris

  Each day elaborate three-course luncheon and dinner meals matched with local wines were served in extraordinary settings – palaces, private clubs, significant restaurants.

Opening night dinner at the Imperial Hotel

Luncheon in Cesky Kumlov

At Kinsky Palace a string quartet welcomed guests to dinner

Reception at Palais Schönburg

Dinner at Schönburg Palais

 A gravlax appetizer

A tasty attractive main course

Cheese selection at Vienna’s private St. Johann’s Club.

Molten chocolate cake was a popular dessert

We enjoyed sampling and discovering local wines

Dining at Vestibule Restaurant where Hapsburg royals rested during theater intermissions

A musician entertains at the private Spanish Riding School dinner

A riverside lunch on Prague’s Kampa Island

A Pilsner Urquell toast to Prague

The trip closed with a gala evening in three of Prague’s remarkable sites.  First we met for a reception at the elaborate apartment of Jaromir Cisar, a notable lawyer, preservationist, and art collector.  After cocktails and views across the river, we were admitted to a special opening of landmark St. Vitus Cathedral, hushed and dark after hours.  A short walk away we gathered for farewell dinner at Lobkowicz Palace, a private section of Prague Castle.

Prominent lawyer Jaromir Cesar welcomed us to his apartment

Elizabeth Parker Crow at the Cisar reception

Keith Crow studies Mr. Cesar’s collection of Czech paintings

Buffet table centerpiece.

Guided after hours through St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague

Closing gathering at Lobkowicz Palace

A table at the Lobkowicz dinner

Elaborate service at Lobkowicz dinner

Marinated salmon, horseradish espuma and watercress emulsion.

Pork tenderloin cut, mashed sweet potatoes, glazed carrots, rosemary jus.

K28 Vanilla cheesecake, cherry, chocolate mousse

Société des Amis de Versailles past president Baron Roland de l’Espée thanks Catharine Hamilton for her Versailles preservation efforts.

 A fond adieu at Lobkowicz Palace

Well informed, well fed, and well acquainted, the American Friends of Versailles look forward to further benefit travels including a visit to the restored Bosquet de la Reine.

To inquire or to receive invitations to future tours and events, email


Written by Sharon King Hoge

Photos by Francis Hammond, Sharon King Hoge, Michele Fieschi-Fouan