- Ilinca Stroe
Pelişor. The Princely Home to a Magnificent Heart
As you’re driving through the pretty town of Sinaia (about 140 kilometres away from Bucharest on the DN1 motorway), and then walking up the valley of the Pelişor stream on a stone-paved narrow road through the woods, under the heavy greenery of towering fir trees, you find yourself drawn into a fairy-tale scenery where the appearance of the exquisite pointed towers of the Peleş Royal Castle is the next natural thing to happen. Keep walking uphill on the footpath, turning slightly left, and you’ll soon set eyes on a smaller castle (or larger villa) which calls for love at first sight: it is charming without being imposing, graceful on a small scale, almost cheeky as it stands delightfully perched on a hillock amid the rustling foliage of majestic trees – the dainty little jewel of the crown.
That is the Pelişor. Built between 1899 and 1902 by order of King Carol I of Romania as part of the extensive architectural ensemble he created in the area, the little castle was a present from the king to his heir Prince Ferdinand and his wife Princess Marie, who received the gift “with grateful and loving hearts” . The Czech chief architect, Karel Liman, added to the building fachwerk elements as well as Bucovina church-style steeples plated with coloured tiles, while the Viennese interior designer Berhard Ludwig manoeuvred oak and linden wood or Ruşchiţa marble into Byzantine and Celtic motifs. But it was the passionate and enthusiastic spirit of Princess Marie, a magnetic personality who was to become Queen Marie the Unifier, arguably Romania’s most brilliant political figure ever, that masterminded the interior’s bewitching blend of Art Nouveau and Mediaeval features. Pelişor is, above all, her dream home come true. And an embodiment of her cult for beauty.
The narrow staircases and corridors leading you through chiaroscuro nooks, corners and alcoves to the explosively luminous white breakfast room where porcelain cups and saucers await their princely tablemates, the gently pink-coloured bedroom of the children where little footsteps almost still thump across the floor, the toy-strewn playroom which sports brave wooden soldiers and mighty wooden trains once pushed and pulled by royal little boys engaged in passionate games, the glorious royal bedroom where lush carpets hush the footsteps and fine charcoal portraits hang on the walls – all of these exhale the soul of a princely home which is, at the same time, the only Art Nouveau museum in Romania, home to works by artists like E. Galle, the Daum brothers, J. Hoffmann, L.C. Tiffany, H. Gurschner. 
There’s more: in the Golden Room, a dizzying design fantasy which inspires a sense of pharaonic awe, considered the palace’s pivotal room, completely plated with golden stucco thistle leaves and watched over by the Celtic cross on the ceiling, lies the heart of the Queen. It is inside an octagonal silver box placed in a jewellery box studded with precious stones, it is wrapped in the national flags of Great Britain and Romania, and it came a long and tortuous way before it finally laid to rest in this room where, on 18 July 1938, the Queen herself passed away. According to the sovereign’s will, the heart was kept in the Stella Maris chapel at her castle in Balcic, on the Black Sea coast. When Romania lost that territory in 1940, the heart was placed inside a marble sarcophagus and transferred to a vault in the Măgura Branului mountains. In 1968 the communist regime decided to put the box with the Queen’s heart into a safe at the Bran Museum, and in 1971 it was brought to the National History Museum in Bucharest, where it stayed for 44 years. It was as late as 2015 that the heart, escorted by soldiers of the “Mihai Viteazul” Guard Regiment and accompanied by members of the Romanian royal family, found its way to Pelişor. 
And so the story goes. At the end of the day, Pelişor is the place where you can feel, at least for a couple of hours, like a no-frills companion of some royal hosts who, owners of an elegant, arty and cozy home, are momentarily away.
The Pelişor Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday, 9.15am – 4.15pm. The entrance fee is 20 RON.
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