At Wörlitz, you’ll hear German being spoken, but you’ll swear that you’re in the midst of one of Capability Brown’s English landscapes, where undulating grass, serpentine lakes and ha-has frame a glorious country home.
Leopold III, Duke of Anhalt-Dessau, also known as Prince Franz, loved the natural English landscapes that he saw during his grand tour of Europe so much that he made them the focal point of his summer home. Built in 1764 and improved upon until about 1800, Wörlitz is a magnificent German country estate where an elegant Neoclassical palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens, sprawling lawns and strutting peacocks.
Wörlitz became a sought-after destination of leading figures of the day, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. “Hier ist jetzt unendlich schön” (“Here it is now infinitely beautiful”), Goethe wrote after his visit to the lakes, canals and groves of this lovely place in 1778.
Inside, the prince’s home features a trompe l’oeil dome and original furnishings, including Chippendale chairs, Wedgwood pottery, harpsichords, Canaletto paintings and commissioned copies of famous works like Titian’s Venus of Urbino.
The elegant library is furnished with Classical busts and portraits of leading figures like William Shakespeare, John Milton and Peter the Great. It also includes some of Prince Franz’s collection of thousands of gemstones engraved with Neoclassical motifs.
Have an alfresco lunch in the Wörlitz cafe, then treat yourself to a “so-called delight” – a 45-minute gondola ride in the Wörlitzer See. As a hardy sailor rows, sweep past swans swimming around poplar-lined islands and pass under a series of bridges.
Behold picturesque vistas of a Neoclassical temple that served as a musical pavilion, a grotto, an Italian villa, an artificial volcano modeled on Mt. Vesuvius, a synagogue modeled on the Vesta Temple in Rome, a pantheon filled with a collection of antique sculptures, and a golden urn that marks the final resting place of Prince Franz’s infant son. A Gothic garden house originally contained many of the prince’s collections, including portraits, prints, stained glass and hundreds of wax replicas of the varieties of fruits known at the time. To create his own “der Englische Garten,” Wörlitz’s Anglophile owner also replicated bridges, pagodas and temples from English garden features at Stourhead, Kew and Stowe, situating them among the same shrubs and trees that adorned English landscape gardens.
During some evenings in the summer season, Classical music concerts are held on the Wörlitzer See, during which the audience is afloat in gondolas.
Your visit might be so memorable that you might even decide to submit your photo and a tip for making the most of your Wörlitz visit to your local newspaper’s travel section.
For more on Wörlitz, read For the Friends of Nature and Art: The Garden Kingdom of Prince Franz von Anhalt-Dessau in the Age of Enlightenment, with essays by Ursula Bode, Michael Stürmer and Thomas Weiss; Infinitely Beautiful: The Garden Realm of Dessau Wörlitz, edited by Wolfgang Savelsberg and Uwe Quilitzsch; and Time to Travel-Travel in Time to Germany’s Finest Stately Homes, Gardens, Castles, Abbeys and Roman Remains: Official Joint Guide of the Heritage Administrations Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin-Brandenburg, Dessau-Wörlitz, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate. The epilogue of Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession discusses her impressions of how Wörlitz illustrates the powerful influence of 18th-century English ideas about gardening.