The Arboretum of Alcsút fascinates visitors with snowdrops in bloom from February to mid-March. This is the largest unbroken field of snowdrops in Hungary with an area of 2.5 hectares. It features 7 species with 28 variations with slight differences making up an amazing white and green wavy carpet.
It is not only the snowdrop field that gives the arboretum its unique character but the array of exotic trees and plants in 40.5 hectares. One-time owner Archduke Joseph of Austria, Palatine of Hungary started out on a quite challenging project when he took possession of a neglected grazing land here in 1818.
He assigned Schönbrunn garden designer Károly Tost to plan an English garden but he himself also took an active part. The collection contains 540 species of trees and shrubs with specimens of black locust, Turkish hazel, pleached copper beech and tulip tree. One of the signature trees in the arboretum is a giant cedar native in North America, with branches that had reached the ground and rooted. This resulted in a dome-like shape with 24 additional trunks. Although it is outside the arboretum it is worth visiting the oldest Lebanon cedar in the country planted in the 1830s in the neighbouring Csaplári-erdő (Csaplár Woods).
Wild animals such as boars, deer and foxes easily get in the garden where creeks enter or exit the fenced area. Grey herons and kingfishers are attracted by ponds in the garden as well as woodpeckers are also common. One of the disused buildings is a home to lesser horseshoe bats.
Buildings in the arboretum are also noteworthy. The classicist castle designed by renowned architect Mihály Pollack and built between 1820 and 1827 used to have 200 rooms. Unfortunately, it was devastated during WW2 and only the front facade remained, which still suggests the monumental character of the building. Another building called Babaház (Dollhouse) used to serve as a storage building for the Archduke’s children’s toys. The garden in front was dedicated to the children too as each of them was responsible for gardening in one patch. This site was recently revitalized and a rose pergola was built.
In 1944, the family was forced to flee. The smallest child, the 3-year-old Archduke Michael was given the key of the chapel and was told “Take care of this because you will be the one who returns.”. This prophecy came true as he indeed returned to the country as an adult and regularly visits the one-time family estate, for example, for family reunions at Pentecost.
The interior of the Neo-Romanesque chapel is open only for guided visits. Originally, it served as a horse stall. However, when the Bishop of Székesfehérvár paid a visit to the estate he was so much impressed by the building that he remarked it might as well be a House of God. The Archduke was quite surprised but the bishop argued that Jesus was born in a similar environment. Finally, the Archduke got inspired to get the building remodelled and assigned architect Ferenc Storno to do the redesign. The stall was transformed into a glamorous chapel with colourful frescos, stained glass windows and altars made of white marble. Sadly, besides the sacral atmosphere only old pictures and drawings evidence this as the war badly damaged this building too.
It was a filming location for more movies, such as “The Rite” with Antony Hopkins or “The Borgias”.
The arboretum is renowned mainly for its old and rare trees. Many specimens planted 150-200 years ago are still healthy, such as majestic plane trees, copper beeches, weeping beeches or the giant cedar mentioned before. Bald cypresses by the lakeside also have grown sizeable knees by today. Besides snowdrops, various species of hellebores, liverworts as well as periwinkles and lungworts growing beneath the carpet of ivy contribute to a memorable spring experience. From late-March a myriad of hollow roots invade the undergrowth and patches of yellow primroses grow beneath the plane trees at the pond.
The amazing row of plane trees along the road to Etyek used to lead to the one-time grange of the Habsburg estate.