We approached the Palace along one of the three long beech avenues, originally created for carriage rides and to follow the hunt, and were presented with the rear façade of the lovely Baroque style building which was unusual because it had large sash windows. As is usual with the baroque style the whole building was symmetric as was the layout of the garden which was designed at the time by Claude Desgotz. The main entrance on the opposite side of the building, which does not appear to be used nowadays, sported an extremely ornate gilded wrought iron door.
Building commenced in 1684 and remarkably was finished in 1686, the architects being Jacob Roman and Johan van Swieten, as a small summer retreat by Stadhouder-King William of Orange for his new wife the Scot, Mary Stewart. When he later became King he thought fit to extend the palace by building two extra wings to make its appearance much more extravagant and to emulate such palaces and gardens as Versailles and Petrovoret.
The palace was a summer residence of the House of Orange-Nassau from its inception until Queen Wilhelmina died in 1962 with the exception of the four years from 1806-1810 when it was inhabited by Louis Napoleon. Over the years the façade was rendered with Stucco which hid the beautiful original brick work and the garden was buried beneath a 2 metre depth of sand.
After much debate the Dutch government decided in 1970’s that Het Loo would not only be a royal residence but become a National museum. In 1974 the stucco was removed to reveal the original brickwork . This took 7 years and cost a whopping 35 million euros. The decision also meant that the gardens should be restored and luckily there was a plethora of historical information available to enable an accurate replication to be planted.
The King of course had his own garden adjacent to the house and this we were informed was always planted in orange and blue, the colours of the House of Orange-Nassau. The Queens Garden is replicated on the opposite side of the house but planted differently. The Queen also had built a shaded arbour in which to perambulate without her face catching the sun and when we strolled beneath it we discovered a fascinating auricula theatre.
The lower garden is beautiful with 8 main rectangular parterres all planted in the broderie style with box definitions. Only the outer beds were full of flowers and in the early days contained only one flower of each variety so rare was each species. Of course this is the era where tulips were being bred and were collected, were very rare and extremely expensive. Today there are 27 kilometres of box hedging and these are now laser cut saving many a poor gardener terrible back ache. Sadly they have the dreaded box disease and our guide said there gradually going to replant with a different species. Mary was not so sure that this would work!
There were Orange Trees in round green tubs that are obviously overwintered indoors as well as bay trees which were planted in the square tubs. The patron of this garden is Hercules.
In the centre of this lower garden was the beautiful Venus Fountain with its gilded Tritons and Swans (The Sun King chose Apollo and Peter the Great Samson) which looked directly through to the Upper garden to the Cascade and beyond to the Colonnade. Directly to the right and left of this fountain are the two Globe fountains, celestial and terrestrial, restored or remade to a stunning design. The cascade of Narcissus with Bacchus to the front was also lovingly restored. . This was commissioned and dedicated by William to Mary on her death at the young age of 32 from smallpox.
I could go on forever describing individual features in this stunning garden but space does not permit me. The overall impression was of a beautifully tended and magnificently restored masterpiece of a garden of its time along with the Palace and stables which gave a historical insight of life as it was lived in the era. I am told it is in the book of ‘1001 Gardens to Visit Before you Die’ and I can confirm that of its style this is a must. It was more than worth the visit but the only way to appreciate the treasures of the Palace and the stunning beauty of the garden would be to visit it oneself.