Sissi, an empress on the Alabaster Coast

July 1875, a train enters the station of Fécamp. On board, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Sissi, accompanied by her daughter, Marie-Valérie, both about to stay at the castle of Sassetot-le-Mauconduit, a small town on the Côte d’Albâtre.

Elisabeth of Austria *1865Elisabeth of Austria *1865
©Elisabeth of Austria *1865|Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Elisabeth Amélie Eugénie de Wittelsbach, duchess in Bavaria, then empress of Austria and queen of Hungary, Bohemia and Lombardy-Venetia, was born on December 24, 1837 in Munich, and died assassinated on September 10, 1898 in Geneva.

Married at the age of 16 to Emperor Franz Joseph I, she never adapted to life at the Viennese court, and spent much of her life traveling.

In April 1875, her doctor recommended that the empress take her 7-year-old daughter Marie-Valérie to the seaside because of her fragile health.

Sissi would arrive in Fécamp in July with her court, nearly 70 people.

Sissi The CastleSissi The Castle
©Sissi The Castle

“The castle of Sassetot is a very princely residence. An immense wooded park surrounds it and extends its outbuildings to the sea shore. The Empress Elisabeth, who loves horseback riding and hunting, will find nowhere better than here to satisfy her well-known taste for country life.

The illustration (volume LXVI, 1875)

A remarkable arrival

The arrival of the empress on the Alabaster Coast did not go unnoticed. A train preceded her by 48 hours, loaded with her imposing luggage and some furniture, including her iron bed.

Then it was Sissi’s turn to arrive in Fécamp with her daughter, her ladies of honor and her personal chaplain, the first intendent and the intendent treasurer, the imperial physician, three cooks, two bakers, two Austrian confectioners in charge, each day, of making sweets for her daughter, washers, her soup maker, a woman in charge of the soups that Sissi consumes daily in order to not get fat, and two horses.

Great horsewoman, the Empress of Austria will, however, almost kill herself in the castle park. One day, while training on an obstacle course, her horse refuses to jump and rears up. Sissi was thrown forward, her head hit an oak tree and she lost consciousness. People feared the worst, and the emperor was of course informed. But more fear than harm, she will recover after 2 days of rest.

A charming home

Near Étretat, the Château de Sissi, a charming hotel-restaurant in Normandy, former summer residence of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, is nestled in a superb 11-hectare park.

This eighteenth-century residence listed as a Historic Monument offers a relaxation and wellness area, a wooded park, horseback riding from the castle, and not far away, the beach of Petites Dalles.

On the taste buds side, gourmets will discover a quality, gourmet, and generous cuisine.

Sea baths

Despite her assumed name – the Countess of Hohenembs – rumors quickly spread that Sissi was staying in the Pays de Caux. Every day, she went to the beach of Petites Dalles, 2 kilometers from the castle. A small cabin is set up on the pebbles and cloths form a corridor to the water, allowing the Empress to hide from prying eyes.

It is precisely during one of her swims that a new incident occurs. The empress is an excellent swimmer, but she is unaware of the dangers of currents. One day when the ebbing sea is rough, she finds herself swept out to sea and narrowly escapes drowning.

She will also enjoy a few short cruises along the chalk cliffs, aboard a steam yacht provided for her.

Sissi deeply loved the sea; in fact, she had a sea anchor tattooed on her shoulder!


In the footsteps of


Take the time to walk in the footsteps of Sissi, in the shade of the century-old trees that were the lucky witnesses of her stay.

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