S'Estaca, home of the Archduke

Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria
Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria

Empress of Austria

Earliest of the ecologists and, subsequent black sheep of the Imperial court, Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria (1847-1915) came to Mallorca only to study beetles but remained to buy half an island and record the ancient folklore in Catalan. His appearances at court whittled down to yearly visits to pay his respects to the Emperor, his one and only uniform eventually unequal to the challenge from his increasing girth.

Rich, eccentric and a libertine, he was described by contemporary writers as living in rural isolation, a biblical patriarch surrounded by his harem. Imperial tongues wagged incessantly when his cousin, the glorious Sisi, Empress of Austria, travelled incognito to spend the Christmas of 1892 with him. Normally adept at arousing the passions of her young officers only to douse it with icy disdain, had she finally succumbed to the "hermit of the Balearic Islands"?

Sisi was assassinated in Geneva in 1898, one year before her son Rudolf committed suicide with his mistress at Meyerling. Later the Austrian heir apparent was assassinated in Sarajevo, and her husband, Franz Joseph, went on to annex Bosnia-Herzegovina, attack Serbia and precipitate World War I.

Of the four young women who shared his life, almost simultaneously, Catalina Homar, nineteen years old from Valldemossa, was the one he chose as mistress of s'Estaca, the crenellated whitewashed house he designed in Sicilian style on the north coast. Such was her generosity and hospitality to villagers and guests alike that after her untimely - and some say mysterious - death, he was to mourn the passing of those luminous days. But the bishop - who had always refused to dine there, would not let her funeral cortege accompany the sacred procession carrying the Santo Cristi as it went to the church to pray for rain.

His Die Balearen, nine volumes on all aspects of the Islands, took twenty-two years to complete. His avid enthusiasm for all things Mallorcan led to his being appointed the Honorary President of the Tourism Board in 1909. On the outbreak of war in 1914, an Imperial summons recalled him to Prague where he died one year later.