It was the summer of 1997 (I think) when we took a family vacation to Austria. My dad did all of the research and booking back then, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but we stayed in two of my all-time favorite hotels: Graf Recke and Hotel Burg Bernstein.
I’ll revist Graf Recke later because it has an enchanting story of its own. Today, however, I’m taking you back to Burg Bernstein for a ghost story.
Burg Bernstein is a beautiful hilltop castle with stunning country views. It’s been handed down from generation to generation and turned into a hotel and restaurant. It’s most famous inhabitant, however, was László Almásy (see also), who was depicted as the title character in The English Patient.
When we arrived, the owner greeting us warmly and showed us to our rooms. I remember being awestruck. I couldn’t wait to excited every nook and cranny of the grounds. We walked across a gravel courtyard toward our suite, the owners’ dog happily tagging along.
When he opened the door, I wanted someone to pinch me. It was like being transported back in time. Every room was beautifully appointed with antiques, paintings, and artifacts, but it didn’t feel like some high-priced interior decorator had put together a “look.” Instead, it was as if these rooms had looked this way for generations.
Just beyond the front door was a small foyer. A door to the left had name written on it in faded white letters and opened to a bedroom. A door to the right led to the expansive master bedroom, a bathroom, and a third bedroom at the far end of the suite.
I have to say here that I was 13, so it was exciting to be able to sleep in my own room and get away from my parents (I was not always a peach to be around that year). Not only that, but I could pick which room I wanted. I decided to take my time.
I’m not sure whether it was my dad or the owner who mentioned Red Ivan, one of two ghosts* who are said to haunt the castle, first. I think I tried to brush it off initially, like the cool teenager I wanted to be. Whatever, dad. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
But as the day wore on, everything stewed in my brain. There were rooms full of swords and armor, halls lined with antlers, and dinner was served by candlelight in the Knight’s Room with long tables and squishy antique chairs. A old haunted, atmospheric castle can really prime the old brain.
So the choice of rooms became less exciting and more strategic. That room with the name on it was suddenly creepy. I didn’t want to sleep in a room marked for someone else. Plus the front door didn’t really lock. And it was kind of far from my parents. . .
The back room it is! It’ll be great! Plus, I’ll be closer to the washroom, anyway. Yeah, it’s all about the proximity to the washroom.
Then it was time to go to bed. I tried to fall asleep in that old twin bed. I did my best to laugh at how silly the idea of Ivan was. But he kept popping up. Who was he, anyway? And why was he Red? I hoped it was his hair. And what kind of haunting are we talking about here?
After what felt like hours of tossing and turning and feeling all of my hair stand on end any time I heard any noise, I sheepishly padded into my parents bedroom.
“Can. . .can I sleep with you tonight? Don’t tell anyone, ever.”
* Red Ivan is also known as Raging Wolf and Schlosshansl. According to this website he was a murderous 13th century knight who beat a bishop to death and haunts the castle "by showing himself beside children's bed [. . .] He has been described with flaming red hair, a skirt at knee length and an evil laugh!"
Caterina Frescobaldi (aka the White Lady) is the second ghost. The story goes that she committed adultery so her husband had her buried alive in the 15th century. She appears in white and has an icy touch. People who stay in the Tantalouis or Vinzenz have the best chance of seeing her, apparently.