I have this theory when traveling. If Plan A goes awry, Plan B is invariably far better anyway.

And that’s how it was when I went to Caserta.

Reggia-Di-Caserta

As I was running up the stairs to the platform the train was pulling out of the station. My perfect plan to spend hours and hours at Caserta had just gone sideways. The next train wasn’t for over an hour.

Plan B

Once I finally arrived at Caserta the lady in the ticket booth told me to hurry and go to the gardens first, as they would be closing in an hour. You can rent bikes and ride the 7 kilometer round trip to the top of the garden and back, which had been my plan, but the bike rental dude wouldn’t rent me one due to the garden closing in an hour.

Read about the gardens of Caserta Palace

So I walked it, which turned out to be the most perfect option! It was a gorgeous December afternoon, sunny and t-shirt weather, ideal for strolling through palace gardens. Had I rented a bike I would have been stopping every couple of minutes to take photos anyway, so I was happy as a clam. The entire 7 km round trip I only saw maybe 40 people (including the workers), so it was almost like having the entire place to myself. 
See images of the gardens here

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The Grand Staircase, Caserta Palace

Plan B got really great once I walked inside the palace itself, because that late in the afternoon on a Monday in December I literally was the only person there. 

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Grand Staircase Of Honor, Caserta Palace

If you have ever been to any palace in Europe you will already know how maddeningly full of tourists they all are, all the time.

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Upper vestibule Caserta Palace

Normally you can’t get a clear picture of anything because there are so many people in the way.

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Empty upper vestibule Caserta Palace

This by contrast was absolutely surreal. There was just me and and empty palace. 

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Entrance tot he palace royal apartments

Every now and then a room would have a worker in it, but I basically could have run naked through the place and not encountered a soul!

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A worker at the end of an otherwise empty hallway, Caserta Palace

At one point in one of the grand salons I decided to take advantage of having the place to myself, and played some Verdi on my iPhone.

With no one to stop me I lay down on the floor of the Throne Room and took in the ceiling while La Traviata played.

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Throne Room Ceiling, Caserta Palace

It was brilliant! Then, because you only live once, I danced my way around the entire salon to Verdi then Delibes, whirling round and round like a fool. The kind of red haired fool who has an entire palace all to herself.

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The Throne Room

I sat next to an Italian ballroom dancer once on a flight to Sicily. We have always stayed friends, and I kept thinking how much fun it would have been to have him there with me, dancing around my private palace.


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empty hallway in the royal apartments at Caserta Palace

Italy has the greatest art in all of the world, none of which is in the palace of Caserta. 

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Neo classical ceiling fresco in the royal apartments, Caserta

To quote Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times, “Art lovers shudder at the lèse-majesté ”  
but in all honesty it is actually part of the mad-charm of this place.

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The Palatine Chapel, Caserta Palace

Caserta is bombastic yet delightful. And it is enormous! It gives you an incredible insight into the world that was, and you can’t help but be impressed by how magnificent it must have been in it’s heyday.

Caserta-Palace-Foyer

 It is definitely worth taking the time to visit, and I know that I will go back over and over.

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Bathroom, Caserta Palace

Unfortunately the chances of me having the palace all to myself ever again are slim to none. 
I found out that earlier that day there had been a few thousand visitors to the palace. My missing the first train had meant that I arrived as they were all leaving. Had my day gone as planned I would have been there with the masses, and would not have had an entire palace to myself.
I also discovered that the day before 10 000 visitors had come to the palace. 

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Add captionThe New Apartment, or 19th Century Apartment, Caserta Palace

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To end this perfect Plan B day I asked the man in the palace bookstore if there was somewhere nearby where I could have a glass of wine before taking the train back to Salerno.

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The December sun setting over the Palace of Caserta

He drew me a map, told me I could take in the town’s Christmas tree while enjoying a glass of the local Moio, and still have ample time to stroll to the train station 5 minutes away.

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Gran Caffe Margherita, Caserta

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A glass of local Moio, Gran Caffe Margherita, Caserta
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The Christmas Tree in Caserta

When I got back home I did some research on Maria Carolina. She, like her palace, was just fascinating. If you are heading to Caserta read up on her first.

Read my post on the Caserta Palace Gardens, and see photos of the statues here.

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View of the palace from halfway up the gardens

Did you know that the largest royal palace in the world sits just 37 kilometers outside Naples? 

On the morning of January 20th 1752 the first stone of Caserta Palace was laid for Charles VII of Bourbon, King of Naples and Sicily. 
The Bourbon King had decided to build the largest palace in all of Europe, a palace to rival the beauty of Paris’ magnificent Versailles, and the Schonbrun palace in Vienna. 
In an odd twist of fate Charles VII never lived in Caserta, instead abdicating the throne in 1759 to become the king of Spain. His third born son, Ferdinand IV became king of Naples and Sicily, lived in Caserta, and in 1768 married Maria Carolina of Austria, who grew up in the Schonbrun Palace, and who’s sister Marie Antoinette would marry Louis XVI of France two years later and move to Versailles, the very palace that Caserta was designed to beat.
Makes your head spin, non?

Reggia-Caserta
Aerial view of Caserta Palace (image via google)

The Palace of Caserta is massive. It has more than 1200 rooms, stands 42 meters (45 yards) high and 250 meters (273 yards) long, taking up 44,000 square meters.

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the uppermost end of the gardens

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The fountain of Diana and Actaeon

The gardens are 3.5 kilometers long, with a central waterway and 6 fountains, surrounded by a tree filled park. 

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Statues enjoy a break from the sun, tucked away in the shade of the trees. 

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They also line the walkways.

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And adorn the bridges. The statues are a celebration of the arts.

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You can take a horse and carriage ride through the grounds, rent a bike, or just stroll.

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The park was nearly empty on this Monday afternoon in December
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pathways in the palace gardens, Caserta

In 1997 Caserta became a UNESCO World heritage site.

For years and years I had wanted to go to Caserta but it never fit in with the trips I was on, whether I was private tour guiding or traveling with friends. 

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This past December I was lucky enough to be able to sneak off to Italy for a week, during which I was able to finally go visit the spectacular Palace of Caserta.

See inside the royal apartments at Caserta Palace here

The palace and the grounds are nothing short of spectacular.
No matter how prepared you think you are, once you walk onto the palace grounds the sheer size of Caserta is staggering.  
In it’s day it must have been magnificent.

But basically no one bothers to go see it. You would think the largest royal palace in all of Europe would get great tourist traffic, but Caserta gets around 500, 000 visitors per year compared to Versailles 5 million.

Unfortunately Caserta is sorely lacking in funds and as such is a little run down. The palace has been used as a training facility for the Italian Air Force, which along with the Carabinieri still has offices there. Movies including Star Wars, Mission Impossible and Angels and Demons have shot there. Palace security is apparently lacking, and despite the Air Force and the Carabinieri both being in residence there have been problems with theft, most notably recently $100, 000 worth of copper being stolen from a lightening conductor on the roof.

There is something incredibly sad about this once majestic palace and it’s enormous gardens. Just the thought of Hollywood descending on it and stomping around disrespectfully all over the grounds and the rooms while they make their movies makes it feel desecrated.
And yet because hardly anyone bothers to go visit Caserta it also feels like your best kept secret. 
Other than my friends who live in the area I don’t even know one person who has been there before.

If you are in the Amalfi Coast/Naples area Caserta is well worth a visit. The train station is right outside the palace, so you don’t need to rent a car.

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