Chateau GrandCastle
in Liptovsky Hradok

Slovak entrepreneur Dagmar Machova spotted the picturesque ruins while on a hiking trip. She fell in love with the castle, bought it and sell part of her business to get the money for the reconstruction.

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@Castles_and_palaces had an opportunity to talk with the owner of the Hrad a Kaštieľ (Castle and Manorhouse) in Liptovský Hrádok in Slovakia. Slovak entrepreneur Dagmar Machova has kindly agreed to share her story with us - how she fell in love with the ruined castle, bought the ruins and turned them into a beautiful place, which Slovaks and travelers from all over the world love so much. She had to sell part of her successful business to reconstruct the gothic castle with a renaissance manor-house to make her dream come true.

Dagmar Machova and her dog Dio
Originally, all of her family members lived in the castle but now Dagmar and her husband Pavol reside there on their own.
Castles and Palaces (CnP): Dagmar, could you please introduce your family.
Dagmar Machova (DM): My family is not large, I am an only child and I also have only two children. I was very close with my parents, they shared their passion for books when I was growing up, and so it never occurred to me that I would not study at a University. Although I am literally a humanitarian type, I studied chemistry at the Technical University in Bratislava. We started a family business in 1993 together with my husband where he was the technical director and I was the CEO. My son has a degree in architecture and design while my daughter graduated from the University of Law.
CnP: Dagmar, first of all, why did you choose exactly this castle in Liptovsky Hradok?
DM: It has such a beautiful location, surrounded by the impressive Slovak mountains - the High Tatras and the Low Tatras with a roaring river running nearby. Look at the landscape – it is so picturesque! The climate here is ideal for living – we have beautiful snowy winters and pleasant summers. There is not much industry in the area, so the air is clean.

DM: As for the castle – it is simply unique, it is built on a flat ground (unlike many castles in Slovakia which stand on a steep hill). It is not very large, but it has a beautiful shape forming an ellipse, it is gracious and elegant in its own way.

SUDDEN DISCOVERY

CnP: But how did you learn about this castle in such a wonderful place?
DM: It is a long story! My son received an unusual gift for his 23rd birthday - a beautiful country house that my husband and I bought for him. It happened in 2000. It was an old building, almost uninhabitable in Partizanska Lupca. My father who died in June 2001, always inspired me to study history. After the funeral, I took my mother to Liptov, we looked at the reconstruction of my son's house in Lupca, we wandered around the countryside, I tried to distract her. By complete coincidence, we passed through Liptovsky Hradok, where I was attracted by a high tower, which rose from behind a large and very dilapidated building. I stepped off the beaten path and the sight of the neglected but beautiful building took my breath away. The elderly gentleman interrupted us and asked us to leave. I convinced him to let us enjoy the view for a while. And suddenly he said what has become so crucial for me: "The castle is closed. If you want to see it, you have to buy it."

CnP: This was quite a statement to make. What happened next?
DM: Almost. Listen, there's a village of Demanova next to Liptovsky Hradok. Friends of mine – actually neighbors from Bratislava - architect Katka and her husband, a civil engineer Michal have a cottage there. The same day, I came to them with a request to come and see the castle with me. Just like me they were fascinated by the building and the surroundings. They promised to help me with restoration if I decide to buy it.
CnP: And you just bought, right?
DM: Oh, the prospects of buying the castle looked gloomy. It belonged to the Ruzomberok Museum. I made an official estimate and applied for a loan. Even bank officers shook their heads at my desire. I prepared a detailed business plan, I negotiated with the museum officials, there had to be a public tender, etc. Within a year, however, I finally got a purchase agreement and received a mortgage.

CnP: And you had to sell your business to reconstruct the castle, didn't you?
DM: It is really very painful for me to talk about selling my company in Velky Meder. It was an exhausting and tedious process. I was very sad. My business was amazing! I cooperated with global cosmetics brands, we produced packaging for the industry. I traveled all over the world, spending a lot of time in the car and on the plane. You know…

CnP: I can imagine, the day you got the so much needed loan from the bank was a victory. But at the same time this was just the beginning of a long way - because a lot of work was lying ahead. What was the state of the building when you got it?
DM: Absolutely! At night, I would work on the project, studying the available materials and dreaming about the future. The building was in a catastrophic condition. There were no windows, no doors, no stove, no water, no electricity, no sewage. I bought a devastated, waterlogged and damaged building. The furniture was stolen, I had to buy all of it at an antique shop. There was nothing left at all.

CnP: How long did it take you to restore the castle?
DM: The whole restoration process is still not finished. Remember I mentioned my friends from Bratislava? I used to tell myself - those crazy fanatic people are travelling every weekend all the way to Liptov just to restore their own cottage in Demanova. And look now, here I am, commuting for almost twenty years all those 300 kilometres up and down between the castle and my home town.
DM: During the first years, I got help from my employees, who went to week long "shifts" from my company in Velky Meder. They lived in a hostel nearby and they arranged for me only one room in the castle, where there was a toilet with a sink, instead of a shower I had a hose with a drain to the toilet and after showering I had to wipe everything dry. You know, during my business trips to hotels in New York, Hamburg or in Prague, where I lived in my own apartment, staying at the castle was a great adventure. Imagine a large unfenced castle in which I was sleeping completely alone.

According to the Venetian Charter, the castles should remain in "ruined state", so the castle was only conserved, two towers were rescued so as to prevent further destruction due to weather. The castle palace itself, from which one wall collapsed, remained in ruin. Wells and courtyards were cleaned and this has taken all the time practically by now.
CnP: It looks like you had very unusual experience! But finally you opened the gates to the public. When did it happen?
DM: This is correct, the castle first opened its doors in 2007.

CnP: Do you remember your first night in the castle?
DM: Absolutely! It was in the summer of 2001, when I invited my friends to the courtyard and my son celebrated his university graduation. When the party ended in the late afternoon, they all left, but we managed to furnish a room for me before, just a very simple one, with just a bed in it, and that day my mother and I stayed there for the first time. It was a beautiful summer night and I had a feeling of bliss - the celebration was pleasant and everyone was excited about my future plans about the castle.
"The castle is closed. If you want to see it, you have to buy it!"
CnP: Do you live in the castle now?
DM: We used to be a small family of four living here most of the season (summer & winter). Now my husband Pavol and I live in the castle, while the kids are travelling between the castle and our home town Bratislava, where my 90-year old mother lives, too.

CASTLE WITH A FEMININE FEELING

CnP: You didn't meet any castle ghosts on that first night, did you?
DM: (Laughing) I don't believe in ghosts. The only White Lady in our castle is me perhaps, when I walk from the wellness in a bathrobe :)

CnP: The castle has special relationship with women, right? Let's talk about Magdalena Zai who is closely connected with its history. Why does your restaurant bear her name?
DM: This is true! The whole castle is built with a feminine feeling. Although it was designed by an Italian architect, the client of the building was Magdalena Zai. It is not built on inaccessible rock, as is typical for other Slovak castles, it stands on a flat ground and therefore it was protected only by a moat. It has an oval floor plan, many Renaissance arches and vaults. Magdalena Zai was the main visionary of the construction, which was financed by a rich provincial councilor and Count Mikuláš Sandorfy. You know what – my goal first was to NOT open a hotel and a restaurant, but I'm lucky to have good and reliable people around me, so I managed it. The castle was always inhabited in the past, so I only realized what it was built for. My dream now is to reconstruct its 3-story tower. You know the castle belonged to many kings, one of them was the son of the Czech king Charles IV, who donated this castle to his wife Barbara of Cilli (Barbora Celjská). I think castles and chateaux were mainly the domain of men. But we had important women living here, and that was the motivation why I, as a woman, decided to affiliate.
CnP: What is the best (exceptional, unusual or impressive) dish at the Magdalena Zai Restaurant?
DM: The restaurant serves international cuisine with an emphasis on the quality and freshness of ingredients. We do not commonly cook historical dishes, because the variety that gastronomy offers today did not exist in the Middle Ages. However, our Á la Carte Menu includes royal "classics" such as duck or deer. In addition, the selection of sweets is enriched by our iconic Magdalena Zai Dessert – a chocolate "castle wall" in the shape of a castle tower, each season with a different flavor. We have extremely good responses to this dessert. And of course we are very proud to be named among top 20 restaurants in Slovakia.
CnP: Previous owners used to rebuild the castle to follow the architectural fashion of the past times – the medieval castle was transformed into a renaissance one, etc. Which epoch does the castle represent nowadays?
DM: A distinction must be made between the Gothic part/castle and the Renaissance manor-house. The gothic castle was built in 1316 while the Renaissance part was constructed in 1604. There is a natural cave under the castle made by groundwater. When I bought the castle, the cave was only 36 meters long, but speleologists are still researching it, removing sediments and connecting it with the inner courtyard of the manor-house.

CnP
: What's the oldest part of the castle? What is located there?
DM: The oldest part is a three-story tower, the so-called keep. It first served as a military watchtower. The rest of the castle – the palace - was completed with the eastern tower after 1316.
CnP: Did you find anything interesting during the reconstruction of the castle?DM: Fragments of frescoes were found in various spaces. We also found four bags of beautiful old files above the ceiling in the main entrance to the manor. I handed them over to the states archive in Bytča city.

In one of the cellars I found an inscription with capital letters - DM DEATH. In the first two letters, I immediately saw a reference to my name – D for Dagmar, M for Machova. To be honest, it frightened me. It occurred to me that someone was very upset that I had bought the castle. But my children had a good laugh. They explained to me that the acronym refers to Depeche Mode.

CnP: This is so funny! By the way did you get any financial support from the EU?
DM: We received support from the Slovak Ministry of Culture as well as through the European Union's grant system, but it was me who made the largest investment.
CnP: What's your favorite place in the castle?
DM: I love everything here! The castle itself with a spindle staircase, the beautiful view of the Tatras from the tower, an inner courtyard with a well. But my greatest joy is the historical park in which I spend most of the time. Liptovsky Hradok is my second home, because I lived here for 20 years, even though I have a permanent residence in Bratislava. The castle is a national cultural monument and although I am a permanent owner, I want to make it accessible to all visitors.

CnP: Are you the only one involved in managing the castle?
DM: No, no! The whole family is involved! I am still in day-to-day business, my daughter Ria takes care of marketing and sales and other "non-daily" activities. She has a baby and her family lives in Bratislava (which is a 3,5-hour drive from the castle). I bought the castle through my company and in the time of the purchase I employed 150 employees in it. Today, the factory (which was part of the company) is already sold and the castle is still managed by us.
CnP: What's your usual working day in the castle.
DM: I start the day by swimming in the pool, then continue with a pleasant walk with the castle dog Dio along the river that awaits me patiently. We have two types of employees - those working at the hotel and the restaurant, which are quite independent and then there is the second part - construction workers, and this is the area I focus most of my time.

I try to greet everyone in the castle during the day, I communicate with them, say hi-how-are-you-doing things and then I spend a lot of time in the garden park and growing my flowers, which I have all over the chateau. I also exchange a few words with our guests and then all of sudden it is evening - which means it's time to have a pleasant walk with the dog again.
CnP: Seems like a careless life. But it is definitely not. Which problems do you have with the castle?
DM: The reconstruction took relatively much time, because we can only build in this geographical area for a few months in a year until it snows and freezes and in summer it is the highest tourist season, when we cannot build full steam ahead. So it drags on and on and on.
Chateau Grand Castle in Liptovsky Hradok
Practical information. How to get there? Where to eat? What are the rates per night?
CnP: What's the most difficult thing in running your castle or any castle in principle.
DM: From the beginning, there was a constant fear that the crumbling ruin would injure someone. Later, when the castle became inhabited all year round, I realized that it is extremely expensive to heat up the stone castle. However, I do not consider this to be a significant problem.
CnP: A castle owner from Spain has told me she had a problem with stable WiFi signal – but I think this comes naturally when you have thick walls. After all castles were built when people had no idea about WiFi (poor us!)
DM: Exactly! It was quite difficult to place a working WiFi network here – especially in rooms with up to 2-meter thick walls. The signal was weak and unstable. In many places, the mobile telephone signal is also weaker. But I can't blame the walls, so we put routers in almost every second room to cover the whole hotel with signal. They are just amazing! On the other hand some rooms have really great acoustics, so we host music concerts.
CnP: The castle is a hotel - how many guests can you accommodate?
DM: Chateau GrandCastle has 19 chambers, we will finish 5 more rooms soon. The maximum capacity is about 60 guests but we make banquets for up to 80 people.
CnP: Tell me - is it profitable to run a castle hotel?
DM: My dream came true - I gained the most from it. But maybe one day I'll start balancing (laugh).


CnP: Haha! Do you have medieval reenactment events?
DM: We have groups of swordsmen, historic dancers, we once had a music - dance musical with 150 performers, it was the story of (of course, who else!) Magdalena Zai, our own play. Most of all our visitors like to fire from a cannon by themselves. However, while today's СOVID19 times do not allow us to organize events as often as we would like, we strongly believe that perhaps next year will bring more opportunities to continue with our historical feasts.
CnP: What would you tell those who are dreaming about buying a ruined castle?
DM: I would say ... Good luck! (laugh)! It is very challenging and one must therefore sacrifice a lot. But the satisfaction is certainly worth it.
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Dagmar Machova, the owner of Chateau GrandCastle in Slovakia!

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