Fairy Tales Do Come True
If something is rotten in the state of Denmark, it certainly isn’t the garden island of Funen. Nor is it the island’s regal and privately owned Egeskov Castle, widely held to be Europe’s best preserved Renaissance island castle.
Constructed in 1554, it passed into the hands of the current owners’ ancestors in 1784. A Victorian-era suspension drawbridge links the castle to a grand forecourt where white peacocks roam: beyond are some of the 1,500 acres of working farmland that has long been Egeskov’s commercial side.
But the 30 manicured acres enveloping the castle given over to some of Denmark’s most important private gardens (including Europe’s largest collection of fuchsias) are the highlight. A recently constructed bamboo maze re-creates the castle’s 18th-century maze, believed to be the largest in Europe and older than that of England’s Hampton Court.
This castle, too, has a colorful tale: a 16th-century lord locked his daughter away in one of the turrets for five years after he discovered that she and her boyfriend were “each other so near, so she by accident bore a son.”
With rich, aristocratic decor and a main house whose history dates back to 1310, the Steensgaard Herregaardspension is an easy drive from Egeskov. Set in its own shady 25-acre park and surrounded by manicured English gardens, this half-timbered country manor-turned-inn lies at the end of a tree-lined entryway, past a swan-filled pond. It’s a scenario ennobling enough to have enticed Danish Prince Henrik to spend the night upon occasion.
The candlelit dining room is renowned enough that meals are often reserved for guests of the inn only, as if one needed any further reason to check in here. Seasonal game specialties – pheasant, fowl, and wild boar – are raised on the manor’s private 1,600-acre preserve. There are just eighteen spacious rooms, some located in “newer additions” dating to the 16th century.
Don’t be put off by the tale of the manor’s resident ghost: one night in July 1594, the third wife of the lord of the castle Otte Emmiksen, a.k.a. “The Evil One,” conspired with the cook to eliminate her husband. The cook did him in with a meat cleaver, was arrested and drawn and quartered, and the wife escaped free. But legend has it she returns regularly after midnight, attempting to scrub the (imaginary) bloodstains from the floorboards of the library (originally the lord’s bedroom) where the crime took place.
This seems only fitting for Hans Christian Andersen’s island – one would surely be disappointed not to find the countryside so rich with local lore.