North, my friends. Chris spends the morning calculating our best route into Denmark and Norway. The ferry/road combinations are complex and, as warned, quite expensive. The furthest northern crossing is an epic 19 hours to Bergen. We can’t get a cabin for that one though and sitting for that long holds no appeal. We settle on a cabin on a 9 hour crossing into Oslo instead.
Travel plans sorted, we hit the road. Against form, Chris opts for the freeway. We prefer the country roads as a rule but are very conscious of how far north we need to go. A gorgeous heron bids us farewell from Amsterdam. It’s a fitting goodbye from a place known for its waterbirds.
The afternoon is spent at a northern gem, the palace Het Loo, William III’s summer residence, built in 1686 and serving the royal family for a further three centuries.
It’s an expansive, gorgeously green setting, amongst carefully manicured woodland. Our tour commences at the stables and coach house, once home to 88 horses now home to carriages and vintage vehicles used by the royals. The most exquisite of these are the sleds from the 1700s and 1800. Truly fairytale creations, one is made of silver decorated with swans, another wood painted with forest scenes. Exquisite. That’s the only way to be a princess – in a silver sled, being pulled by reindeer. Maybe with a cream velvet cloak trimmed with a bit of fluff. Bliss.
We stop for lunch in the cafe then tour the rest of the Palace. It’s fully furnished in the style of the 1800s, but many of the original features have been retained including beautifully painted wooden ceilings, embossed leather wall finishes, crystal chandeliers and historical family portraits. As was the fashion of the time, each room is themed to a style. It’s very definitely a royal residence but it also has the feel of a family home.
Over the generations, the collections have extended to reflect family travels to Africa, the Orient as well as their time as rulers of England, Scotland and Ireland. There’s an ornate family Bible featured in the Chapel, decorated in silver with scenes from Netherlands history. We also see a display of photography – the present royal family through the decades as seen by their favourite photographer.
The palace is lovely, but for me, the highlight is always the garden. This one does not disappoint. It’s a formal manicured masterpiece, created as a display of power and position. At the time of creation, gardens were considered “an outdoor room”, built with as much care and thought as the indoor areas.
Versailles has again provided inspiration, this time with a Dutch flavour.The beds are symmetrically laid out around water features and fountains, planted in a style called parterres de broderie or embroidery, which they are very reminiscent of. In between plantings are white pebbles, sharply contrasting in colour. We learn that the gardens have been reconstructed, but the plants used are the same as in the originals, again reflecting travels around the globe.We also learn that some of the potted citrus are 300 years old, an extraordinary feat in a country with snow. The gardens end in a curved colonnade. It’s a glorious view, looking over manicured perfection to the palace beyond. Fat happy geese waddle about like they own the place. Geese with attitude.
I’m longing to take to walk around the lake in the woodlands, behind the colonnades, but Chris drags me away with grumbles about time and distance.
It’s the road again, me writing, himself driving.
We’re quickly in Germany. Signs go from incomprehensible to legible. Canals give way to grain crops. Chris reminisces of sausages past. We loved our time in Germany last year. Most of the villages we visited were fairytale pretty. Makes sense, most of the fairytales have German origins.
We end the day in Bad Bertheim, at the foot of a castle. Time to explore tomorrow though. I have a Stephanie Alexander recipe to trial.