Kronberg Castle in Elsinore stands on the cliffs overlooking the Sea. This is where Hamlet’s ghost is said to walk its drafty halls.
In the Middle Ages when the kings of Europe built their castles, villages that serviced the Royal courts grew up around them. Many of these castles still stand and are in fact still inhabited by descendants of the original families.
Fredensborg is the summer home of Queen Margarethe II of Denmark and her family. The towns-people welcome their beloved Queen with a torchlight parade every spring, and at eight o’clock every morning the Royal Lifeguard sounds the reveille.
When Frederick IV built Fredensborg Palace in 1723, he began a tradition of such partying and hospitality that the castle could not accommodate all his guests and so he built the Kings Inn nearby. Today this charming Inn is called Hotel Store Kro, and is known for its romantic setting and the Michelin stars of its master chef.
On arrival we’re offered afternoon coffee and almond cake of such exceptional quality, it reinforces my belief that much about Danish pastry is lost in overseas translation. A dramatic Art Deco bar, black chairs, black walls with etched glass panels in the style of Erte, and majestic paintings of nudes is in sharp contrast to the traditional European dining room. Marble busts of great Danes abound, complemented by tapestries and paintings softly lit by crystal chandeliers and candles that cover a white grand piano.
A focal point in the room is an antique table filled with a selection of wines to accompany the evening menu. I’ve never before seen such an impressive collection of Magnums of fine Champagne, rare Jeroboam’s and Methusalem’s of Château Margaux wines. And yes, they are ordered by guests, drunk and enjoyed.
Fredensborg Palace in the town of Fredensborg is next to Kronberg Castle in Elsinore via the old Kings Road which goes on to more castles, Rose Hill Castle Cathedral, the Royal Hunting Lodge and on to other castles. On the map, it looks like they are far from each other, when actually, they are minutes away. Denmark is a tiny country.
In winter, daylight is a short six hours and there is a tradition of candles that flicker in pretty glass holders in every room. With this abundance of candles, they have managed to make drafty ancient castles into intimate spaces. And on June 21 each year the coastlines are brilliantly illuminated by a string of bonfires as Danes celebrate the longest day of the year.
Discriminating visitors come to the area to see the free-flying Falcons and shop for antiques, Danish teak furniture, candles and decorative arts. If they expect, like I did, a Danish cuisine frozen in yesteryear, they are in for wonderful culinary surprises. The sheer perfection of carpaccio of raw scallops, thinly sliced, cooked with splashes of fine vinaigrette and sprinkled with snipped chives, then covered with sliced Parma Grigio, a delicious cheese with tiny holes apparently unheard of elsewhere. The dramatic addition of spokes of peeled red tomato and an abundance of sliced white truffles with their fine black border is a triumph that nothing could blur.
Handsome terrines include small fresh mackerel, layered with zucchini and red pepper and wrapped with leek, encircled by vibrate chive flavoured olive oil and tiny black olives. Simple chicken breasts are treated royally. Poached and arranged in a round platter on lush parsley sauce, then piled high with spring vegetables–-a sauté of artichoke, asparagus and celery and a heady froth of whole morels.
Medallions of fallow deer are roasted and arranged with preserved nuts and pears poached in red wine in a majestic presentation. Marjolaine cake and walnut mousse, coffee and a selection of Danish liquers must be tasted.
This area, called North Zealand, the historic Playground of Kings, is rich in history, folklore and the romance of the sea. Not grand cuisine in the strictest sense, but culinary experiences perfectly suited for queens and kings, and people like us.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.