Situated just outside Helsingborg – a short drive or bus journey away – the royal palace of Sofiero was built in the middle of the nineteenth century, and renovated and expanded in the decades between then and 1905, when it was given to Lady Louise Mountbatten (wife of King Gustav VI Adolf) as a summer residence.
The palace itself is, for a royal residence, relatively small, containing period furnishings and artworks; the back of the building is given over to a charming, high-quality restaurant, where it’s possible to enjoy your matjessill (Sweet pickled herring) and coffee from the terrace overlooking the gardens and out to the sea.
It’s the gardens themselves that provide the main draw for tourists. Huge, beautifully-tended and enthrallingly intricate, they stretch down towards the coast from the palace. Visitors should stroll the length of the spectacular rhododendron walk – containing an estimated 10,000 plants from 300 species – and wander down as far as possible to the seafront, where they can find a totem pole jutting incongruously from the greenery.
Upon strolling back up the hillside to the buildings, visitors can find various sculptures in the wooded footpath area. This part of the garden invites you to delve among the trees to get close to works of art, by sculptors such as Gunilla Bandolin, that can be glimpsed from the terraces. Tickets to the palace and gardens cost 85 kronor: details of opening times can be found on the Sofiero website.
From Sofiero it’s possible to make out another grand royal residence across the sound. Kronborg Castle, despite its proximity to the Swedish royal dwelling, is actually in the Danish city of Helsingør.
Those of a literary bent may recognize the name, under the Anglicised spelling of Elsinore – it’s the setting for Hamlet, and parts of the castle today retain an impressively fitting gloominess. Actors such as Laurence Olivier and Derek Jacobi have played the ill-fated Dane in performances given in the castle itself.
Although Kronborg is constructed with typical Danish architectural elegance, it is unmistakably an old military outpost, with formidable turrets and stout walls; in stark contrast to Sofiero’s air of relaxation and bright gardens, the bulk of Kronborg’s beauty is in its interiors. Visitors should browse the royal chambers, with their impressive array of tapestries. It’s behind one of these “arrases” that Polonius conceals himself in the play; try as The Local might, though, we couldn’t find any telltale sword-slashes to distinguish which one it was. Shame.
In order to get to Helsingør from Sweden, head into Helsingborg and catch a ferry from the terminal, a short cab ride from the city centre – it takes 20 minutes or so to cross the sound, and the castle is then accessible by foot and public transport (see here for details of how to find it).
Access to the castle costs from between 85 Danish kroner, for a full ticket which allows the bearer entry to the attached maritime museum, to a basic ticket for 30 kroner, which gets you into the chapel alone. Make sure you have some Danish kroner on you.
Elsewhere in Helsingborg
Helsingborg is a charming city and, if you’re in the area, a good place to consider basing yourself – particularly if you’re relying on trains or buses to bring you to and from Skåne and have no intention of hiring a car. Hotels, bars and places to eat are plentiful, and the tourist information centre will also tell you whether or not there are any public theatre or music performances (popular during the summer months) taking place.
Visitors to the city should also visit Dunkers Kulturhus, a large and attractive building at Kungsgatan 11. This museum contains modern art exhibitions, collections of older art, cultural artefacts, and more besides; it also contains a tremendously diverting gift shop. Browse the Helsingborg website for more information on places to stay and things to do (http://www.helsingborg.se/Main.aspx?epslanguage=SV).
You can make your trip to Sofiero and Kronborg a typically Skåne experience, and stay in one of the hundreds of guesthouses around the area. If you don’t mind a drive of an hour or so in order to get close to the city and royal residences, you can save money (bed and breakfast in one of these cottages is invariably cheaper than a hotel stay in Helsingborg) and make the most of good local hospitality.
The web is a good place to start your research; begin at a site such as skåne.com and contact the guesthouses directly for information on availability.