I WAS a Rosencrantz without a Guildenstern heading up the Danish littoral to Hamlet’s Castle, but it was no tragedy to be on my own. It was just the day out I wanted. “To thine own self be true.” Good call, as the Prince might have whispered to himself.
Helsingør (Elsinore) is at the end of the Coast Line from Copenhagen and seemed the perfect destination for a calming Sunday after a hectic time at the Danish capital’s cooking festival. So many foraged edible weeds, so little time (click here).
The rail service runs three times an hour and stops off at all kinds of interesting places along the fancifully titled Danish Riviera, so on the way back I did a lot of hopping on and off while dodging the squally showers pattering in from the Øresund (the Sound).
Still it was deceptively blue skies and sun when I alighted, after a 45 minute journey, at Helsingør’s remarkable station – a palatial brick pile that once housed royal reception rooms. It seemed out of joint with a town of only 60,000 people that felt much smaller. It is a link though to a major ferry terminal.
Helsingborg in Sweden is a breezy two and half mile sail away and other large Baltic-bound vessels bobbed in The Sound as I made the 10 minute promontory walk to Kronborg, the castle Shakespeare based Hamlet’s on. The Bard – who may well have visited the place, certainly his actors did – would have called it sea-girt. Passing ships used to have to pay a toll to the castle’s rulers.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was founded by King Eric of Pomerania in 1574 and its Renaissance defences were reinforced as it played a key role in the history of northern Europe in the 16th-18th centuries. The moat is particularly impressive.
Inside, among Renaissance and Baroque splendours, the most breathtaking rooms are the 200-ft long ballroom and the tapestry-hung Knight’s Hall. You can also picnic on the grassy battlements where Hamlet saw his father’s ghost.
Few great Shakespeare actors have resisted the temptation to do their Hamlet here. Derek Jacobi played the Castle in 1979 and directed Kenneth Branagh in the role in 1988. Lawrence Olivier fell in love with Vivien Leigh while they were performing the play here in 1937.
Holger The DaneKronborg also has gloomy dungeons, where sits a 1907 statue of Holger The Dane, a mythical medieval Danish hero without the philosophical depths of Prince Hamlet. He’s an important symbol for Danes, though, who will wake to defend his country if it’s ever in danger.
I wandered back to the station through Elsinore’s evocative backstreets, almost a stage set in themselves. Since it was a Sunday, I was unable to visit St Mary’s Church and the Carmelite Monastery, a fine example of late medieval architecture. Its organ is a replica of the one played there from 1660 to 1668 by the resident organist, one Dietrich Buxtehude. There’s a lane named after the great composer.
Next stop back down the Coast Line was Humlebaek, an unexceptional kind of place but for the presence of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, a 10 minute walk from the station. It is called Louisiana because the first owner of the estate, Alexander Brun, had three wives all called Louise.
The museum opened in 1958 to display Danish artworks, but now contains work from all over the world, by Francis Bacon, Antony Gormley, Picasso, Andy Warhol and many others. The works are displayed in a series of glass-fronted corridors and underground galleries connected from the original 19th-century house. Parents can even leave their offspring to create their own artworks in the Bornehuset, or 'children's house' while they look around.
Five Car StudIn the grounds there is a wonderful sculpture park, centred on a large, reclining figure by Henry Moore. Add stunning sea views and there are few more impressive art galleries around. I’d hope to catch the tail-end of their annual Literature Festival, which this year attracted the likes of Alan Hollinghurst, Jeffrey Eugenides and Patti Smith. All I got was the great writer Henning “Wallender” Mankel but since his talk was in Swedish I raced off to beat the gathering stormclouds.
Klampenborg, further down the tracks attracts thousands of visitors to Bakken, the world’s oldest amusement park in the world with a 70-year-old wooden roller-coaster. Unlike rival Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, entrance is free, too – as at the neighbouring wild deer park, Dyrehaven.
I chose to late lunch in a cute little thatched restaurant called Den Gule Cottage (see factfile), a five minute walk from the station and overlooking Bellevue Beach.
It was so lovely I stayed far too long and had to shorten my afternoon beach walk as the big rains finally came.
Yes, it’s the Danish Riviera, but don’t expect St Tropez style weather.
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