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Lordly Lodging in Germany's North
Do you dream of sleeping in a real castle, strolling the manicured grounds of an old manor house, or golfing on the links of a lord's land? Then head to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, in the northeastern part of Germany.
Where? Don't be surprised if you've never heard of it. After World War II, this part of the country was behind the "Iron Curtain" in East Germany for more than four decades, so it's less well known to travelers from the West. But since the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, the long-neglected local tourism industry has revamped many facilities for visitors, offering attractions (old and new) that make this relatively "undiscovered" part of Germany definitely worth a journey.
In addition to its popular Baltic seacoast, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern boasts more than 2,000 castles, palaces, manor houses, and hunting lodges of the former nobility, as well as historic old monasteries and numerous stately homes of the rich merchant classes, many of them surrounded by beautiful gardens and parks—one of the largest concentrations, per square kilometer, of previously lordly lodgings in Europe.
Many of the historic houses and gardens in the eastern part of Germany were damaged or destroyed during World War II. Near the end of the war, some of their owners fled westward as the Soviet military moved into these areas, and shortly after the war more of them joined the millions of Germans fleeing to the West. Under the early post-war Soviet administration—and then under the government of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1949 until 1990—the old estates that were still habitable were turned into refugee centers, hospitals, youth hostels, cultural centers, schools, communal apartments for families, and quarters for Russian and East German troops. Other fine old buildings and grounds were simply neglected, left to suffer the ravages of weather, vandalism, and decay.
During the past 20 years, however, a number of these properties have been bought by private investors who've begun to restore the buildings and grounds to their former glory. In some cases they've renovated them completely, turning them into hotels, restaurants, golf courses, and spas. Now you, too, can "live like a lord," staying overnight and dining very well in many of these historic castles, monasteries, and stately homes, often at prices that are a bargain compared with other parts of Europe.
Just outside the state capital of Schwerin, Schloss Basthorst is a family-owned combination hotel, restaurant, and spa, with a very friendly staff. The 19 rooms in the 200-year-old, red-brick manor house are individually decorated in elegantly traditional style; the 47 rooms in the adjacent, newly built Forest Residence are more modern but equally luxurious; and 8 comfortable, well-appointed apartments in the converted horse stables are available for longer stays. One wing of the main building boasts a beautiful Jugenstil-era library with adjacent winter garden. The very good restaurant features a combination of French cuisine and traditional Mecklenburg dishes, with fresh herbs from the hotel's own kitchen garden. Room prices vary according to high season, low season, and weekends, ranging from €73-105 for singles, €96-144 for doubles, €102-152 for luxury rooms, €122-194 for suites, all with breakfast included. Apartments are priced at €112-158, plus €14 per person for optional breakfast (www.schloss-basthorst.de/en/). $94 – $135 (single rooms), $123 – $185 (doubles), $131 – $195( luxury rooms), $157 – $249 (suites), $144 – $203 (apartments), $18 breakfast per person.
Gut Vorbeck is a nice little manor house that has the cozy feel of a modest hunting lodge turned into a bed-and-breakfast inn. Built in 1912 on the ruins of an older edifice, it's only 15 minutes' drive from Schwerin. The 20 spacious, comfortable rooms are light and airy, well furnished in modern decor, and the pleasant breakfast room is located in the vaulted basement. This unpretentious, moderately priced hotel is perfect for people who like outdoor sports: horseback riding, hiking, bicycling, canoeing, archery, and golf (there are riding stables and a 27-hole golf course adjacent to the hotel). Single rooms €75-80, doubles €85-100, with breakfast; apartments for two people, €100-110 per night\ (www.gutvorbeck.de/en/gut-vorbeck/). $103 (singles), $109 – $128 (doubles), $128 – $141 (apartments).
Hotel Gutshaus Stellshagen is an impressive but unpretentious brick manor house built in Neo-classical style in 1925, overlooking a small lake and surrounded by pretty gardens and grounds. It was later confiscated by the Russians, then the East Germans, after World War II; reclaimed by the original owner's family after the reunification of Germany; and restored and expanded in 1996. If you're into organic foods and relaxed, non-pretentious spas in beautiful, restful settings, this is the place to stay. You might feel like you're in a time warp back to the 1960s' organic-food-and-holistic-wellness movement in the U.S., but you'll certainly enjoy the comfortable manor house, laid-back lifestyle, and excellent food in the vegetarian restaurant, much of which comes directly from the fields behind the hotel. In 2007 the Gutshaus Stellshagen was the first hotel in Mecklenburg to receive the official German BIO [organic] certification. The sauna, swimming pool, and Tao natural-healing center will remind you of a mixture of Sweden and Santa Fe. There's also a shop on the premises where you can buy regional products and healthful snacks, drinks, and cosmetics, as well as clothing, books, soothing music, and gifts. Check the website or contact the hotel directly for prices, which vary according to season, occupancy, and the kinds of wellness programs you might want to participate in (www.gutshaus-stellshagen.com/en/the-gutshaus.html).
Schlossgut Gross Schwannsee is a very restful, very modern, get-away-from-it-all hotel, situated in a pleasant 900-acre park and within easy walking distance of a quiet beach on the Baltic coast. As the hotel manager modestly but accurately said, "Here you have your own space."
Located in the original manor house, plus a modern annex, the rooms are unusually spacious and well designed, with modern, high-quality appointments. Each of the 10 rooms in the manor house is individually decorated (Mediterranean, French, Scandinavian, Japanese, Maritime), with high ceilings and a delightfully quirky mixture of contemporary and traditional touches. Even though the modern annex, at first glance, looks like an American motel, many of the 53 rooms inside are so large and well appointed that other hotels would classify the double rooms as junior suites. The former horse stables are now an inviting brasserie (where breakfast is served, too), and the vaulted-ceiling restaurant in the old manor house is a fine place to eat, with a seasonal menu that changes every three months. Prices are exceptionally reasonable, especially for a hotel of such quality; check online, since prices vary according to season and room category (high season is from mid-April to mid-October, and December 24-26; www.schwansee.de/en/hideaway-baltic-sea/).
Schloss Lütgenhof is another quiet, restful place to stay, very near the old border of East and West Germany. Situated in a 4-acre private park, surrounded by woodlands and near lake Dassow, it's only a short boat ride from the historic Hanseatic city of Lübeck. This handsome 19th-century palace (built on the site of much older castles) has an interesting history, which the current owner will be happy to explain to you in flawless English. Very good restaurant, too. This is not the kind of place that you drive up to and ask, "Do you happen to have a room available tonight?" You should definitely make reservations in advance (www.schloss-luetgenhof.de). $160 – $212 (doubles), $231 (junior suite), beginning at $141 – $160 and upward (apartments, depending on number of people), $23 breakfast per person.
During your stay in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, don't miss the magnificent Schwerin Castle in the city of Schwerin. Although you can't stay there, you'll definitely want to visit this architectural jewel, considered "the Neuschwanstein of the North." Situated on a small island in Lake Schwerin, the multi-story, many pinnacled castle was built in the mid-19th century on the site of several previous fortresses constructed there since the late 900s. Of its 645 rooms, about 40 have been restored and opened to the public. Guided tours are the best way to see the richly decorated ceremonial rooms, some of which are cleverly adorned with papier-mâché molded and painted to look like hand-carved wood. After visiting the castle, stroll around its lovely parks and gardens, then relax at the castle's Orangery, which houses a nice little restaurant and pastry shop (www.schloss-schwerin.de).
● Castles, Parks, & Gardens: Historic Houses of Germany (Hamburg: Schenck Verlag GmbH, 2007; http://www.schenckguide.com/), a full-color 368-page book, in English, that covers all the regions of Germany, with photographs of each property, a thumbnail history, and visitor information.
● Castles, Parks, & Manor Houses: Royal Seats and Estate Villages in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, 7th edition (Tourismus Verband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern e. V., 2010; www.auf-nach-mv.de), a 98-page large-size booklet, in English, about the history of many of these properties, which also lists hundreds of them where you can stay overnight, and/or dine, with specific information on the number of rooms available, amenities, and prices. You can also read the entire publication online at http://issuu.com/mecklenburg-vorpommern-urlaub/docs/holidays-in-castles-parks-manor-houses.
© 2011 Sharon Hudgins