..going to several of Scandinavia's historic sites that boast fascinating glimpses of history and various connections with the arts. Bo Zaunders scheduled his tour — creating a series of three articles — to take advantage of as many operas, concerts and theatrical events at the castles as possible. Part one of the tour: castles of southern Sweden.

Class acts in royal surroundings
The predicted heavy breathing did not awaken my wife Roxie. She slept like a baby, undisturbed by the asthmatic baron who reputedly haunts these premises. Last evening, as we checked into the attic room of Bäckaskog Castle in southern Sweden, our hostess, Inger Lundin, offered a warning: "This is the room where Johan Christoffer Toll hangs out. He died 200 years ago but is still on the prowl, looking for a lady who will accept his hand in marriage. He proposed 12 times to different women but was always rejected."


She added, "Tomorrow you can look at the grove of trees he planted — one for each lady who jilted him." It was a tempting idea, but we opted for a tour of the castle.

In 1250, a monastery was built on this beautiful location — a narrow neck of land between two lakes — in northeastern Skåne, a district which, until the mid-17th century, belonged to Denmark. After the Reformation, Danes turned the monastery into a fortified castle, and then, in the 1800s, King Karl XV of Sweden transformed it into his favorite country retreat. His presence can now be felt in a suite of opulent rooms.

Despite alterations, Bäckaskog retains a medieval flavor. It’s almost as if you can still, after half a millennium, hear the footsteps of monks echoing through its corridors; the roofline is steep and many of the windows are small and far apart. A remnant of this period is a kitchen, complete with a flat stone stove, fire pits and baking oven. We learned that a brook once ran beneath it, providing an endless supply of fish, caught by the monks from an opening in the kitchen floor.

Which brings us to the question of food. Part of Skåne’s charm is its distinct, if diet-defying, cuisine. The Scanians love food, plenty of it, and, not surprisingly, boast their own Academia Gastronomica Scaniensis. Eels by the tens of thousands are caught in Skåne every fall by their worshippers and feasted upon at special parties, and one day of the year, November 11, is dedicated to the consumption of geese.

As for our dinner at the castle’s restaurant last night, it wasn’t exotic but it was delicious: soup, enhanced with rich stock, followed by good steaks and commendable wine.

By mid-afternoon we noticed that tables and a grill had been set up in the courtyard. When we returned in the evening, the place buzzed with activity. Hot dogs were sold at a brisk pace, and from the half-opened door of the ancient barn poured the "oompahpah, oompahpah" trumpeting of a brass band. Inside, locals were sitting around long tables, eating and drinking beer. Every so often they would link arms and swing back and forth with great merriment. All the musicians wore lederhosen, came from the same small village in Bavaria and, more often than not, kept a tankard of beer within easy reach. A little Oktoberfest it was.

It seems that in Scandinavia, every self-respecting castle affords not only fascinating glimpses of history, but also, each summer, a busy calendar of operas, concerts and theatrical events — had we arrived at Bäckaskog a few days earlier, we might have seen Don Giovanni, and scheduled for the following month was King Lear, presented by a touring drama group from America.

None of the above, however, applies to neighboring Wanås, where the focus is on sculpture. As we drove through the morning mist, we sighted what we recognized as Maya Lin’s 11 Minute Line, a snakelike configuration rising out of a field of grazing cows. Inaugurated in 2004, this 7-feet-high and 1,500-feet-long "earth drawing" is now part of the Wanås sculpture park, a growing collection of works by international artists.

By the time we had reached the castle, the mist had turned into what the Irish euphemistically call soft weather. So, under umbrellas — and in the company of curator Eva Rydberg — we set out on a quick tour of the park. There in a small clearing, dripping wet, stood the featureless lone figure of Gormley’s "Together and Apart" and rising above the trees, was Marina Abromovic’s "Chair for Animal spirits." We peeked through the narrow windows of a "House for Edwin Denby," inspected the brightly colored balls in Baka’s granite "Play-pit," and wondered briefly who the crouching bronze woman relieving herself behind the bushes might be. Eva knew: "That’s "Ann-Sofi Sidén,” she said. "The sculptress herself." Our visit concluded with a stroll through the castle’s barn and stable for a look at yet another exhibition: "Contemporary Nordic Sculpture 1980-2005.”

In the portrait she looked very 18th century: porcelain complexion, long nose, large hooded eyes. She was Christina Piper, the original owner of Christinehof, the next stately residence we visited. Christinehof was built in the mid-1700s as an adjunct to Andrarums alunbruk, a mining operation that produced alun, a substance used for tanning leather, dyeing and other chemical processes. As a rich young widow, Christina had bought Andrarum, then a failing business, and turned it into a huge success. For some time it was Skåne’s largest industry, with hundreds of employees. A real little Dukedom, Andrarum had its own school and fire station, and even printed its own money. And over it ruled Christina Piper.

The alun industry is long since gone, but there’s now an utterly charming little village comprising some of the workmen’s dwellings, pretty little half-timbered houses with flowerpots in every window. The castle, painted in a yellow ochre color of unparalleled intensity, has been converted into a museum, with a number of rooms that look pretty much as they did in Christina’s day. Christinehof also affords a few guest rooms, one of which we stayed in before continuing south for a peek at yet another of the many imposing edifices that dot the Skåne countryside.

We were sitting under the open sky of a small outdoor theater, and in front of us rose Marsvinsholm Castle, a magnificent backdrop to the stage below. In the middle of it a man was taking a bath in an old-fashioned bathtub. He was one of the characters in Gogol’s play Inspector; he ranted and raved, then rushed out of the tub, flashing a little flesh before wrapping himself in a big towel.

Because of the evening chill, many of the people in the audience had wrapped themselves in blankets. But they were warming up to the Russian antics, and cheered. The play was performed in Swedish, which to Roxie (whose knowledge of the language is negligible), might have proven problematic. Not so. Knowing the basic outline of the story, and aided by the colorful costumes, gestures and mimicry, she took it all in, enjoying herself thoroughly.

As for theater, more was to follow, including visits to the two oldest theaters in the world still in use.

Text and photography: Bo Zaunders
Illustrations: Roxie Munro


Bäckaskog slott
Barumsvägen 255, SE-290 34 Fjälkinge
Tel +46 44 53020

The Wanas Foundation
Box 67, SE-289 21 Knislinge
Tel. +46 44 660 71

Christinehofs Slott
SE-277 57 Brösarp
Tel. +46 417 263 70

Marsvinsholms Castle
SE-271 42 Ystad
Tel. +46 411 57 76 81