Real Life Fairy Tale Places
I’m obsessed with fairy tales. That’s because I’m writing my own right now, so they’re filling my head: Disney, Grimm, The Arabian Nights.
So on a recent holiday to Europe, I hoped to visit castles for inspiration. But instead I discovered three other magical places, none of which were castles.
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A True Confession
All my life I’ve wanted to visit the tulip fields. I loved the idea of cycling through the lines of brightly coloured flowers — I thought it would be like something out of movie! But always I found a reason I couldn’t go: I never had enough money or time and there was always something else that needed doing.
Until this year.
Over the last twelve months I had three friends diagnosed with cancer. All have been treated, and are doing fine. But this was a reminder that nothing lasts forever. And so I packed my husband, son and suitcase and headed off to Holland. I was going cycling through the tulips!
In the middle of the tulip fields lie the Keukenhof Gardens. ‘Well,” I thought, “if we’re going to the tulips, we may as well stop and see these gardens.”
What I didn’t realize at the time is that the Keukenhof Gardens are planted with over seven million spring bulbs. Mostly tulips, but also daffodils, hyacinths and anemones. They are very old — they first began in the 1600s.
I actually found the Gardens more amazing than the tulip fields. The fields, it turned out, are better seen from the air. But the Keukenhof Gardens were designed for people.
In the hidden parts of the Gardens the sound of running water mingles with the rustling of leaves. The air is faintly perfumed, and the birds are all around. When I closed my eyes it was like stepping into another world.
One thing: the Keukenhof is crazy busy, so try and go at the beginning or the end of the day to avoid the crowds. You can purchase tickets online at https://keukenhof.nl/en/.
Hortus Botanicus Leiden
The City of Leiden houses one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. These five hundred year old gardens are small and perfectly formed, containing ancient trees, medieval beehives (replica, not original!) and plenty of greenhouses. It’s not a large place but it takes a long time to walk through it because it’s so beautiful; five hundred years of careful tending produces some amazing views! It’s not busy but there is a charge to enter.
Leiden was home to the Pilgrim Fathers in the early seventeenth century, and a lot of buildings seem to date from that time. As it also houses one of the oldest universities in Europe the place has a great energetic vibe. And, like most Dutch cities, it is overrun with cyclists!
After seeing the tulip fields, we headed for Berlin.
I last visited Berlin in 1991. Back then the place was full of shabby old cars and broken-down buildings. It sure has changed! Now, the city is funky and full of life. And, best of all, we found a huge forest on the edge of the city — the Grunewald.
The Grunewald is a 3000-hectare (7,400 acres) forest containing a ski slope, a toboggan run and the oldest palace in Berlin – Jadgschloss Grunewald. The Schloss is built on the edge of a lake, and houses an art gallery and a café. Walking through the Grunewald Forest is a little like walking through a scene from the Brother’s Grimm. I could almost see a gingerbread cottage!
The Grunewald is free to enter, and easy to reach by S-Bahn train. When we were there, it was very quiet, but apparently it can be busy in the weekend.
Gardens and Enchantment
I had hoped to see old houses and fairy tale castles. But I didn’t. Instead, I saw beautiful gardens.
I’m not complaining.
These gardens were more magical than any building. And, because gardens are alive in a way that a house can never be, they were far more beautiful.
What would you prefer: garden or castle? What enchanting places would you like to visit?
Bio – About Rachel Stedman
Award-winning author Rachel Stedman lives in Dunedin, New Zealand with her husband and two children. If she’s not got her nose in a book, she’s on instagram or twitter (@rlstedman) or at her local library. Her website is RLStedman.com.
All photos courtesy of the photographer, Alex van der Weerden
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