Aug 19, 2016

Svartå Manor

I visited Svartå manor (Mustion linna in Finnish) a few weeks ago. It's about a one-and-a-half hour drive from Turku, and even closer to Helsinki. The manor was one of the grandest stately homes in Finland, but is now open to the public as a museum. Built between 1783 and 1792, its architecture is a mix of Rococo and Neoclassical styles, while the interior is mostly Gustavian. It's surrounded by beautiful gardens complete with fake ruins and a tiny castle built when the romantic Neo-Gothic craze swept over Europe.      

You can take a tour of the manor and hear all the fascinating anecdotes about the illuminaries that stayed there over the years, including Tzars Alexander I and Alexander II of Russia, King Gustav III of Sweden, and Sibelius.

The real glory days of Svartå manor happened in the early 1900s during the reign of Hjalmar Linder, a business magnate who was the richest man in Finland in his time. He held extravagant balls, took his friends on luxurious hunting trips to Russia, and owned the second car in Finland, having outbid the King of Belgium for it.  In addition to this, he was a compassionate and modern employer, instituting an eight hour workday, setting up a system to pay for the workers' medical costs, and letting the workers stay at housing he built near the ironworks for free. 

But then came World War I. Linder escaped to Sweden for the duration of the Finnish Civil War in 1918. When he returned, he found his property intact, but many of his workers had been taken to prison camps for the Reds, and their families begged him to help. He visited the camps and was appalled at the conditions and the mass executions, so he wrote a piece to a major newspaper, the Hufvudstadsbladet, in protest. He wrote it in good faith, thinking he'd be taken seriously and that he could help end the madness, but it turned out differently. He started receiving death threats and his friends abandoned him. In the end he was forced to sell his property and go into voluntary exile. He tried to continue his business ventures abroad, but lost his great fortune over three years, because the world is a cruel place for do-gooders and idealists. Ruined and penniless, he took his own life in Marseilles in 1921. 

As with all old houses, Svartå manor also has ghost stories associated with it. Some say Hjalmar Linder haunts his old house, and there's two ghostly ladies there too, the White Lady and the Grey Lady. The White Lady is though to be a woman who stayed at Svartå manor for a time. She had some kind of nervous disorder and had to be locked into a small room on the second floor at times. One of these times she had some kind of stroke and was found dead in the room, hence the haunting. Some even claim that King Gustav III haunts the manor. 

I highly recommend the tour, because the guide was very knowledgeable and a good entertainer, too.

There's even a tragic love affair associated with Svartå manor:  Finnish military leader and statesman Carl Gustav Mannerheim fell in love with Hjalmar Linder's half-sister Kitty, who turned him down"because he wasn't exciting enough." Mannerheim was also twenty years her senior, so it might have had something to do with that...  He did send her a picture of himself as a young man, and you can see it at the manor. Kitty did value Mannerheim's friendship a lot, in spite of what happened. Apparently she took flowers to his grave every year. Kitty's story doesn't end well, though. She never married and lost her fortune over the years. She died in Helsinki, a bitter old woman living off the kindness of friends. 

Here are some of the fake ruins from the garden and the tiny faux-medieval castle.

Nowadays the manor is once again owned by the Linder family, and they've set up a hotel and an award-winning restaurant, Linnankrouvi (Slottskrogen in Swedish), there. 

The rooms are located in historical buildings. We sprang for the suite, Merlin's Tower. (C'mon, how could you pass up the opportunity to sleep in Merlin's tower?)

As nice as the room was, I recommend getting one of the normal rooms. I don't know if it was the proximity to the river or if the building's suffered water damage over the years, but there was a noticeable smell of rot in the room. 

Even if you don't stay at the hotel, do to try the restaurant. Trust me, you need to. It's very popular, so pre-booking is advised. The food is amazing, and the space is open to the garden, so it's very atmospheric. 

That's the cocktail I had. 

Look at that dessert! Just beautiful. And the best part was that those staying at the hotel got to have breakfast at the restaurant. One of the best breakfasts I've ever had. 

On the way back we stopped at Fiskars village for some Finnish design and chocolate cake. It's less than a half hour from Svartå Manor, and they host lots of interesting events there. Even if you don't like shopping that much, PetriS Chocolate Room makes fantastic salted caramel chocolates to take home with you.

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