Herlufsholm is known to educators throughout Europe as the site of a famous prep school, less than a kilometer (1/2 mile) northwest of the center of Næstved. It was founded at the dawn of the 13th century as a Benedictine monastery known as Skovkloster. The monastery, abandoned at the time of the Reformation, was transformed into the Herlufsholm Academy, Herlufsholm Allée (tel. 55-75-35-00; www.herlufsholm.dk; bus: 6A). To reach it from Næstved, follow the Slagelsevej from the town center. You can wander around the grounds, assuming you don't interrupt the flow of the academics; but if your time is limited, the crown jewel of the academy grounds is the monastery church, Stiftskirke Herlufsholm. Constructed in the late Middle Ages, it is one of the oldest brick churches in Denmark. It's noteworthy for its tombs, especially those of Admiral Herluf Trolle, who left an endowment to the monastery, and his wife, Birgitte Goye. The ivory Gothic crucifix inside dates from around 1230; the baroque pulpit was the creation of Ejler Abelsen in 1620. The church, which has an unusually wide nave, can be visited daily -- except during religious services -- during daylight hours. Admission is free.
One of the many stately homes surrounding Næstved is Gavnø Slot & Park, Gavnørej (tel. 55-70-02-00; bus: 1A). Located 4km (2 1/2 miles) south of town, it lies on a peninsula, on the opposite bank of the Karrebækfjord. The old rococo castle is surrounded by a delightful botanical garden and is also the site of Butterfly World, where exotic tropical butterflies are allowed to fly free. A former nunnery, Gavnø reverted to private ownership in 1584. When Otto Thott (1703-85) took over the property, he had it converted into the rococo-style mansion you see today. Thott also accumulated one of the largest picture collections and private libraries (about 140,000 volumes) in Denmark. The premises also contain a valuable altar and pulpit carved by Abel Schrøder the Elder. Although part of the interior remains a private residence, some sections of the castle can be visited. The best time to visit is when the tulips bloom in spring, these flowers later giving way to ornamental shrubs and roses. A ticket that combines admission to the castle, the castle gardens with its butterfly collection, and a nearby church (Gavnø Kirke) that has been associated with the castle for many generations costs DKK80 ($14/£8) adults, DKK50 ($8.50/£5) for children 11 and under. All three places are open only May to August, daily 10am to 4pm.
The manor house that we'd like to own is Gisselfeld Slot, Gisselfeldvej 3, Haslev (tel. 56-32-60-32), a beautiful, step-gabled, brick Renaissance home dating from 1557. If you visit, you'll be wandering in the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen, who found inspiration here for his fairy tale The Ugly Duckling. Although it has been much altered and changed over the centuries, it forms an impressive sight today, set in a well-laid-out park that evokes the countryside of England, with a fountain, a small lake, a grotto, and even a waterfall. You will have to be content to view the house from the outside, but you can wander through one of Denmark's finest private gardens, with some 400 different species of trees and bushes, including a rose island and a bamboo grove. The gardens are at their best in the late spring. The gardens can be visited daily 10am to 5pm (mid-June to mid-Aug to 6pm). It costs DKK30 ($5.10/£3) for adults, free for children 11 and under. The only time the interior can be visited is during July, when guided tours can be arranged, on a rotating and oft-changing schedule that must be reconfirmed prior to your arrival.
The little town of Vordingborg, 27km (17 miles) south of Næstved, was a powerhouse back in the Middle Ages, and the place where Denmark's first constitution was written. "It's our Philadelphia," the tourist manager told us.
Most visitors arrive to see the fabled "Goose Tower," once part of the sprawling royal castle and fortress that stood here during the Middle Ages. The 14th-century Gåsetårnet, Slotsruinen 1 (tel. 55-37-25-54), is the best-preserved medieval tower in Scandinavia, the only structure remaining intact from the Valdemar era. The tower gets its name from 1368, when the king, Valdemar IV, ordered that a golden goose be placed on top of the tower to show his disdain for a declaration of war against Denmark by the Hanseatic League of Germany. He was hoping to suggest that the threats coming from the Hanseatic League were no more ominous to him than a flock of cackling geese. The pointed copper roof of the 37m (121-ft.) tower is still crowned by a golden goose, and the tower, of course, remains the town's landmark and source of historic pride. From the top of the tower, a panoramic view of the countryside unfolds. In its heyday, the fortress had seven more towers, but they were demolished over the centuries. In recent years excavations have uncovered the ruins of the castle. Queen Margrethe visited in 1997 to view the excavation of a Viking quay. Visiting hours are June to August daily 10am to 5pm; off-season, Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 4pm.
Vordinborg After Dark
A good place to begin your evening is Amigo Bar, Algade 35 (tel. 55-37-60-65), right in the center of town. It seems to attract the most simpatico crowd. The best alehouse is nearby: Slots Kroen, Algade 119 (tel. 55-37-02-61). A lot of the locals will also direct you to Willy Nilly, Algade 1 (tel. 55-34-20-40), a friendly English pub that seems to have the coldest beer in town, attracting a 20-to-40 age group. It's also the site of Prinsen Diskotek, Algade 1 (tel. 55-34-20-40), which opens at 10 or 11pm, often staying open until 3 or 4am. It rarely charges a cover.