Fairytale refuge in royal castle offered to Ukrainian families

Fifteenth century hunting lodge last played host to Japanese crown prince and princess

Six to eight Ukrainian families fleeing the horror of Russia’s invasion are to be offered a fairy-tale refuge in a 15th century castle surrounded by a moat made available by the Dutch royal family.

Het Oude Loo castle is located in the grounds of the significantly larger Het Loo Palace, built for King Willem III and Queen Mary II of England on the outskirts of the city of Apeldoorn, in the centre of the Netherlands.

The Baroque palace, whose extensive formal gardens are sometimes known as "The Versailles of the Netherlands", was built as a summer residence for the royals of Orange-Nassau – and the castle was built as a hunting lodge.

The word “loo” means wood or forest in Middle Dutch. The lodge is named “the old forest castle” because the royal hunts took place from there across the wooded estates.

In a statement on Tuesday, the royal household in The Hague said agreement had already been reached between King Willem-Alexander, the refugee settlement agency, the state property managers, and the local authorities in Apeldoorn.

It said that between 20 and 30 refugees – six to eight families, it estimated – could be offered accommodation in the castle for as long as was deemed appropriate, though it didn’t say how they’ll be chosen.

Extraordinary setting

Fleeing bombardment and siege by Russian troops since Moscow’s invasion began on February 24th, the new Ukrainian occupants attempting to rebuild their shattered lives will be doing so in an extraordinary setting.

The last overseas visitors to stay at Het Oude Loo castle were Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan and his wife, Crown Princess Masako, who paid a private visit to the Netherlands in 2006 with their daughter Princess Aiko, at the invitation of Queen Beatrix.

At the time, the crown princess was experiencing public difficulties adjusting to imperial life. The couple also attended the inauguration of Willem-Alexander in 2013, the crown princess’s first official overseas appearance in 11 years. They were named emperor and empress consort in 2019.

The Japanese visitors are known to have walked in the grounds of the castle, which include a sculpture pond, a skittle alley, a maze, and a wide range of rare flowers and plants.

About 12,000 Ukrainian refugees have so far arrived in the Netherlands, which has identified accommodation for 25,000 and needs to double that number by month’s end to cope with the growing influx.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court