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Fraeylemaborg castle in Slochteren, The Netherlands

Whenever I refer jokingly to Fraeylemaborg as “the ancestral home,” my husband rolls his eyes, but he’s given up on correcting me.

A compact and rather low building, with statuary marking its entrance and a tall off-center tower.
Entrance view.

You see, one branch of his family occupied Fraeylemaborg for about a hundred years. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for everyone else, the house is now a historic house museum and open to the public. While the Dutch word borg is often translated to mean “castle,” I think the British would call it a “stately home” rather than a castle.

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The history of Fraeylemaborg

The original Fraeylemaborg was a simple thick-walled stone house, built in the 13th century. Its purpose at the time was more defensive than anything else. In the 16th century it was renovated and expanded and the moat was added. The two side wings were added in the 17th century. 

Text: Fraeylemaborg: A historical house museum in the northern Netherlands. Image: Corner view of the main house.
Pinnable image.

This was the point when my husband’s family comes in, starting with Henric Piccardt. He was a well-regarded member of Louis XIV’s court in France. By all accounts he had a fine time there. He wrote and published poetry, played the harp, tutored nobles’ sons, and cavorted with various courtly consorts and then wrote poems about them. When war broke out between France, the Dutch Republic and Munster, he went back to the Netherlands. There, he was arrested for his suspicious connections to the French court. 

To read about lots of other things to see in Groningen province, try this article.

Upon Piccardt’s release after just a few months, he turned his attention to politics and married Anna Elisabeth Rengers, whose father owned Fraeylemaborg. Piccardt bought it from him, with help from his friend the Dutch King Willem III, in the form of a loan. After doing some major renovations to the house, including adding a wing and laying out the plan of the gardens, Piccardt died in 1712. Since he had no children, the estate passed to his half-brother’s son, Johannes. My husband is directly descended from Johannes as well as from both of Henric’s full brothers, Alexander and Johan.

View of the estate house from behind: white-painted with dark yellow around the windows, it's more or less symmetrical, with a section that sticks out more than the rest in the center, and the tower showing behind it.
Rear view of the main building.

After Henric’s death, the family still owed money on the loan from the Dutch King Willem III. Eventually, they had to sell the estate. The new owner, Hendrik de Sandra Veltman, was responsible toward the end of the 18th century for the Fraeylemaborg’s next renovation and the gardens’ redesign in the English style, leaving the property more or less in the state we see today. He also built the two outbuildings in front called schathuizen, which means something like a stable or carriage house. This progression of improvements and additions over centuries explains its odd final form: symmetrical side wings, but with an out-of-proportion, off-center tower.

A view of Fraeylemaborg seen from across the moat closest to one of its corners. The building is shaped like a C, with two wings, one on either side of the front entrance. A row of trees obscures the whole front except the roofs and the tower.
In this view you can see the two wings.

The last owners of Fraeylemaborg had a wonderful name: they were the Thomassen à Thuessink van der Hoop van Slochteren family, perhaps the longest name in the Netherlands! They lived in the house until 1972, when they sold it to the Gerrit van Houten Foundation.

Visiting Fraeylemaborg

The village of Slochteren is in the east of the province of Groningen in the northern Netherlands. You can take a bus from Groningen, but the easiest way to get there is by car. There’s plenty of parking on the property.

If you haven’t arranged your rental car yet, do it now!

Buy your ticket in the former coachhouse to the right as you face the main building. You can roam the gardens for free, but I’d recommend seeing the inside of the house too.

The main building as we see it today sits in the middle of a large wooded park. Inside, visitors can get an impression of life at Fraeylemaborg in the middle of the 20th century. Its inhabitants lived among a collection of furniture and objects ranging from centuries-old family heirlooms to recent purchases. While the rooms have been reconstructed, many of the objects were repurchased from the original collection that was sold in 1971. Many of the ceramic pieces and the paintings refer in one way or another to the House of Orange. This had to do with Henric Piccardt’s friendship with (and loan from) King Willem III. 

The statue is a naked female, slumping a bit and oddly proportioned. behind it, the tower is visible: white and six-sided, with a clock partway up and a couple of bells suspended outside it. The family cress has a dog on one side and a lion on the other.
A statue in front of Fraeylemaborg. Notice the family crest above the entrance.

The dining room is set for dinner. The library and the Blue Guestroom have been recreated to match existing photographs from the last inhabitants. Much of it did not seem very fancy to me, but rather quite comfortable. It feels like a place you could actually live in.

The dining room.

Conversely, the Great Hall on the ground floor is quite grand looking. It still hosts concerts and other events, while the Small Hall is a wedding hall these days.

I particularly liked seeing the low-ceilinged kitchen downstairs: its homeliness, the light across the clay tile floor, the ordinary objects used to prepare meals for the family upstairs. The kitchen and other servants’ work and living spaces around it are the oldest part of the house, dating to the Middle Ages.

Read about Bourtange Fortress too. It’s not far away by car.

In the attic – watch your head because the beams are low – take the time to watch the charming video in which one of the last residents, a member of the Thomassen à Thuessink van der Hoop van Slochteren family, tells about her memories of the house from her childhood.

The library at Fraeylemaborg.

Fraeylemaborg’s garden

A visit to Fraeylemaborg would not be complete without a stroll around the grounds. The elongated 23 hectares of land – less land than the estate encompassed in Piccardt’s day – are in English landscape style. Seen from far away down a long vista of grass lined with woods, the house itself appears a more impressive building than it actually is. Paths wind through the woods, over bridges, around the various ponds.

Foreground, water in the moat. Beyond that, a long corridor of short grass with lots of forest on either side and, far in the distance, a statue is barely visible.
View from the Grand Hall down the center of the property, taken through a window.

If you need a rest from all that strolling, the “Schathuis,” one of the carriage houses in front, is now a cafe-restaurant. If the weather is good, sit in the sun with a drink and enjoy the view of the house. Opposite the restaurant is another outbuilding: the old coach house, now an exhibition space.

view over a pond, with trees shading it, and a bridge over the pond in the distance.
In the garden of Fraeylemaborg

Often, for us, visits from out-of-town friends become our excuse for revisiting Fraeylemaborg. While my nickname for it as “the ancestral home” is just a fantasy, it remains in reality an off-the-beaten-track treasure.

Fraeylemaborg: Hoofdweg 30, Slochteren. Open Tuesday-Friday 10:00-17:00; Saturday-Sunday 11:00-17:00. On holidays, open 13:00-17:00. Admission to the building: Adults €8; children 6-12 €2.50. Garden admission is free. Website.

My travel recommendations

Planning travel

  • Skyscanner is where I always start my flight searches.
  • Booking.com is the company I use most for finding accommodations. If you prefer, Expedia offers more or less the same.
  • Discover Cars offers an easy way to compare prices from all of the major car-rental companies in one place.
  • Use Viator or GetYourGuide to find walking tours, day tours, airport pickups, city cards, tickets and whatever else you need at your destination.
  • Bookmundi is great when you’re looking for a longer tour of a few days to a few weeks, private or with a group, pretty much anywhere in the world. Lots of different tour companies list their tours here, so you can comparison shop.
  • Get a Priority Pass if you fly a lot so that you can use airport lounges while you wait for flights. Plan your visits around meals and/or drink times and it’s definitely worth the investment!
  • I’m a fan of SCOTTeVEST’s jackets and vests because when I wear one, I don’t have to carry a handbag. I feel like all my stuff is safer when I travel because it’s in inside pockets close to my body.
  • Airalo is an e-sim card. You buy it through an app and activate it when you need it. I tried it on my trip to Thailand and it worked just like any other sim card, but without my having to fuss with physical cards.
  • I use ExpressVPN on my phone and laptop when I travel. It keeps me safe from hackers when I use public or hotel wifi.

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more…
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I loved our visit there with you. Felt right at home, thank you. My favorite room was the upstairs study, which I think is different from the library you show. I remember it be completely book lined and wood panelling.

Rachel,

Thank you and your husband for taking me there. It was a grand house, but it was even cooler that it has a connection to your husband’s family. Also, that piano in the drawing room was really cool!

Wow, what a beautiful place. I wish I knew how to say the name of it. A romantic place indeed!

You know, I would not mind referring at this place as my ancestral home and then showing pictures of it to all my friends. I know some people who would fall flat to the floor if I tell them that. Now being serious, this is a lovely face. Good your husband knows about his ancestors.

We love finding out of the way places to visit. Your “ancestral home” looks delightful and you are lucky to have a reason to visit quite often. 🙂

How fun to have even a long ago and distant branch of the family living in a small castle like Fraeylemaborgke and equally interesting that your husband can trace his family back so many generations. The “ancestral home” is lovely and it seems that it would be very comfortable to live in, even now. I especially like how light all the rooms appear to be – not dark and gloomy as I usually picture very old homes!

What a beautiful piece of Dutch history and architecture! I love looking around stately homes (yes, I’m British and yes, that’s what we call them). It’s a glimpse into another world (but DO NOT be fooled by Downton Abbey!)

Too bad that it’s not in your husband’s family anymore or maybe good, because you’d be bankrupt by the costs to maintain the castle. Anyway, a wonderful property with stunning gardens. Will have a look when we get to the Netherlands again. #boomertravelbloggers #greyworldnomads #Fraeylemaborg #slochteren

I can’t even pronounce Fraeylemaborg but love the “tour” you took me through. I would call it the ancestral home as well, regardless that someone else bought it. The sad part about owning one of these homes is the cost. I can see why it would now be a museum. Owners could never afford the upkeep! These stately homes always seem to have beautiful grounds surrounding them and Fraeylemaborg is no exception.

How neat to have a familial tie to this historic property!