Twenty-five kilometres south of Otepää on the road to Valga is Sangaste Castle, misleadingly described in most local brochures as being a 'copy' of Windsor Castle. It is in fact a wildly eccentric, red-brick, neo-Gothic manor house, which until recently had very basic accommodation with very little appeal for most tourists, let alone the British royal family (not surprisingly the Queen and Prince Philip gave it a miss when they came to Estonia in October 2006). For many years it served as a children's holiday home and it has scarcely been refurbished since then, but this should not put off passing visitors who can eat well here and can try to make sense of the building, both inside and out. Refurbishment started in 2006 so in due course the interior of the building will become a fully functional conference centre.
The owner of the building throughout its existence as a private house was the scientist Count Magnus von Berg (1845-1938), who become famous for his work on the cultivation of rye. The high-yielding type that he grew now bears the name Sangaste and a few grains are scattered each year on his tomb in the village church. Some is grown in Canada for use in whiskey. He commissioned this house in 1874 from the architect Otto Hippius, who also designed Charles' Church and the Alexander Church, both in Tallinn, but the only link with either of these is the octagonal shape used in part of the Alexander Church, also used in the dining room here. Models for the design are likely to have been Minley Manor in Hampshire, Peckforton in Cheshire or Welfen near Hanover.
The large reception/meeting rooms on the ground floor exhibit hunting trophies. The first floor has a small exhibition of items and photographs linked to the family, but sadly no books from the library remain, only the oak bookcases that used to house them including sets of antlers, which presumably are from deer which the family successfully hunted, so perhaps there is a hint of the English countryside here. However, von Berg, rather than Hippius, must have been responsible for the total eccentricity that the building now represents. Every window is different, as are all the porches and the towers. Some minor links with Windsor Castle can be drawn, given that von Berg probably visited the castle. Windsor has an octagonal dining room and a staircase where two sets of stairs blend into one, and the porch attached to the State Apartments is very similar to one of the designs used here. Perhaps because of his eccentricity, his wife left him in the 1880s and his sons would later do the same. Nonetheless, his daughter-in-law stayed on for many years, as did his grandson, who looked after him when he turned deaf and blind. Despite tensions during the Count's lifetime, the family
came together from all over the world in 1995 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. The premises were abandoned after his death and only in the 1960s did the Soviet authorities start using it as a holiday home for children.
In the park at the back of the castle is an oak tree allegedly planted by Peter the Great. This park is often also called an 'English garden' but is largely a play area for children with a wood in the background. This wood contains about 300 different species of tree.
Neil Taylor "Estonia. The Bradt Travel Guide", 2007