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The castle where Queen Beatrix hopes to live happily ever after

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A tiny hamlet in the green heart of the Netherlands is preparing to roll out the orange carpet for its latest retiree, former Queen Beatrix, but some here wonder whether she'll be as happy as the woman who left 33 years ago.

At first glance Lage Vuursche, population 250, looks like any other village in Het Gooi, an area between Hilversum and Utrecht famed for its wealthy inhabitants and natural forests.

Cafes with names like De Vuursche Boer Pannekoekenhuis (Vuursche farmer pancake house) front a tree-lined main road, alongside the Dorpshuis (town hall) and ubiquitous Dutch Reformed church.

But a few hundred metres (yards) off the main road, a three-metre high black fence under the watchful eye of security cameras and sentry boxes testifies that this is no ordinary hamlet.

Behind the fence topped with barbed and electric wire, shielded from view by thick natural forest lies Castle Drakensteyn and its 20-hectare (49 acre) grounds.

The name may sound like a contraction of Dracula and Frankenstein but the place itself, a 17th century octagonal-shaped building surrounded by a moat, is every bit the fairytale castle or country manor.

The queen, 75, who will revert back to her status as "princess" after handing the throne to her son Willem-Alexander on April 30, is to move back in later this year.

Then-princess Beatrix bought the castle in 1959 and moved in four years later, continuing to live there after marrying her husband Prince Claus in 1966.

Their three sons were born during the 18 years they lived here until 1981, when the royal family moved to the bustle of The Hague after Beatrix became queen.

Beatrix once said that "the happiest years of my life" were spent at Drakensteyn.

Hein van Oosterom, a fourth-generation resident and restaurant owner in Lage Vuursche, remembers her previous life here.

"As a child I remember things being pretty informal. We used to go there over Christmas and sing carols and always got a cup of hot chocolate," he told AFP.

"When Beatrix became queen, everything changed. She was really looking for privacy and was not that involved in the village any longer," said Van Oosterom.

"We really hope that will change, now that she's coming back," he said. "But I'm not sure that's going to happen."

The village always had an ambiguous relationship with the royals, but tempers frayed a few years ago when the new fence went up and a provider shifted the hamlet's mobile mast onto the castle grounds, affecting reception, Van Oosterom said.

"The fence was a pretty nasty thing. We're not happy with it, but I have the feeling that the queen did not have much say in the matter."

-- Private property --

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Being private property, the castle and its grounds are closed to the public.

The closest thing that ordinary citizens can see to the well-guarded Drakensteyn is a miniature replica which serves as one of the holes on a nearby mini-golf course.

"We understand it's necessary to protect her," 79-year-old Gerda Majoor told AFP, tucking into "poffertjes" (mini pancakes) at a nearby restaurant. "But she is indeed a bit of a captive in her own castle."

The amount the state will spend on Beatrix's security is unknown, but she will continue to receive a 466,000-euro ($608,000) salary and 947,000 euros for personnel and "material" costs, the government's information service (RVD) said.

There is no sign that the energetic Princess Beatrix is letting up from her busy schedule of public engagements, which may often keep her from relaxing at home.

She is down to open a number of monuments and museums by the end of May and has already said she is not planning to bid the Dutch people farewell.

-- Preparations in full swing --

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Meanwhile, preparations to celebrate the new king's enthronement on Tuesday are in full swing in Lage Vuursche.

Dutch national and orange flags with the outline of Beatrix's face are already fluttering outside many restaurants.

At the main square, a tree has been planted in the new king's honour, to be unveiled on Tuesday.

Van Oosterom said he hoped that Beatrix's return to the village would boost visitors from 1.2 million to more than two million a year.

And the invitation to princess Beatrix to pop in at any time remains open.

"Majesty, you can always borrow a cup of sugar from us," reads a blackboard outside one cafe.

"We're looking forward to your return," it added.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130424/the-castle-where-queen-beatrix-hopes-live-happily-ever-after