Denmark makes an inpression

Anthea Gerrie puts the art and wild unspoiled scenery of Denmark’s west coast in the frame


It's a shame green and pleasant Jutland is linked in history with a naval battle which took place off its shoreline a century ago. For the westernmost province of Denmark is a tranquil land rich in culture right from its less-travelled south, whose coastline has earned World Heritage Site status, to the northernmost tip at Skagen, where the extraordinary light takes on a heavenly quality.

Given how Brits love a nice Impressionist, it's surprising how few British voices were to be heard this summer in Skagen, home of Danish Impressionism. A whole school of artists, inspired by the rage for plein-air painting in France, flocked here in the late 19th century for the special light, and their spirit haunts the pretty fishing village, whose red-roofed homes with walls of yellow ochre sing against the blue-grey skies.

Perhaps it's simply a matter of distance. Previously, getting to Skagen wasn't so easy at 326 miles from Copenhagen. But now BA's new route to Billund cuts the distance by more than a third.

Brøndums Hotel is the place to start the journey, for Impressionist artist Anna Ancher, the then inn-keeper's talented daughter, was the one home-grown artist of the colony which formed around her, while her father, Erik Brøndum, helped cement it by offering board in return for paintings, and her brother Degn co-founded the museum which preserves and showcases the art of Skagen.

The spectacular Skagensmuseum was extended last year to show many more of the several thousand works celebrating the area's sea, sky, beaches, boats, belles and gardens bathed in dappled sunlight. And Brøndums, round the corner, is a museum in itself as well as a living inn.

Getting there British Airways ( flies direct from London Heathrow to Billund. Rooms at Brøndums( start from around £101 for a double with breakfast, at Sønderho Kro (www.Sø from around £185.

The public rooms are historic -- one dining room started life as the private apartment of the Danish king and queen, who came to stay for months on end - and the majority of bedrooms, devoid of en-suite facilities, television or telephones, are a relic of simpler times.

Those who can deal with a shared bath will find charming Scandinavian home comforts, while those who can't can bag one of just 11 en-suite rooms, book one of the hotel's three private villas or simply soak up the atmosphere over lunch or dinner.

Once you've dined at Brøndums and toured the museum, that's not the end of Skagen's art scene; the home Anna shared with her husband, Michael, is on the next block and utterly charming, full of their own pictures and decorative work such as the inner doors whose panels are painted with birds beneath flower-studded lintels.

The exquisite little Arts and Crafts cottage of Holger Drachmann, the national poet even more famous than Hans Christian Andersen and who spent a night at Brøndums himself, can also be visited - get a combination ticket to see all three.

But Skagen has much more to offer than art with visitors flocking to Grenen, at the very tip of the peninsula to witness the confluence of two seas crashing against each other from different directions. A tractor-bus provides transport out to this wild and beautiful point where the Skaggerak meets the Kattegat.

A morning wave-watching at Grenen might be followed by lunch in one of Skagen's lively harbour restaurants - Pakhuset does a mean fishcake to wash down with the town's own craft beer - and a stroll through the quiet, picket-fenced residential streets or along the boutique-lined main drag.

At night the fashionable steal away to Højen, a hamlet on the edge of town where wealthy Copenhageners keep summer homes, and crowd into Ruth's brasserie for casual French food in a buzzy conservatory.

Everyone tips out around nine for the short stroll to Sunset Square, where the ritual of the sun going down gets a nightly audience on the beach culminating in a round of applause.

Between Højen and Skagen town centre lies the Sand-Covered Church, a sight not to be missed. A five-minute stroll along a sandy path edged in sea-grass reveals the simple but exquisite 14th-century building abandoned as a house of worship in 1795, when it was realised the fight against relentlessly shifting sands could never be conquered.

Only the tower was left as a marker, and many come to climb it for the views looking out over the wild marine surroundings.

While the airport at Billund lies just a few hours from Skagen, culture vultures will find it worthwhile to break the drive in Aalborg too where Denmark's fourth city has a handsome modern art museum of its own. Kunsten, designed by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, has recently reopened after a long refurbishment.

Aalborg is also home to a Viking burial ground and museum at Lindholm Høje, where chef-storyteller Jesper Lynge, who looks every bit the part with his flaming beard, will lay on a Viking-themed feast and regale you with tales of the marauders who helped shape Britain (by appointment unlike his distant ancestors).

Even those with no time or inclination for culture will appreciate the excellent open sandwiches at Hos Henius near the attractive harbour, where accompanying shots of aquavit are de rigeur, or the sophisticated delights of Mortens Kro, a trendy fine dining restaurant with a great wine list. Sadly, considering its culinary and cultural offerings, the boutique hotel Aalborg is crying out hasn't yet been built.

Not all Jutland's charms lie north of Billund Airport - the majority of its overseas visitors are headed for nearby Legoland but one of the country's best-kept secrets sits an hour to the south.

Fanø, a 12-minute ferry ride from the port city of Esbjerg, is a tiny island enriched with treasure from around the world brought home by seafaring merchants. These include the Staffordshire pottery dogs still seen in every cottage window which once had a strategic purpose; the lady of the house would stand them facing inwards when the captain was at home, outwards when he left for months at sea to give her lover the all-clear.

Fanø women wore costumes decorated with amber or silver buttons, designs replicated by artist Gitta Foldberg, whose jewellery and textile boutique opposite the excellent little maritime museum is reason enough to visit the island. It's at Nordby, the handsome red brick town where the ferry arrives - and where Rudbecks Ost & Deli, run by a farming family who bake like angels, offers some of the finest smørrebrød, cakes and ice cream in Denmark.

However, it would be criminal not to drive seven miles further. The 550 metre-wide beach serves as a thrilling alternative route to the main island road - to Sønderho, a charming hamlet of thatched cottages with a picturesque church hung with model boats paying homage to the island's past.

Sønderho girls still wear national costume on holidays, and the ancient way of life has been preserved for visitors at Hannes Hus, a cottage dating back to the 17th century.

Sønderho Kro, an atmospheric inn built in 1722, fields one of Denmark's finest restaurants as well as charming rooms, plus the village's own art museum. Or discover the jewellery at the art and craft emporium, created by the beachcombing proprietor, Lars Nielsen, who crafts the amber which can still be found washing up on these very special, windswept shores.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive