If Denmark is in your sights as a travel destination, consider a visit to one of the islands to see Danish life at a slower pace while you enjoy fresh air, natural beauty and plenty of options for exercise.
We recently spent two days on Aero, one of the islands in the South of Funen Archipelago. The climate is mild and sunnier than many other Danish places, prompting Danes to call it the South Sea Islands. Plants from more temperate climes can be found on Aero including wild orchids that bloom in late May.
With its three towns—Aeroskobing, Marstal and Soby—this dynamic island balances tourist amenities with commercial life: farming, shipping, ship repair, and sustainable energy. We were a few days late for the accordion festival and too early for the summer classical music season held at Sobygaard, a restored manor with moat and drawbridge built by Duke Hans the Younger in 1580. Early June is in advance of the high tourist season so we experienced the island with fewer people but with glorious weather.
We took a ferry from Svendborg and arrived 75 minutes later at Aeroskobing, population 6,800. “Kobing” means trading town and refers to the city’s role in the Middle Ages as a commercial and maritime center. Ferries also run from Faaborg to Soby on the northern tip of Aero.
As the ferry eases into the dock, visitors are treated to views of the low hills, the red terra cotta rooftops of the town and a colorful pop-bead string of small bathing huts on Vesterstrand, a long, narrow spit of land. We were told that these huts are treasured family heirlooms passed down within families.
We rattled our luggage up the cobbled streets to our lodging, passing fairy-tale houses ganged together in long rows on either side of the narrow streets. Near the town’s main square, we arrive at a beautifully remodeled wash house in the courtyard of an 18th century manor.
Booked through Airbnb, a peer-to-peer online accommodations site, this convenient base included a kitchen for meal preparation. We drew from the island’s bounty of fruits, vegetables and fish for our first evening. Although there are plenty of eateries on the island, we purchased smoked halibut and herring from Aeroskobing Rogeri, a fish shop facing the harbor and prepared a “diner en plein air” in our own garden with new potatoes and fresh strawberries (jordbaer) bought from roadside stands.
We enjoyed the serenity of the wash house, located on an interior courtyard, and—best of all—Collette, our host with a deep knowledge of the history and culture of the island.
An organic local foods movement is emerging with an emphasis on ecology—the locals use “okologisk” to mean organic. Already in production are chocolates, honey, ice cream, jam, salt, herbal soaps and lotions and traditionally-raised beef. Unstaffed roadside stands sell produce, payment on the honor system. Rise Brewery, has started producing beer of a quality to rival the best of the new wave microbrews. We tried the India Pale Ale and the Walnut beer and both were outstanding.
In 2002, Aeroskobing won the coveted Europa Nostra Prize for Cultural Heritage. In one guide for the island, Aeroskobing is described as “a perfect idyll.” Others call it a fairy tale town. Travel writer Rick Steves refers to Aero as “Denmark’s ship-in-a-bottle island.” These descriptions of Aero capture the distilled historic interest of the place. Churches dating from the 12th and 13th centuries can be found at Bregninge, Tranderup and Rise and there are several Neolithic graves (burial mounds, passage graves and dolmens) on the island, their traces still evident in massive stone arrangements on high ground.
Bicycling is a marvelous way to see the island although buses connecting the entire island are free and frequent. The topography requires three gears at most and drivers are very cautious when passing bikes on the road. We travelled the extensive network of paths on rented bikes to reach cultural attractions around the island. Country lanes lined with lilac, spirea, wild rose and white flowering buckthorn led us past thatched homesteads with tidy gardens and, as often as not, a flagpole flying a Danish flag pennant. Birdsong provided the soundtrack.
One destination was Marstal, home of a navigation school and a maritime museum that is worth a visit, especially if you don’t know your jagts from your topsail schooners, brigantines and barentine brigs. You’ll emerge the wiser and with a greater appreciation for life at sea.
The world’s largest solar collection plant is also located at Marstal and, from the air, looks like a large blue patchwork lake. The island also has six wind turbines that generate more electricity than Aero’s total annual consumption. Needless to say, Aero is one of the leading renewable-energy islands in the world and has received awards and international recognition for its goals.
We had just enough time left in Marstal to enjoy one of the island’s specialties, waffles and coffee, at outdoor café Vaffelbageriet on Kirkestraede, before heading back to Aeroskobing. Shops generally fold up by 6:00pm and the bicycle rental was no exception.
If cycling isn’t your thing, other activities include golfing at a course surrounded by the sea on three sides, fishing, rowing, sailing, swimming and bird- or people-watching.
Finally, a suggestion: if you decide to visit Aero, figure how many days you’d like to spend. Then add one more. There’s no point in rushing paradise. Also, if you want to double your fairy-tale fun, swing by Odense, on the mainland just a short drive north of Svendborg, and visit the home of Hans Christian Andersen.
If you Go:
Click on the Union Jack at most of these sites to get information in English.
Written by guest contributor Maggie Herrington and photos by Tony Midson for EuropeUpClose.com
A native of Idaho, Maggie Herrington is a travel writer currently based in Europe. Her travel writing goal is to inform, educate and delight; and her work has appeared in various print and online publications.