Denmark’s ‘South Sea Islands’ may lack the coconut palms and hula skirts usually associated with that phrase, but they do offer a fine glimpse of rural Scandinavian island life: rolling fields, sandy beaches, and Neolithic tombs. Møn deserves the most attention: it’s perfectly sized, artistically spirited, and home to something very unusual for Denmark – cliffs! Four churches exhibit wondrous medieval frescoes, from recognized masterpieces to primitive daubs. Add evocative beaches, enchanted forests, and cozy guesthouses, and you’ve got the perfect island escape. While less inspiring than Møn, Falster is famous for its beaches, which lure Danish sun worshippers each (short) summer. Further west, Lolland’s sprawl of farms and woods is punctuated with Maribo’s small-town charm, as well as blockbuster attractions Lalandia Waterpark and Knuthenborg Safari Park. All three islands are easily accessed by road bridges from southern Zealand.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Expect to fall head over heels for Møn. By far the most magical of the south islands, its most famous drawcard is its spectacular white cliffs, Møns Klint. Soft, sweeping, and crowned by deep-green forest, they’re the stuff landscape paintings are made of, which possibly explains the island’s healthy headcount of artists. Yet the inspiration doesn’t end there, with beautiful beaches spanning sandy expanses to small secret coves, haunting Neolithic graves and medieval churches adorned with some of Denmark’s most whimsical medieval frescoes. Møn’s rich clay soil draws potters to the area (look out for ‘keramik’ signs along country roads), while its fields and coast inspire the island’s handful of culinary must-tries. So hit the pedal or get behind the wheel (Møn has no trains and the bus service is sketchy), and explore what is bound to become one of your favorite corners of Denmark.
Møn’s main town and gateway, Stege is the island at its busiest. Its single narrow main street contains the island’s primary tourist office, a handful of good cafes, small independent shops, a cinema, and (most importantly) a microbrewery. The island is so small that wherever you are, it’s only a short drive back here to stock up on supplies. During the Middle Ages, Stege was one of Denmark’s wealthiest provincial towns, thanks to its lucrative herring industry. The entire town was fortified until 1534 when the castle walls were torn down – by citizens who supported a mutinous attacking army. Pieces of the rampart remain here and there, including near the camping ground.
ULVSHALE & NYORD
Møn’s best beach, Ulvshale Strand, sprawls along the Ulvshale peninsula, 3 miles north of Stege. This pristine stretch of gently sloping white sand is created by pieces of cliff washing around the coast from Møns Klint. The beach is popular with windsurfers and holds a Blue Flag award (an international eco-label for the sustainable development of beaches and marinas). Ulvshalevej runs alongside – and it’s edged by one of the few virgin woods left in Denmark (look out for adders). The forest extends to the end of the peninsula, where there’s a narrow bridge to the island of Nyord. Nyord has only been connected to the Møn mainland since 1968. Its former isolation safeguarded it from development, and today the sole village (also named Nyord) is a perfect cluster of 19th-century thatched cottages, surrounded by idyllic gardens. Cars are banned (there’s a car park outside), so the loudest sound is the chattering of swallows. Much of the island, particularly the east, is given over to marshland and salt meadows. There’s a bird-watching tower half a mile west of the bridge – you can’t miss it in this flat landscape. Birds include ospreys, kestrels, rough-legged hawks, snow buntings, ruffs, avocets, swans, black-tailed godwits, Arctic terns, curlews, and various ducks.
Ancient fresco-filled churches are a recurring theme in this part of the world. Nevertheless, the church in this rural hamlet, halfway between Stege and Møns Klint, is the one after which the most renowned fresco painter was named. Bus 667 and 678 from Stege stops in front.
This sleepy one-road village wakes up in summer when the large harbourside holiday resort throws open its doors, German tourist yachts mingle with the Klintholm fishing boats, and sun-seekers flock to the long sandy beach. The eastern section is particularly pristine, with light grey sand backed by low dunes and the best surf. The safest swimming is on the stretch west of Klintholm.
The island of Bogø, west of Møn, is somewhere you pass through on the way to somewhere else. It’s connected to Møn by a causeway, and to Zealand and Falster via the impressive Farø bridges.
The southeastern coast of Falster is a summer haven where white-sand beaches act as a magnet for German and Danish tourists. Marielyst in particular is a popular family seaside destination, with an emphasis on gentle activity holidays. A short drive away, Nykøbing’s Middelaldercentret is another winner with the kids, where they can spend a pleasant half-day watching giant catapults being fired, cheering on jousting knights, and exploring the medieval town. You might fancy a car or bike ride through Falster’s agricultural interior to the tip of the island, where Denmark’s most southerly point is acknowledged by Sydstenen (the South Stone), a big rock with a bench in front of it.
Falster’s only large town is sprawling Nykøbing F, which straggles over the Frederick IX bridge and onto the island of Lolland. The best thing about it is its Medieval Centre, complete with jousting knights, which makes a very entertaining family day out. Otherwise, Nykøbing F is predominantly a modern town with few tourist attractions. The ‘F’, incidentally, stands for Falster and is used to differentiate the town from Denmark’s two other Nykøbings.
With its glorious stretch of beach, Marielyst is one of Denmark’s prime vacation areas. Thankfully, the beach is long enough to absorb the crowds, and you should be able to find a relatively private patch of your own. For the most convenient parking, follow the main street until it dead-ends. The town itself is one long strip of bucket-and-spade shops, bars, pizza places, and ice-cream kiosks running perpendicularly down towards the beach. In high season there are loads of different activities to try around Marielyst, from windsurfing classes to paintball. The tourist office has information on all activities.
Lolland’s flat farmland is enlivened by a smattering of family-friendly attractions – parents with their own transport should take the kids to see monkeys and tigers at Knuthenborg Safari Park, and to the vast, slide-filled waterpark of Lalandia. The most appealing of Lolland’s towns is Maribo, nestled on the shores of a bird-filled lake.
Maribo is easily the most agreeable of Lolland’s towns, with a picture-perfect setting on the shores of a large inland lake, Søndersø. Its historic cathedral, thick beech woods, waterside walking paths, and a few small museums are the main attractions – it’s really a place for slow strolling, breathing deeply, and letting all that tension slide away.