Southern Jutland gets its inspiration from a few sources – from the North Sea, naturally, but also a little from the south. This is the only part of Denmark connected to mainland Europe, and in some places, you can feel the historic ties with Germany. This is a region of salty offshore islands, understated royal palaces, and character-filled historic towns, with unexpectedly modern treats in the form of edgy art and architecture, and offbeat design museums. The jewel in the crown is Ribe, the country’s oldest town, and historic Denmark at its most photogenic. The islands of Als, Fanø, and Rømø have clear-cut appeal for beach-going holidaymakers, and birdwatchers also love this region. The tidal rhythms of the Wadden Sea bring an abundance of feathered friends (and their fanciers). An eclectic mix of royal-watchers, castle-collectors, and design-enthusiasts will also be ticking must-sees off their list.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Kolding is an eminently likable mid-sized town with a crowd-pleasing mix of old and new, encapsulated in one of its major drawcards, the hilltop castle Koldinghus. After a stroll through the town’s old quarters, head to Trapholt to admire the modern furniture design for which Denmark is renowned.
Esbjerg (pronounced es-be-air) has a touch of the ‘wild frontier’ about it – a new city (by Danish standards) that’s grown big and affluent from oil, fishing, and trading. Its business focus lies to the west, to the oilfields of the North Sea, but its ferry link with the UK ceased in 2014. Esbjerg fails to pull heartstrings on first impressions – its silos and smokestacks hardly compete with the crooked, storybook streets of nearby Ribe. Away from the industrial grit, however, Esbjerg redeems itself with some quirky attractions and its easy access to the beautiful, time-warped island of Fanø, just a 12-minute ferry ride away.
The intimate island of Fanø holds more charm than the larger, more-popular island of Rømø, further south. And this island backs it up with two traditional seafaring settlements full of idyllic thatch-roofed houses, blooming gardens, and cobblestone streets lined with boutiques and cafes. Beach-goers are blessed with wide, welcoming strips of sand on the exposed west coast, and a lively summer-season atmosphere. All this, and it’s just 12 minutes from Esbjerg.
The crooked cobblestone streets of Ribe (pronounced ree-buh) date from the late 9th century, making it Denmark’s oldest town. It’s easily one of the country’s loveliest spots in which to stop and soak up some history. It’s a delightfully compact chocolate-box confection of crooked half-timbered 16th-century houses, a sweetly meandering river, and lush water meadows, all overseen by the nation’s oldest cathedral. Such is the sense of living history that the entire ‘old town’ has been designated a preservation zone, with more than 100 buildings registered by the National Trust. Don’t miss it.
WADDEN SEA NATIONAL PARK
One of the new national parks created in Denmark in the last few years is Nationalpark Vadehavet. Stretching along Jutland’s west coast from Ho Bugt (west of Esbjerg) to the German border, and incorporating the holiday islands of Rømø and Fanø, its marshlands provide food and rest for millions of migratory birds. In 2014, the park was admitted to the Unesco World Heritage list. The Wadden Sea extends 280 miles, from west Jutland south and west to the Dutch island of Texel. Large parts of the Dutch and German Wadden Sea have been national parks for years; with the Danish area now also protected, this is one of the largest national parks in Europe. It is one of the most important areas for fish, birds, and seals. Ten to 12 million waterbirds pass through the area on their way to/from their breeding grounds in northern Scandinavia, Siberia, or Greenland. The birds forage in the sea’s tidal flats, which are exposed twice every 24 hours.
Summer sees the large island of Rømø fill with tourists (predominantly from Germany). This is hardly surprising given the entire west coast is one long, sandy beach that’s prime happy-holiday turf, perfect for sun-bathing and sunset-watching or something more active. Rømø is connected to the mainland by a 6-mile causeway (with cycle lane). During the colder months, it’s a windswept sleeper with a get-away-from-it-all charm that couldn’t be further from its busy summer incarnation.
Tønder is an inviting place that’s had a rocky journey through serious flooding to German annexation; strong German links remain (not surprising, given Tønder’s proximity to the border, just 2.5 miles south). During the 16th century, a series of dikes were erected to prevent the imminent threat of flooding. In doing so the town isolated itself from its sea-port connection and turned elsewhere for economic prosperity. Lace-making was introduced – an economic windfall that employed up to 12,000 workers during its peak in the 18th century.
This little village is impossibly cute – if you could, you’d wrap it up and take it home for your grandmother. A royal castle, one of the most beautiful main streets in Denmark, and a church rich in frescoes are some of the gems to be found here.
Sønderborg, nestled on both sides of the Als Sund (Als Sound), nurtures a modern ambiance despite its medieval origins. In the mid-12th century, Valdemar I (the Great) erected a castle fortress along the waterfront and the town has since spread out from there. To some degree the town has shaped Denmark, acting as the battleground for two wars against Germany in the middle of the 19th century. In 1864, during the Battle of Dybbøl, Danish forces gathered here while a bombardment of 80,000 German shells paved the way for the German occupation of Jutland for some 60 years. After WWI the region once again became Danish soil. Postwar reconstruction of the city has led to its modern feel and a bombardment of another kind – the annual descent of German and Danish holidaymakers. There’s not as much English spoken in these parts; understandably, German is the second language for many.
The island of Als, separated from Jutland by the thin Als Sund, is relatively untouched by large-scale tourism and provides visitors with a snapshot of a laid back Danish country lifestyle. It’s a good region for lazy drives or cycling (bus schedules can be erratic). Down south is where the best beaches lie (nice and sheltered – locals recommend Kegnæs); up the east coast, you’ll encounter engaging little villages. And campgrounds are everywhere, heaving in summer with Danes and Germans. Information and maps for the area can be obtained from the Sønderborg tourist office. For island-hoppers, there are ferries connecting Fynshav on Als’ east coast to Søby on the island of Ærø.