48 hrs on Ærø
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: AM
On an early Spring day we headed south through Denmark - with its 7000km of coastline and more than 400 islands - this time our destination was the beautifully peaceful island of Ærø, a place where time stands still, just what you need on a weekend break and as Denmark's 12th smallest island, at 88.1 square kilometres it turns out it isn't that small after all. Having taken the ferry from Svendborg we arrived in Ærøskøbing - købing deriving from old Norse meaning trade or market town, similar to the Swedish word köping. This fairytale town with its relaxed, idyllic and friendly atmosphere, cobbled streets, hollyhocks framing the houses with their unique details is one of Denmarks' best preserved medieval towns and most certainly one of the reasons why it received the Europa Nostra Award in 2002 for unique heritage preservation.
First off we headed to Den Gamle Købmandsgaard - a farmer's market, whiskey distillery and café stocked with locally produced artisan-made goods such as handcrafted marigold soap, dried seaweed, beer and whiskey all made on the island by the warm and welcoming locals. We were so taken by the place and the charms of Eli, that we decided to stay for lunch - platters of local cheeses, smoked lamb fillet, salamis and salmon served with homemade bread were just what these weary travellers needed after several hours of driving. Lene's homemade cakes were not really necessary of course, but sometimes one needs a sweet treat and these delights we would not have wanted to miss out on. Ready to roll, we continued exploring and generally soaking up the atmosphere of this authentic market town, full of history and culture. Stumbling upon Blåbær, a charming boutique farmshop with a café run by Dorthe, complete with a pig petting section - our girls even named them Big Brownie, Little Brownie and Grey Spreckle.
The island of Ærø is proud of its sustainability friendly policies, meaning that visitors can for example rent electric cars from the tourist office in Ærøskøbing and free Wi-Fi is also available in the harbour towns. It truly is such a special place with its own special language, hence why it is considered a wonderful island on which to get married. The islanders are very proud of this and the VisitÆrø site therefore provides helpful hints and tips on how to go about this, whilst local photographers such as Maria Fynsk Norup and Camilla Jørvad will make sure your big adventure is captured both authentically and creatively. A wonderful place to stay is the charming Pension Vestergade No. 44 run by the delightfully British Susanna and her ever present gordon setter, Tillie. She invited us in for tea and biscuits, floating effortlessly between English with us, Danish with our friends and German with the couple who had just gotten married the day before, whilst she set the table for us. We chatted a while, laughed a lot and she even had time to impart her wisdom onto our girls - with over twenty years experience of hosting travellers you would be well advised to curl up in the armchair in the well stocked library and let this lady take exquisite care of you. A travellers tip also worth mentioning is that this year in Denmark, schools go back around August 9th, so of course for those who take their holidays in August a bargain can be picked up making the most of the weather and saving some pennies - win win.
Each season brings with it a different aspect and shows the island in a different light. Spring offers lots to do on Ærø, how about the traditional Easter Saturday egg-cooking experience, where locals and newcomers, visitors and inhabitants, young and old gather on the beaches of the island to boil eggs and grill sausages on bonfires until darkness sets in, of course some of the local beers are also a welcome addition, nevertheless come rain, snow or sun, it is unmissable fun. During the summer the island comes alive with cyclists exploring the island, visitors seeking out the picture perfect pastel painted houses, adorable and full of charm with intricately carved doorways. As there is a unique micro climate on the island which is different to the rest of Denmark - walnuts grow in abundance and even feature in the local craft beer from Rise brewery - making farm shopping during the summer months a great adventure with the addition of figs, apricots and peaches as well as all the more usual fruits and vegetables. Autumn brings with it the harvest time and the annual Ærøskøbing Grand Prix, a well loved go-cart race through the town streets for children from 7-16 years old and at Christmas time the island is well known for its traditional markets.
With fields seemingly rolling into the sea and a landscape of majestically rising and sloping hills, the combination of pleasant beaches perfect for unwinding facing the South Funen archipelago and the more wild and rugged coastline facing the Baltic Sea, together with the amazing flora and wildlife on offer, nature itself is another great attraction on the island and with sustainable farming practices and idyllic cottage style B&Bs, this truly is a unique and magical place. With only 48 hours to spare - and experiencing the capricious three seasons per day weather of early spring - we only skimmed the surface of what this place has to offer, but this is however most certainly not our one and only visit, we will be making many more trips to this particular community centric island.