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A smudge of land in the middle of the Baltic Sea, Bornholm belongs to Denmark but lies closer to Poland than Copenhagen. The island’s location has long been significant: In recent centuries, Bornholm was a poker chip tossed between warring countries and a major trade station during peaceful eras. At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union did not withdraw from the island for almost a full year after peace was declared. During the Cold War, NATO buried a radar station within its Almindingen forest to spy on East Germany and Poland.
This turbulent legacy, combined with the island’s geographic isolation, means that its people are more Bornholmian than Danish. Islanders have a unique dialect, which sounds a bit like Swedish (Sweden also occupied the island on and off for a period). They are a strong-willed bunch: An old legend goes that on a sailing ship, captains would not allow more Bornholmians onboard than there were masts on the vessel in case a quarrel broke out and those from Bornholm had to be tied up. They are also warm and pragmatic, and possess a vast inventory of stories about trolls.
At 227 square miles, Bornholm is roughly twice the size of Martha’s Vineyard, and like that isle, its topography is a blend of dramatic cliffs, sandy beaches, and gently rolling farmland. It’s a favorite summer getaway for Danes, as well as for Swedes, Germans, and increasingly, Poles. For mainland Danes, whose country is only half the size of South Carolina, getting to Bornholm can seem like a long haul. Yet it’s actually quite easy to reach from Copenhagen via a 35-minute flight or a combined three-hour drive and ferry ride.
In the summer, families while away long days at the beach and eat plump strawberries from roadside stands and ice cream spiked with local honey. Cyclists roll past cow-filled meadows, and twilight creeps in around 11 p.m. Come autumn, the bulk of visitors retreats and the island quiets down: Dueodde beach draws bird lovers to watch the migration of yellow-browed warblers and common cranes, anglers go after big salmon and sea trout, and golfers bask in an Indian summer. Get a taste of island life with our Bornholm, Denmark slideshow.
Things to Do in Bornholm, Denmark
Bornholm has cultural, culinary, and historic diversions in addition to the outdoor attractions one expects of a pretty island. A single day might easily include hiking to a waterfall, perusing modern art, exploring medieval ruins, scrambling up sand dunes, and tucking into a multi-course meal with wine pairings.
A first stop should be Hammershus, the remains of a castle built around 1260 by Sweden’s archbishop of Lund. Over the years, it housed rulers and served as a citadel, barracks, prison, and convent. Today it comprises one of Northern Europe’s largest castle ruins. Hammershus possesses the most scenic panorama on the island, and in warmer months, sheep amble about its perimeter. Other noteworthy sites on Bornholm include four round churches built in the 12th century to serve as both worshipping spots and fortresses. Today these striking whitewashed structures with black conical roofs host weekly services and the occasional classical concert. For a hands-on experience, head to Middelaldercenter (www.bornholmsmiddelaldercenter.dk), a family-friendly, recreated medieval village with farm animals and staged demonstrations.
Artists have long been attracted to the landscapes and light of Bornholm. In the early 20th century, a group of young painters developed a distinctive style of modernist landscape painting with roots in cubism and fauvism that came to be known worldwide as the Bornholm school. Today, that and other work by local artists hang in the Bornholms Kunstmuseum (www.bornholmskunstmuseum.dk), a sleek building with contours that match the sloping terrain. Inside, a narrow stream of water trickles through the galleries and eventually runs into the Baltic Sea.
These days, the island is famous for ceramics and glassblowing. Practitioners of both crafts come from all over the world to work in Bornholm and visitors can watch live demonstrations at various workshops or view the end products in a sprawling exhibition space, Gronbechs Gard (www.groenbechsgaard.dk).
Most guidebooks recount the legend of how God created Bornholm by cobbling together the most beautiful leftover parts of Scandinavia: granite cliffs, rolling meadows, robust woods, and soft, wide beaches. The white sand of Dueodde beach, for example, is so finely grained that for centuries it was exported around the world for use in hourglasses. The water usually stays warm enough for a swim - at least for those with a Viking spirit - until October. Visitors will also find dozens of hiking and biking trails hugging the coast and winding through Almindingen, Denmark’s third-largest forest. While traversing sun-dappled trails beneath pine boughs, past old peat ponds and into open heaths spotted with roe deer, visitors might experience a rather pleasant sense of disorientation: “Am I really on an island in the Baltic Sea?”
Where to Eat in Bornholm, Denmark
When it comes to dining on Bornholm, eating locally raised food is both an everyday and exalted habit. During early autumn, locals take to the woods to forage for wild chanterelles and sauté them at home with brown butter, garden tomatoes, and slices of potato. In the spring, walking through the forest releases a pungent trail of wild garlic and chives from underfoot.
The island’s most illustrious culinary star comes not from the woods but from the sea, and locals will happily tick off their favorite preparations, which may include smoked herring, fried herring, pickled herring, fermented herring, dried herring, herring in sugar and vinegar, curried herring, herring with mustard and dill, and so forth. Danish herring, sild, is worlds apart from the sharp American variety, and most visitors are smitten after the first smoky, salty, tender bite. The signature dish of Bornholm, sol over Gudhjem, is a herring fillet on rye bread topped with raw egg yolk, onion, chives, radishes, and sea salt. Though herring holds the rank of high delicacy on the island, it’s blessedly cheap and best enjoyed with plastic utensils while savoring a cold beer. In the town of Allinge, the traditional smokehouse restaurant Nordbornholms Rogeri (www.nbr.dk) furnishes such accoutrements during its lunch buffet, served on seaside picnic tables, with suds from Bryghuset (www.svanekebryghus.dk), a brewery in nearby Svaneke.
Quaint Svaneke is also home to the old-fashioned ice cream parlor Svaneke Ismejeri (www.svaneke-is.dk), which crafts treats using milk from local Jersey cows, honey from neighboring town Ibsker, and fresh Nordic fruits and berries. At Lakrids by Johan Bulow (www.lakrids.nu), gourmet licorice is made by hand in flavors ranging from chocolate to chili.
Though one could subsist entirely on smoked fish and wild blueberry sorbet while in Bornholm, a few of the island’s more formal eateries warrant a visit. Lassen’s Restaurant (www.hotel-romantik.dk) located within the Hotel Romantik, offers a French-Danish menu in a room overlooking the crashing sea. One starter pairs sweetbreads with an elderflower vinaigrette; an entrée of duck confit and crispy duck ravioli is served with an eggplant puree, glazed baby carrots, and pickled onions. On the south end of the island, down a long dirt road sits beachside Kadeau (www.kadeau.dk). The small room is awash in white and encased by windows framing a strip of blue ocean; the cleanly demarcated colors pop like a Hockney swimming pool. What shows up on the plate is no less artfully composed – beef tartare is delicately arrayed with wild garlic, cress, dill, and horseradish mayonnaise atop a fresh rye crumble. A dessert of vanilla yogurt and buttermilk is interspersed with shoots of wood sorrel and ferns, and another pairs strawberries with anise-tasting sweet cicely ice cream. When asked about an herb on the menu – lovage, a distant cousin of celery known as “love parsley” in English – the waiter plucked some from where it was growing by the outdoor deck as a sample.
A 10-minute drive from Kadeau is the island’s first and only winery, Vingarden Lille Gadegaard (www.lillegadegaard.dk). The wine isn’t exactly sweeping up accolades (young enterprise, northern climate) but it does turn out tasty sparkling red and black currant wines and the setting is idyllic.
Finally, don’t leave the island without trying blue cheese made by local outfit St. Clemens, the only producer to twice win the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association’s title of World Cheese Champion.
Where to Stay in Bornholm, Denmark
If arriving by ferry, visitors will come ashore in Ronne, the commercial heart of Bornholm. Though not especially charming, Ronne has all the facilities of a sizeable town, including a bus station, car rental offices, and a tourism office, Bornholms Velkomstcenter (www.bornholm.info). The airport lies about 4 miles to the south. From Ronne, visitors can bike, scooter, bus, or drive to the other side of the island where the most attractive towns – Sandvig, Allinge, Gudhjem, and Svaneke – and top accommodations lie along the northeast coast.
In the late 1800s, a Berlin architect designed Hotel Romantik (www.hotel-romantik.dk) as a summer home for German gentry, and it became a hotel in 1938. The original honeymoon suite features a curious loft bed reached only by a precipitous ladder (to augment the sense of reward? challenge?). Nearly all the hotel’s 17 rooms have Baltic views; the hotel can also book nearby apartments that sleep up to six people.
About 5 miles south is the Stammershalle Badehotel (www.stammershalle-badehotel.dk). Built a century ago, the seaside hotel has 17 bright rooms done up in white, most with sweeping ocean views. Splurge on Deluxe 1, a suite with a bathroom that offers side-by-side rainfall showerheads facing the ocean. Outside is a tennis court and a heated swimming pool, and inside, comfy chairs and a pot-bellied stove for chilly days.
Further south in Gudhjem lies the 138-year-old Jantzens Hotel (www.jantzenshotel.dk) with 16 small but cozy rooms set in a cheerful fin de siècle building. Guests can enjoy a scrumptious homemade breakfast in a flower-filled garden. Recently the hotel added a new amenity: two retro MG sports cars, which can be rented for zipping along the island’s coastal roads with the top down until the last daylight fades away.
Combine With A Trip to Copenhagen
Where to Eat
Copenhageners are accustomed to having their city top all kinds of lists – most livable, cleanest, coolest – so it was no surprise this spring when local eatery Noma (www.noma.dk) was named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine. It was also no shock when it subsequently became next to impossible to get a reservation. Fortunately Noma, which traffics in esoteric Nordic ingredients such as Greenland musk ox and unripe elderberries, is merely the leader of an exceptionally good pack.
Dinner at Kiin Kiin (www.kiin.dk) begins with house-brewed beer and progresses to course after course of modern Thai dishes like baby lobster with frozen galanga and tamarind or guinea fowl with satay sauce and green plums. At $250 a person with wine pairings, Kiin Kiin is not cheap, but its unique Danish-Thai preparations make it a smart splurge. Mid-range dining options also abound. In the Vesterbro neighborhood’s newly hip meatpacking district lies Kodbyens Fiskebar (www.fiskebaren.dk), which opened in June 2009 and dishes up fresh fish and seafood to a chic crowd straight out of The Sartorialist. Across the way, Karriere (www.karrierebar.com) is an art gallery–bar that serves well-crafted cocktails beneath light installations by Olafur Eliasson. Find a mellower scene nearby at Paté Paté (www.patepate.dk), which also opened last summer, where diners enjoy rustic French-, Spanish-, and Moroccan-inspired cuisine in glowing candlelight.
Where to Stay
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Radisson Blu Royal Copenhagen (www.radissonblu.com/royalhotel-copenhagen), the design of which – from restaurant cutlery to the now-famous Egg and Swan chairs – was overseen by the godfather of Danish design, Arne Jacobson. In honor of the anniversary, the hotel is offering a package throughout 2010 starting at $290 a night.
Getting To and Around Bornholm, Denmark
BY AIR: Cimber Sterling and Norwegian fly nonstop from Copenhagen to Bornholm (35 minutes) year-round.
BY FERRY: A ferry runs regularly between Ystad, Sweden, and Ronne, Bornholm, and the trip takes an hour and 15 minutes. Reservations for the ferry (www.bornholmstrafikken.dk) are essential for those bringing a car, especially during the summer. Travelers coming from Copenhagen have three ways to reach Ystad: car, bus, or train.