Bornholm Holiday: Beaches, Bison and Beer

Far from the bustle of Copenhagen, an oasis of calm awaits on this picturesque Danish island boasting prime Scandinavian culture

Hasle røger, a ­smokehouse on the coast, sporting Danish flags | Photo: Miguel Roncero

The medieval Fortress of Hammershus | Photo: Miguel Roncero

A rail line in the powdery white Danish sand | Photo: Miguel Roncero

One of the favourite secret vacation localities of the Danes, the little island of Bornholm is a perfect place for discovering true Danish country life, away from fancy Copenhagen tourism.

Hasle røger, a ­smokehouse on the coast, sporting Danish flags | Photo: Miguel Roncero

Hasle røger, a ­smokehouse on the coast, sporting Danish flags | Photo: Miguel Roncero

Just three days earlier, we had been in the capital of Denmark, choked by hordes of tourists from all continents, all coming to see the Scandinavian home town of fairy tales – to pose in front of the Little Mermaid, to perhaps get a glimpse of the oldest monarchy in the world, to see the fashionable and youthful Copenhageners riding their bikes and vibrating joie de vivre.

By Friday evening, we were heading off to Sweden by train to catch our ferry to Bornholm – which sounds complicated, but isn’t. Due to its popularity among the Danes, you can choose from five ferries departing each day. You just get on the train to Sweden and from this point on follow everybody else.

The ferry ride, we discovered, is an adventure over international waters! Despite the clear weather the sun deck was almost empty, as most passengers were below decks in the duty-free shop stocking up on booze and candy.

Fantasyland for cyclists

As European inlanders, we headed outside to enjoy the sea, the remorseless wind blowing into our faces, the waves breaking against the sides in a weirdly relaxing manner, and the pleasant anticipation of spending the following 48 hours on a bike discovering the island. It all sounded perfectly reasonable and doable.

With an average distance across of about 40 km, we planned to see at least half of the island on a bike. After all, we had two entire days at our disposal. Sure, none of us rides a bike to work, and our weekends are of a rather, shall we say, “cultural” nature. Still, we imagined ourselves jovially cycling from town to town as soon as we hit land.

Arriving at our hostel, oddly located at the edge of a forest and yet close to the centre of Bornholm’s capital, Rønne, we enthusiastically jumped on rental bikes and hit the road northwards. Our destination was Hammershus, now the largest set of medieval ruins in Northern Europe.

We biked along the coastline, through lush forests, golden acres waving in the fresh breeze of the Baltic, and the view of Sweden, remotely visible on the horizon.

The medieval Fortress of Hammershus | Photo: Miguel Roncero

The medieval Fortress of Hammershus | Photo: Miguel Roncero

Our first pit stop was Hasle, a cute little town surprisingly snoozy for a Friday afternoon. Even one of the island’s landmarks, the traditional smoke houses, where we had expected to get good Danish sild (herring), was closed. This was when we first started to worry about not reaching Hammershus and returning on time.

In the end, we failed miserably. At this point, I could tell you that the 20 km separating Rønne from Hammershus were too much after a trip of several hundreds of kilometres by train and ferry, that our bikes were not good enough, or that we had to turn back because our headlights failed. The truth is, we were just not in shape.

Back in Rønne, we buried our shame in food. The chosen restaurant was a dimly-lit rustic steakhouse with loads of fish specialties, a great salad buffet and local beer. That very same day, one of us had turned 26, and the other one worked out a surprise dessert. Working together with the waiters, a crème brûlée would serve the purpose spendidly.

“Do you have candles?”

“Candles?”

“For the birthday dessert!”

“We have flags”

“Flags, what for?”

“That’s what we have in Denmark,” the waiter told us. Birthday cakes there are decorated with tiny Danish flags, not with candles.

“Well, can I have a match instead and stick it in the dessert?”

Silence.

“Would you like a big Danish flag?”

A few minutes later, dessert was served, together with tiny Danish flags, a lantern with a tea light candle, and Feliz cumpleaños (the birthday child was actually Austrian) written with chocolate cream.

A rail line in the powdery white Danish sand | Photo: Miguel Roncero

A rail line in the powdery white Danish sand | Photo: Miguel Roncero

Windswept fortress on a cliff

The next day, we decided to rent a car. Too ashamed to admit that the cycling was too much for us, we rode the bikes to the car rental office and hid them nearby. With a proper vehicle at last, we headed northwards once again, along the island’s beautiful country roads. Half an hour later, we arrived at Hammershus.

The fortress sits on a pronounced cliff hit by ferocious sea winds, dominating the northwest coast. In medieval times, it was a vast complex and an important centre for justice. Although those times are long gone, the size and complexity of the ruins bear witness to how great this place once was.

But the island had much more to offer, and after a walk through the old ruins we went towards Gudhjem along the north coast.

Gudhjem is one of Bornholm’s small towns, yet this one is a centre for caramel, pottery and glass art. Narrow streets, cute little shops, the smell of grilled fish and people strolling around enjoying ice cream all give this town a
Mediterranean mood.

Close to Gudhjem, in Østerlars, we discovered one of the most unusual churches we had ever seen, a Scandinavian round church. Round churches are the most genuinely
Scandinavian, and walking inside Østerlars’ church gives one the feeling of being in a place that was not used for worshipping only, but also for defending the community and storing food, tools and people.

Where the buffalo roam

It was already afternoon, so we had to hurry to get to our next stop: the Almindingen forest. This vast forest is home to a small, free-roaming herd of bison, brought to Denmark to repopulate the country with this once native species. For the next hour, we went through the forest, tiptoeing and whispering, constantly looking in all directions eager to see one of the ancient breed.

The only wild beast we came across was a petite deer, maybe even a fawn – the extent of our “wilderness experience”.

Our final destination for the day was a white sand beach, the kind few would expect to find in Denmark. Here we were almost alone, the sand so fine it formed tiny wind dunes even though the wind wasn’t all too strong. Only the sunset reminded us that it was time to get back to Rønne.

The next day we spent the time we had left in Rønne, mostly at the beach. Since it was a Sunday, even the tourist information office left us locked outside. Outfitted with good reading and Sudoku and only distracted by the occasional sunbathing Danish granny, we watched the day pass.

A few hours later, we were on a ferry again, with a half-completed Sudoku booklet and shoes full of fine, white Danish sand.

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