Depending on who you believe, the remote Danish picture book island of ærø can either be pronounced as it sounds – as in aerodynamic – or if you’re a stickler for the Danish language, it can sound a bit like a particularly violent sneeze.
But there’s nothing remotely violent about the island itself – whose main claims to fame are being home to the world’s largest solar power plant and seeming to be plucked from the pages of a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. All woozily angled bungalows and eye-catching doors, brightly painted in pastel shades and wearing the year of their build with pride in iron horseshoes.
We were there for a friend’s wedding and it certainly lends itself well for that purpose. The happy couple had an intimate affair in the end, the distance and expense caused a fair few invitees to drop off – but really getting there is not so hard, if you don’t mind taking a few trains and ferries.
We stopped off first via an overnight stay in Copenhagen, a very calm, pleasant – and surprisingly quiet – capital city, staying at the Hotel Absalon, an unpretentious modern railway hotel just a few minutes walk from the Central Station. Copenhagen wasn’t quite as expensive as we were led to believe either, with a really tasty and ample Smorebord platter for 2 in one of the main squares coming in at just shy of 25 Euros.
We particularly enjoyed strolling around the orderly landscaped gardens of Kongen’s Have, past the scout hut-like cottage buildings and side streets around Nyhaven and taking in the fine esplanade walk past the grand Gefion fountain, the National Gallery and gawping in awe at the people dangling from the ridiculously high rides in Tivoli Gardens.
It’s a city that often makes you crane your neck to the heavens, we didn’t go in, but the Roundtower looked interesting for those with more time. The main thing that struck us about the city was just how quiet and orderly it was. Even during the midweek rush hour, it seldom had the bustle you’d come to expect from a capital city.
Train to Svendborg
Then we trotted off to the station for a 2 train journey to the ferry port of Svendborg. The station, done out in that dense dark brown brickwork beloved of the Danes, is a perfectly pleasant place to dwell, having retained its wooden struts and typical railway architecture.
The Danish trains we rode on were certainly busy (reservations were definitely necessary), but very comfortable, with wide seats and enough luggage space. We didn’t notice a buffet service or car on this short journey. It’s worth noting too that this journey goes via Copenhagen Airport, whose station is handily directly located in the terminal building.
The booking process using the Danish national operator DSB was noticeably smooth and easy – they even allow you to amend your booking up to a day before you travel at no extra charge. You can print your tickets at home, just remember to have your credit or debit card handy to show the inspector. The return 2 hour journey cost around £80 per person, including reservations.
Some 75 minutes later, having past a few water-based windfarms, farmland and the music festival town of Roskilde, we got into Odense. A tight connection there meant there was no time to explore the town, but if the view from the station platform of grim modern architecture is anything to go by we probably didn’t miss too much.
Odense to Svendborg
Our second journey was shorter and on a smaller train where seats were at a premium. Soon enough though we reached Svendborg, which looked quite charming, if a little sleepy. We struggled to find a cafe that was open on a Sunday afternoon, eventually settling for a table in the quirky, piggy bank festooned pub just around the corner from the station. A real local’s place reeking of rich pipe tobacco.
A few minutes walk from the station is the ærø ferry terminal. The crossing takes 75 minutes and a return ticket will set you back around 200 Krone, or £25. You can buy your ticket on board. The jollily painted ferry is a fair size, with plenty of seats on the two lower decks, picnic style benches on the top deck and a basic cafeteria on board. You’ll pass many small islets, populated mainly by seabirds.
The ferry docks at Aeroskobing, one of the island’s three ‘towns’ and the closet it has to a centre. A few minutes walk from the port you’ll find the main street, mostly impossibly pretty houses, a few gift shops, restaurants and ice cream parlours.
There’s a Tourist Info Office, just by the port, plus a cafe (both were shut when we arrived after 5pm) and there’s a Netto supermarket just around the corner for all your essential supplies. The area’s a bit of a building site currently, as a multi-purpose arts centre is being built, but don’t let that put you off, there’s still plenty of natural and architectural eye-candy to feast upon.
We stayed at Villa Bloomberg, up a quiet country lane (also home to the solar plant) a 15-20 minute walk from the port. This former boarding school building was converted into a hostel earlier in the year. It’s wonderfully set with views of the water, windmills and gently rolling fields.
Being a hostel, the accommodation is fairly spartan, but cosy enough with many double rooms and plenty of shared bathrooms with powerful showers. Excellently run by good humoured retired chef Keld, with a little help from his two sisters, you can expect a very friendly, easygoing welcome here and truly superb traditional Danish food served at generous breakfast and dinner sittings.
Our brief stay on the island didn’t allow for too much exploration, but we would recommend dropping into the Pension Vestergade, for afternoon tea. The pension is a gorgeous 18th century cottage built by a wealthy sea captain at a time when the island was effectively independent and allowed tax-free living – and run today by delightful English emigree teacher Susanna.
Her house, with its beautifully rambling wooded garden, is packed from floor to ceiling with books, stuffed animals, object d’arts and curios in every nook and cranny. It really feels more like staying with your eccentric Danish auntie than at the average BnB.
The town museum, which doubled as the registry office for the wedding ceremony, looked like it would be an intriguing spot to while away an hour or so, but mostly the appeal of ærø lies squarely in going for quiet rambles along the calm coast and farmlands.
There is something ever so slightly eerie about ærø , such is its charming remove from ‘civilisation.’ As tourists dragging our cases from the port on arrival we felt more than a little bit conspicuous. I half expected to be chased by one of those giant bubbles that emerged from the sea in the Prisoner. That said, everyone we met was unfailing friendly and welcoming.
Know before you Go
Depending on your time of arrival, it may be worth arranging your transport from the ferry in advance. There is a (free!) bus service on the island but departure times are sporadic and you will probably struggle to find a taxi. Our helpful hosts offered to collect us by car.
More to see around ærø