Imagine a place where the shy can be completely cloudless and azure, where the air is clean and fresh, where it’s neither too hot nor too cold, and where the people are friendly, whether they be artists, fishermen or tourists. I am talking about a place where you can fly SAS from Heathrow to Gothenburg in Sweden; then a Stena Line ferry from Gothenburg to Frederikshavn. Then your destination is just a 25-minute drive away. This will bring you to Skagen at Denmark’s northernmost tip in Jutland.
Skagen has its own temperament and seems bathed in all-year-round contentment. Take a coffee and a plate with a Skagenhorn, a sugar-crisped pastry filled with soft marzipan while listening to crickets and bees and the sound of Danish women cycling past, in no particular hurry.
Skagen, pronounced ‘Skane’ if you’re Danish, has a history of artistry and art appreciation. Before then it was a simple backwoods farming and fishing community, but then the Danish equivalent of the English Bloomsbury Group turned Skagen into a fashionable holiday destination for wealthy Danes: A sort of Scandinavian St Ives if you will. The beaches are white sand and the waters of the Skagerrak and Kattegat seas can batter this part of the coastline when the winds are up.
The landscape is very flat, as though the winds have levelled it over time, and covered with heathland comprised of spiky marsh grasses and yellow and purple flowers and bushes. Above you’ll see sparrow hawks and red kites.
Without getting to “arty” you do notice that there’s a very distinct and pleasing quality to the light. It’s probably down to the combination of surrounding water and flat land. It’s as though the light brings out more colours than possible elsewhere. The exposed position and flat land can mean that extremes of weather are experienced, rain, sun, heat, chills, winds and total calm…sometimes all in the same day or week!
The busy harbour is the bustling heart of Skagen. There are cruise liners and posh yachts rubbing shoulders with freighters and fishing boats. The dark copper-red wooden fish warehouses date from the start of the 20th century, but are now all converted to restaurants and cafés. However the fishing fleet still lands a catch every day, and wholesalers from across Northern Europe are drawn to bid for flounder, turbot and halibut, squid and eel, and gigantic Dublin Bay prawns that look like mini lobsters!
Unsurprisingly the restaurants major on fish, from humble, but delicious fish and chips to crispy calamari and through to mussels poached with tarragon in fish stock. If none of that takes your fancy then what about fish balls with a curry rémoulade and cranberry purée, served with delicious earth potatoes. That’s the trouble with Skagen, once you’ve visited it, you’ll not want to leave until you’ve tried every dish! It’s a place that will call you back again and again. But a lot of people don’t like spreading the word too much- they don’t want it to be swamped with tourists- which I think is a little selfish!