The Amazing Island Of Ærø, Denmark
Hvad skal det være? (What do you want?)
I was in a bakery shop in Ærøskøbing, my first Danish bakery in over 10 years and I have to admit I was a little tongue-tied. The aroma of baked goods had drawn me here far before I even saw the place, and walking in I practically fainted in delight as I breathed in the hundreds of delicious choices in the shop. We’d need a whole month to get through all this, which was a challenge I was ready to accept. Being the travel genius that I am, that’s just about what I’d planned….
Jeg tager en smørkage og et halvt rugbrød, tak (I’ll have a smørkage and half a rye bread, thank you)
I went for the “butter cake”, a delight that Paul had tried over 20 years ago and has dreamed about ever since. And for myself I ordered half a rye bread, a proper multi-pound brick that’s surprisingly light and moist when you slice it up. Danes eat it for lunch with pålæg (cold cuts) on top, and I was definitely going full Dane for the foreseeable future.
We walked the cobblestone street with our treats to the harbor where we enjoyed a break hanging out on a bench by the water, munching and savoring the sweet taste of the cake, and soaking in the palette of red, yellow and pastel-colored half-timbered houses that lined the main road into town. This island was simply gorgeous, the perfect mix of pristinely-preserved old Danish architecture with wild nature, all of it bathed in a beautiful Scandinavian summer sun.
We’d planned 3 nights here, which would just about give us enough time to get a taste of this place, both literally and figuratively. Both of us agreed that it was an awesome spot to start our adventures in Denmark.
I’ve wanted to visit the little island of Ærø for as long as I can remember.
It’s known as the fairytale island, considered to be one of the most beautiful in the country, with a laid-back vibe that has undergone a youthful renaissance in recent years with a push towards organic farming, and artisans moving in to produce beer, whisky, soaps and beauty products, all kinds of art, and even hand-rolled cigars.
The houses, especially in downtown Ærøskøbing are iconic, pristine examples of some of the best-preserved 18th century architecture in Denmark. Some are much older dating back a full 750 years, and in the very oldest examples you might notice a particularly intense red color, the remnants of an ancient “paint” originally created from a mixture of ox blood and oil. Not something you’re likely to see everyday….
And of course there’s tons of nature all around, from forests to seaside cliffs. It’s a place to visit, chill, bathe, bike, sightsee and relax. Basically a spot to get away from it all, and enjoy some of the best Danish delights.
* Ferries to Ærø depart multiple times per day from 4 different spots in Denmark. They all accept motorhomes and pricing depends on size and season. For 7m long LMB plus two adults, we paid 426DKK for Fynshav > Søby (coming in from the West), and 660DKK for Marstal > Rudkøbing (leaving going East) during peak season. If we’d come in low season we’d have paid ~1/3 of this. If we’d parked LMB on the mainland and taken the ferry across as pedestrians we’d have traveled for FREE. All the ferries are dog-friendly and accept dogs in the lounge during passage.
Motorhome Camping On Ærø
There’s multiple spots to camp around the island, including several convenient harbor parkings (paid), and even a few free overnight spots.
For our first camp in Denmark we decided we wanted to be in comfort and as close to old town as possible, so we went for Ærøskøbing Camping, an open, grassy hillside camp, walking distance to downtown and the beach. The campground itself was decent with tons of amenities (a full-service kitchen, playground, camp store, good bathroom/shower facilities etc.), but it was pricey and finding a solid, level site for LMB proved to be a bit of a challenge. We ended up on a rocky spot at the top of the campground with excellent views, but a smidgen too close to the playground and general foot traffic for our liking.
If/when we come back, I think we’ll probably stick to harbor parking so we can spend a few days in each town and explore the entire Island from West to East. Or possibly, we’ll just stay off-island and take the ferry (free during summer for pedestrians & cyclists) for a day-trip or two.
For a first-time visit however the campground was ideal, and provided the perfect springboard for us to get a proper taste of Ærø.
Getting Around Ærø (incl. with Dogs)
There are three main towns on Ærø; Ærøskøbing, Marstal and Søby and you can visit them all by car, bus, bike or foot.
The bus goes everywhere and is FREE (and dog-friendly**!). It also takes bicycles at certain stops, a nifty benefit on the off chance that you bike effortlessly to a place, and then realize you had the wind behind you and can’t possibly make it back.
Otherwise biking and hiking trails are plentiful throughout the island. There is is a hefty 100km track that goes all around the island, a hilly 17km ride that take you through the “Ærø Alps”, and thankfully plenty more that are shorter and more Nina-cruise-bike-style (i.e. flat and easy). For hikers, the Archipelago Trail (~35km) along the south-side of the Island is a unique experience with several shelters/camps to stay at along the way.
We ended up biking most of the time we were there, and really regretted that we didn’t have electric bikes to extend our range. Bike trails in Scandinavia are so plentiful and so well-maintained (almost always off the main road, access literally anywhere, nicely paved etc.) that it’s one of the best ways to explore, but on my (admittedly) very handsome and rather heavy purple bike I can only kick out around 15-20km on the best of days. I would have looooved to explore 40-50km with electric assist. After this trip, electric bikes are definitely on our shopping list!
**Polly was welcome everywhere we went in Ærø including beaches, trails and restaurant terraces. Only indoor museums were off limits.
Sightseeing On Ærø
Our first day at camp, it was gorgeous and sunny.
We took a stroll into Ærøskøbing to see the old houses and walk the cobblestone streets. It’s a super-cool place, with rows of brightly-colored half-timbered houses, their walls bent and curved by the weight of time, and roofs slopped slightly outwards like little upturned noses. In the middle of town there’s an old church and a square with open-terrace restaurants, plus several cutesy tourist shops. Surprisingly there’s not that many people around (corona?), which admittedly we don’t mind. The whole thing is so darn picture-perfect I want to squeal with childish delight.
That afternoon we enjoy a chilly dip in the water and sunset by the beach. Vesterstrand is a typical stretch of sand and seaweed bordered by a unique line of 100-year-old bathing houses. The houses are pristine and lovingly maintained by the owners who pass them down from generation to generation (you literally can’t buy one these days). And of course, they’re the perfect photo subject. There’s another line of them in the eastern part of the Island by Marstal which are apparently even cuter, but we don’t make it out there to see them.
The Baltic ocean just steps away is good old-fashioned Danish seaside water; the type that hits you like an ice hammer and sucks the breath out of your lungs when you enter, but warms you up like a woolen blanket if you manage to survive the initial chill. I’m usually pretty cold-adverse, but just loooove the feel of the Danish ocean (an inherited Viking trait, perhaps?) so I bathe everyday we’re there. Polly is in total agreement, and drags us excitedly down to the water every time we go for a walk.
That afternoon I take a bike ride to Urehoved, a long, thin spit of land that juts out from the middle of the Island. It’s a gorgeous ride along windy trails past turquoise-blue ocean and wildflower-filled meadows the create layers of color reminiscent of impressionist paintings. At the tip I leave my bike, and walk around to see the cliffs, a much-smaller version of the larger Volderup Cliffs on the southern side of the island (yet another spot we don’t make it out to see). I seem to be the only person out and savor the trail like a sweet delight. Yessssss, this is exactly the kind of nature I came to see.
Then We Get a “Heat Wave”
The second day we wake to mist and heavy, dead air. The wind doesn’t lift a finger all day, creating a moist humidity and heat that’s almost unbearable despite a temp of only 27°C (~80°F). We make it into town for a lunch of fish and chips with remoulade but then the heat forces us all indoors with window covers down and the air conditioner on. God bless air conditioning!!
That afternoon I rip myself from the comfort of LMB to take another bike trail, this time east along the coast to the next town. It’s marked as the easiest trail in Ærø and is indeed befittingly flat, but the heavy humidity and little black bugs turn me back after ~10km at Ommel church.
Ideally I would have liked to ride as far as Marstal, and would also have loved to bike in the other direction to see the lighthouse at Skjoldnaes, but alas my legs are shot (and my butt too sore), so both must be left for another visit. It’s back to the AC for me….
A Final Morning By The Beach
On our final morning the sweet ocean breeze is back, and we all breathe a massive sigh of relief.
I head down to the water to photograph the beach houses in the early light while Paul and Polly head off for a longer walk. The sand is bathed in golden light and the gulls are crying their ocean song, the only sound other than the soft tide lapping at the sand. It’s quiet and gorgeous, and there’s literally no-one else around so I soak in the nature, imagining myself in a world far, far away.
We’ve had an awesome few days on Ærø, and although the weather was a little fickle (which is pretty typical in Scandinavia this time of year), we had some near-perfect days and lots of opportunity to enjoy the area around us. In a few hours we’d head off to our next magical place, (a spot well worth it’s own blog post), but the vibe of this Island would linger with us for many weeks more.
This was fairytale place indeed.