With 7,000km of coastline you can always find an empty beach in Denmark, as well as bike routes, Viking history and delicious food along its shores
Wherever you are in Denmark, you’re never more than 50km from the sea. I can’t imagine sitting on a crowded beach, however beautiful it might be; Denmark has 7,000km of coastline so it’s the perfect solution for me.
Think long, pristine and secluded beaches … If it’s space and solitude I’m after, I will usually pick a beach at random on the map, well away from any town. I will sometimes make my way there by bicycle and spend the night sleeping on dunes under the stars. The Baltic island of Bornholm is a firm favourite, with its rugged cliffs, and beaches with sand so fine it was once used for making hourglasses. The best way to explore the island is by bike, on an established 102km coastal route.
If you are visiting Denmark around 23-24 June, you are likely to be invited to gather round a huge beach bonfire with much drinking, eating, singing and merriment. Known as Sankt Hans Aften, this evening festival celebrates St John, who, according to the Christian calendar, was born six months before Jesus. The tradition is much older though, and based on an early pagan summer solstice ritual, when fires were lit to scare away witches. The bonfires are often topped with an effigy of a witch.
One of the more surreal places I have visited on the Danish coast is the Råbjerg Mile. Just south of Skagen, it is one of the largest migrating sand dunes in Europe: it is about 40m high and moves about 15 metres every year. It is currently in the process of consuming both a church tower and a lighthouse.
You can stand with one foot in the Baltic and the other in the North Sea, on the Grenen sandbar at the northernmost tip of Jutland. Here, the currents fight an eternal battle with waves from the Kattegat (Baltic) and Skagerrak (North Sea) straits, which collide over a narrow spit of sand. Even on the calmest of days this is a spectacle that always – for me – conjures up a vision of Viking longships heading west to invade the shores of what is now England. With Norsemen in mind, a firm favourite for all the family is the Viking ship museum at Roskilde.
The coastline of the South Funen archipelago has a unique network of hiking shelters, each designed so that it does not interfere with the landscape. In some locations there are individual shelters, and in other places you will find them in groups. Some of them can be booked in advance; others are free, available on a first-come-first-served basis. I find the best way of moving between them and exploring the 55 low-lying and tranquil islands that comprise the archipelago is by hiring a kayak (nicusnature.com). Novice kayakers can hug the coast in the shallow water, and those with more experience can cross between islands.
As a big fan of both seafood and new Nordic cuisine, I always find myself spoiled for choice in Denmark. Each region of the country seems to have a different – and equally delicious – way of preparing and serving herring. My favourite place to eat is the very special Restaurant Kadeau, in a quiet location on Bornholm’s south coast. Ingredients, from fish to fruit, are locally sourced and foraged. Expect dishes featuring herbs and berries as well as fish, prepared using traditional techniques of smoking and pickling. Equally special is preparing a hamper of local produce and then having an evening beach picnic-dinner.
• Ben Love is a translator and writer who has spent several summers exploring the Danish coastline. His book, Wild Guide Scandinavia (£16.99, Wild Things Publishing), charts the best wild adventures in Sweden, Norway, Iceland and DenmarkRead more at theguardian.com