Have you ever wondered what a Samsinger is? Could it be someone who spends Friday evenings in Sam’s Bar on Strøget, belting out karaoke numbers? Or perhaps some kind of skylark-like bird that sings its song high above the duney beaches of Jutland? No, in fact a Samsinger is someone who comes from a small Danish island found 15 kilometres off the Jutland coast – a place that is renowned the world over for something special.
I’ll get into what makes the place famous in due course, but for now all you need to know is that, in any beauty contest between Danish islands, Samsø would probably be favoured to win. When you try to imagine this small island in your mind’s eye, picture a gently undulating landscape dotted with villages of thatched cottages, orchards humming with bees and fields of strawberries. Like every other Danish isle, it’s a peaceful place best explored at a leisurely pace, preferably on foot or by bicycle.
I must admit that I had heard so many good things about Samsø that I felt somewhat ashamed that I had never visited until now. And with Denmark’s compact size, there is simply no excuse for not visiting some of its most beautiful areas. So one Saturday morning, I simply jumped in the car and drove out west towards the coast of Zealand. From Copenhagen, it’s an easy hour and a quarter to Kalundborg in time to catch the 8:45 ferry. Getting on board couldn’t be simpler. If you haven’t already pre-booked, you can just drive up to the barrier and pay as you board.
The journey takes a couple of hours, and there are two restaurants on board, as well as a kids’ games room and a TV area. The views along the way are fine, and the route sails past Vesborg Lighthouse on the southern coast before you arrive at the port of Kolby Kås. Immediately when you disembark, you are confronted with the sight of dozens of purple bicycles. It’s simple to hire one, and then you’re off around the island in an environmentally friendly manner.
Which brings me to why Samsø is famous. In 1997, Samsingers decided that they wanted to create the first environmentally sustainable inhabited island in the world, becoming totally self-sufficient in energy. A good deal of hard work later, they have achieved that goal, and the island is now carbon-negative – this means they actually export more energy than they use. Among the sandal-footed tourists on the ferry, you might also see visiting delegations from places as far afield as Japan or Brazil, arriving on fact-finding missions to learn how this small island managed to travel so far down the road to sustainability.
Samsø might be tranquil these days, but it was exactly the opposite in Norse mythology. Some of the old sagas identify Samsø as the place where the god Odin learned Norse sorcery, and it was also the site of a legendary battle where the Swedish warrior Hjalmar fought the 12 sons of a beserker called Angrim. But things seem to have quietened down quite a bit since then, and sitting on the quay, watching the fishing boats come in at Ballen, the liveliest thing you’re likely to see are a few kitesurfers taking advantage of the breeze.
In terms of geography, Samsø is long and thin, with the northern section joined to the southern by only a slender spit of land. Nowhere on the island are you more than 3.5 kilometres from the sea. The main town is Tranebjerg, which has the most shops as well as banks and a few restaurants. It’s here that you can find the informative Økomuseum (Eco-museum), which will give you an overview of Samsø through the ages, as well as entry to a nearby farmhouse that is preserved as it looked in the 19th century.
On the eastern side of the island, not far from Tranebjerg, is Ballen. This lively fishing village has a beach and a number of seafood restaurants, including a smokehouse where you can sample traditional smoked seafood. We stopped to have lunch at the excellent Skipperly Restaurant, which serves up fresh dishes and herrings galore in a cosy ‘olde-worlde’ building that pays homage to the ships of yesteryear.
Nearby, you can buy locally – made ice cream and perhaps sample some of the area’s wine. Yes, that’s right – Samsø might be known for its new potatoes and strawberries, but wine production is perhaps one of the more surprising growth industries here, and you can visit some of the vineyards to see for yourself. If you want to sample more of the island’s produce, it’s a simple matter of just travelling around the back roads and stopping by local farms. Many of them have honesty boxes at the gate, and you can load up with honey, jam, strawberries, potatoes, onions and plenty more. Shops – who needs them?
For us, it was but a flying visit. We hopped on the 17:30 ferry and were back in Copenhagen by evening. So, while it is a perfectly practical day trip, staying on the island a little longer would be the ideal choice, and Samsø has plenty of accommodation options to choose from. With everything from swish boutique hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, campsites and holiday cottages, you’ll never be stuck for somewhere to stay.
Neither is there any shortage of things to see and do on Samsø. During your visit, you can get lost in a giant forested maze, play golf, pet animals on a farm, go sailing or diving, ride around in a horse-drawn carriage or roll down a hill in a giant plastic ball. And it goes without saying that the island has numerous art galleries and craft shops, selling ceramics, paintings and handmade cosmetics. Samsø might be small, but it definitely offers plenty to keep you entertained while you’re there.
Samsø has many restaurants catering to a variety of tastes. All of them go in for fresh local produce, with many also serving fresh seafood, such as herring langoustine and crab. If you want an expensive treat, head down to the Ballen Badehotel, which serves up excellent fare (ballenbadehotel.dk). At the other end of the scale – but no less of an experience – head across the harbour to Røgeriet, where various smoked delicacies are served up.
Skipperly Restaurant, Ballen. Charming atmosphere with fantastic seafood dishes and an ambience that harks back to the age of salty sea dogs (skipperly.dk).
Camping with your own tent or caravan is a popular – and cheap – way to enjoy Samsø. There are three campsites found on the island:
Sælvig Bugtens Camping (saelvigbugtens-camping.dk)
If you fancy a bit of luxury, check out the Ilse Made hotel, which also has an excellent restaurant (ilsemade.dk).
Being a popular destination, Samsø has something for everyone. Real ale-lovers should head down to the Samsø Brewery for a tipple (samsoe-bryghus.dk), or if you haven’t yet reached drinking age, perhaps a roll down a hill in a giant plastic ball is more appropriate (samsodownhill.dk).
Nothing beats travelling around Samsø at a leisurely pace with the wind in your face. You can rent both regular and electric bikes at the ferry terminal and Ballen (samsocykeludlejning.dk).
Ferries run several times daily from Kalundborg in Zealand to Kolby Kås and Hou in Jutland to Sælvig. Maximum crossing time is 2 hours. For more details check out faergen.com
Situated right in the middle of the sea between Zealand and Jutland, Samsø is a beautiful small island famed for the quality of its produce as well as its eco-conscious residents. You can easily get there from both Zealand and Jutland aboard ferries that depart several times each day. One of the best ways to explore the island is on a bicycle – you can either bring your own or rent one when you arrive at the ferry terminal.
The island is also famous for its many dining and accommodation options; it is a perennial favourite with Danish holidaymakers. You can try fresh seafood and wash it down with a glass (or two) of the local wine or beer. What’s more, there is plenty to do, with golfing and sailing being particularly popular activities. Samsø offers something for everyone, and it’s within easy striking distance from most places in Denmark.