CPH Post

Discovering Læsø

At times, Læsø feels like the island that time forgot




July 5, 2014
07:00

by Jason Heppenstall


Læsø is a small island off the east coast of Jutland’s northern peninsula and possibly the only place in the world that boasts being self-sufficient in cucumbers. There are long ones, short ones, knobbly ones and ones that don’t look like cucumbers at all but rather strange sea creatures dredged up from the deep. Fields of them stretch to the horizon, and cucumber-laden tractors lumber along the narrow roads. It is fair to say that Læsø is probably self-sufficient in gherkins too.



But we hadn’t come to Læsø to admire its agricultural exports; we had come for a holiday. To get there, we had driven all the way from Copenhagen to Frederikshavn, which is almost the longest journey you can make in Denmark and a real test for our two young daughters in the back of the car.


We arrived just in time to get on the evening ferry. Onboard, we could already see Læsø out there in the distance, lying flat and shimmering silver in the late-spring light. In the cafeteria, a group of boisterous teens, still brimming with exuberant energy from spending the day in the relative metropolis of Frederikshavn, grew quieter and more reserved as the ship approached their home island.


By the time we arrived, it was getting dark. We had a bit of trouble finding the holiday home we had booked, despite it being less than 1 kilometre from the port. When we finally found the house, it was right by the island’s main road. But we needn’t have worried about noise from traffic – we soon discovered that, at most, this amounted to about one vehicle every ten minutes.

Like most holiday homes in Denmark, this was a wooden building set in about half an acre of lawn with a few pine trees dotted about. Inside, it was nicely cosy and warm – despite it being May, there was still quite a chill blowing in off the Baltic Sea. When we turned on the TV, it received a stronger signal for the Swedish channels than the Danish ones, which was perhaps unsurprising when you consider that Læsø isn’t all that far from the Swedish coast.


It wasn’t until the next morning – when we ventured out to explore the island – that I began to fall for Læsø’s understated charms. First, we visited the island’s largest village, Byrum (pop. 443), which boasts a supermarket, a church and a café or two. It’s a neat little place, and the only traffic seemed to consist of other holidaymakers stocking up on barbecue supplies and the local beer. The weather was bright and sunny, and it was one of those typically Danish days when the sky and the sea seem impossibly blue and the clarity of the light makes everything seem like a Technicolor film.


Circumnavigating Læsø is not exactly difficult. With a total land size of 18 sq km, it’s very easy to get to grips with the island’s idyllic rural charm. Cucumbers aside, what the island is most known for is its salt. Chefs swear by it, and there is almost no limit to what people are prepared to pay for the stuff. It is harvested from the southern part of the island, which is comprised of salt flats and marshes; in medieval times, when packing food in salt was the only way to preserve it, its export was the mainstay of the island’s economy. To keep up with the demand, islanders built huge cauldrons which they filled with sea water and lit fires underneath them.

It wasn’t too long before the booming salt trade left every tree on the island felled for firewood, creating a denuded and empty landscape. The salt trade crashed and, in short order, people began to starve. There’s a moral in this tale somewhere.

We had planned to spend a week on the island, and it was a very pleasant week indeed. Most days, we strolled along the northern coastline, the kids excitedly collecting bits of amber from the deserted beaches. The scenery, although it cannot be described as dramatic, is wild moorland filled with birds and butterflies. There are sand dunes to play hide-and-seek in and little woods filled with quaint cottages straight out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

Speaking of cottages, one thing that will immediately strike you about Læsø is the local building style. Forget thatched cottages – Læsø builders cover their houses with a material far more readily available and in plentiful supply: seaweed. The practice of piling layer upon layer of eel grass gives the island’s cottages a unique vernacular style that is quite unlike anywhere else in the country. They grow like bulky, misshapen thatches, hanging down in uneven globs and appearing distorted and swollen and startlingly unlike the neat symmetry of cottages in other parts of the country.


As our guidebook stated: “Læsø is not a place to head for if you’re seeking roaring night life and cultural stimulation” – and luckily, we weren’t. Instead, we spent the days cycling around the island, playing Frisbee in the garden and barbecuing fish bought straight from the fishermen’s shop down at the harbour. We visited a farm where our daughters could pet the rabbits and piglets, went horseback riding along a beach and spoke to a few of the islanders – including some former city-slickers who had made this little piece of paradise in the Kattegat their home.

It’s easy to see why Danes love to escape to Læsø, and equally as easy to see why they want to keep quiet about it. When I spoke to the lady at the tourist-information office, she seemed a bit taken aback that a foreigner would be visiting. Her quizzical look said it all as she asked, “Where did you hear about our island?”

Yes, Læsø is slightly off the beaten track, but that doesn’t make it any less worth visiting, and my whole family enjoyed our week there. Make the trip yourself and experience Denmark at its most tranquil.
 



Eat

Restaurants are a bit thin around the island, but some good ones can be found. Bakken, in the capital Byrum, offers traditional fare in a ‘hyggelig’ setting (restaurant-bakken.dk). Another good place – and probably the main restaurant on the island – is the Strandgaarden Badehotel, which occupies a historic building in a lovely setting (hotel-strandgaarden.dk).


Our pick: Læsø Crawfish Festival. Fresh langoustine is a Læsø speciality, and this festival will allow you to see local fishermen compete to win the Golden Claw. The festival also feautures gourmet cooking by leading nordic chefs. Held at the harbour in Østerby on Aug 2 (jomfruhummerfestival.dk)


Do
If you’re interested in seeing the old-style seaweed houses of Læsø, a visit to Hedvig’s House is a must (go to laesoe-museum.dk for details). There is also another example at På Lynget in the middle of the island. If you’re interested in sailing trips, the Seadog makes daily excursions (seadog.dk). For pony and horseback riding, check out Krobækgaard (rideferie.dk)


Our Pick: Læsø Saltworks: Take a step back in time and visit the island's golden age of salt production. Watch as the workers build fires beneath the bubbling salt pans, and come away with some of the prized white stuff yourself (saltsyderiet.dk)


Stay
Hotel accommodation on Læsø is limited, but there are plenty of B&B options as well as camping and holiday homes. One such B&B is Østergård, a lovely thatched house in a beautiful location (oeg.dk). If you’d prefer to camp out, head to Læsø Camping, which also offers cabins (laesoe-camping.dk). To rent a summer house on the island, have a look on 
ferieservice.dk

Our Pick: Camping.If you want to get really close to nature, you should consider staying at one of the island's two campsites (laesoe-camping.dk)
 



Getting there: Ferries go to Læsø from Frederikshavn in northern Jutland and make several crossings per day. It takes around 90 minutes to cross- fro more details see laesoeline.dk




Læsø

Situated in the Kattegat off the east coast of northern Jutland Læsø is a small island famed for the purity of itssalt,the freshness of its seafood and the peculiar style of its cottages. It is easily reachable, with ferries departing several times a day, and there are plenty of accommodation options, ranging from campsites and B&Bs to holiday homes and hotels. What's more, this is the perfect place to have a family holiday, with lots of open space and fresh air, so the kids can run around and use up their energy. If you like sunning yourself on almost empty beaches and dining out on fresh lobster, take a side trip to læsø and discover what it means to relax-Danish style.




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