Stuart Winter won a cycling trip around Denmark in the 2012 competition. He discovers an enchanting coastal trail for bike-lovers and bird-watchers alike on the Danish Riviera
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If only Shakespeare’s tragic Hamlet could have looked out from the battlements of Elsinore to plan a bicycle adventure. All those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that plagued the troubled prince would have been blown away by a few hours’ pedalling across his wicked uncle’s Danish kingdom.
Nothing soothes the soul or clears the mind more quickly than the reassuring feel of a gentle breeze on the back and the sound of tyres caressing a bicycle path as it meanders through beech and spruce forests, or quaint coastal villages resplendent in thatched cottages painted in calming ochre tones.
Denmark may well be the setting of the greatest tragedy in literature but the hurly-burly of regicide and the machinations of court intrigue are at odds with one of Europe’s most tranquil landscapes, an enchanting coastal sweep that blends history, culture and nature.
The Danish Riviera dog legs 230km along the top of Nordsjaelland (North Zealand) from just north of Copenhagen in the east to Sejerøbugten in the west, and there’s no better way of savouring this living kolde bord – what the Danes call their equivalent of a smörgåsbord – than by bicycle and in a low, slow gear.
I am no Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome. Before this summer, the last time I had climbed aboard a bicycle coincided with the last time I fell off one – and I still bear the schoolboy scars. But the few weeks’ recent training beefed up my flabby calves and thighs a little, and once on the saddle of the provided Giant Hybrid bike, I felt ready to conquer the world. Well, at least Denmark’s comprehensive network of mostly level cycle paths.
The motorist is a second-class citizen here: bicycles are king. Drivers seem patient and forgiving of all those minor cycling indiscretions that ignite road rage back home. Waves and friendly smiles punctuate journeys. Nothing is hurried. Fellow cyclists stop and want to chat and when you explain you can only converse in English, there is no language barrier. It makes cycling all the easier, especially when asking the way. Not that you get lost too often.
My itinerary pack comes with maps and a kilometre-by-kilometre guide to the Danish Riviera. Castles and palaces abound. Fredensborg palace is a baroque masterpiece. Kronborg castle, the setting of Shakespeare’s supreme work, dominates the skyline at Helsingør (Elsinore).
At every gear change, there appears to be a sign pointing to a museum or gallery. The splendid Louisiana Museum of Modern Art at Humlebaek has works by Picasso, Henry Moore and Andy Warhol. The eponymous Karen Blixen museum celebrates the life of the author of Out of Africa.
But for someone with a lifelong addiction to watching nature’s masters of the sky, early autumn in Scandinavia means one just thing: to bird or not to bird – there was no need to ask the question. My companion on this trip, old school friend John Lynch – who is an expert at picking out small specks in the sky and turning them into rare and splendid migrant birds – made the journey as thrilling as any African safari. Each small bush seemed to be decorated with the glorious rusty tones of redstarts while, out at sea, eider duck bobbed on gently rolling waves.
We began our tour in the village of Snekkersten with a two-night stay at the charming hotel Villa Brinkly, looking out over the Øresund, the strait between Denmark and Sweden, which narrows to little more than 4km at Helsingør. The white sand beaches here are a gathering point not just for ducks but also for much of the local populace, who come in the morning by the score and bathe in the refreshing waters, the vast majority naked.
A pair of birdwatchers armed with binoculars could have caused a scene, but our focus was aimed far above. Migrating over open seas is perilous for the thousands of birds of prey that breed in Scandinavia’s taiga forests during the northern summer and head south as the days shorten.
The Øresund acts as an avian motorway, with birds gathering on the Swedish side to pick up buoyant thermals so they can glide southwards to Denmark with ease. In one afternoon we saw 11 species of raptor, including honey buzzards, ospreys and peregrine falcon.
From raptor-watching in the shadow of Hamlet’s castle, we took the coastal cycle route 47 for a leisurely ride towards to the bustling fishing port of Gilleleje on the northernmost tip of Zealand.
Hearty breakfasts and fine dining at our base, the Gilleleje Badehotel, provided the energy for us to continue the quest for more birds. The gardens and coastal paths awash with cerise-hued wild roses are perfect feeding areas for a host of small songbirds journeying south – even our hotel grounds hosted pied flycatchers, redstarts, whinchats and chiffchaffs in abundance.
With renewed vigour – Danish breakfasts are generous enough to fuel an entire Tour de France team – we bade farewell to Gilleleje and decided to plot our own course rather than the 20km route set out in the itinerary to the resort town of Tisvildeleje, and a two night stay at the stylish Helenkilde Badehotel with its cliff-top setting and proximity to an ancient spring steeped in legend.
Over the centuries thousands of pilgrims have sought the healing properties of the nearby spring which is said to have sprung up at the spot where the body of a murdered Swedish maiden was washed ashore.
En route to Tisvildeleje, our journey through the Riviera back country took us past postage-stamp fields and along lanes bedecked with wild-flowering chicory the colour of the azure afternoon sky. Out of the blue, John’s eagle eyes focused on a dot soaring thousands of feet above. Hurried adjustments to the binoculars morphed the shape into a superb, adult white-tailed eagle, a huge creature with an eight-foot wingspan, reminiscent of a flying barn door. It was an indelible memory of an unforgettable holiday.
• This Danish Riviera self-guided, hotel-to-hotel cycling holiday was provided by Inntravel (01653 617000, inntravel.co.uk). It costs from £1,065pp for six nights, including accommodation on a B&B basis, four dinners, luggage transfers, route notes and maps, and cycle hire. The holiday operates between 25 May-30 September. Flights were provided by easyJet, which flies to Copenhagen from Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted
Read Stuart’s winning entry for the 2012 competition at tinyurl.com/o3gykg8
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663875/s/31347af9/sc/10/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ctravel0C20A130Csep0C130Cdenmark0Ecyclingholidays/story01.htm