ONBOARD WIND SURF- Following a restful night’s sail westward from Copenhagen into the Baltic Sea, we find ourselves this morning anchored just off the tiny port town of Gudhjem on the Danish island of Bornholm.
Like most of our fellow passengers, we’d never been there and hadn’t even heard of the place until we booked this cruise. So we were all enthusiastic about having a look at Bornholm. Windstar Cruises has a knack for finding offbeat, hard to reach destinations such as this rendered accessible to Wind Surf thanks to the vessel’s shallow draft (16.5 feet).
Bornholm has a long history as a military and political center in the Baltic region. Its history, in fact, goes all the way back to the days of the Vikings and it has served as an important trading center throughout the ages. Located within 65 miles of Poland, Germany and Sweden, its strategic location is obvious. The island has been fought over for centuries remaining primarily under Danish and Swedish rule although it was captured by the Germans in 1940 and held until the end of World War II.
Owing to its reputation as the sunniest spot in the Baltic, Bornholm is a popular travel destination for people in the region, attracting thousands of summer visitors from Germany, Poland and the Scandinavian countries. Hence tourism is the main industry here, followed by dairy farming, fishing and art glass/pottery production. Arts and crafts shops and galleries are everywhere.
The topography of the island is surprisingly varied, ranging from dramatic, rock-bound shores in the north to sandy beaches in the south. There’s a dense pine and deciduous forest mid-island, with gentle rolling hills and farmland making up the rest. Picturesque fishing villages (like Gudhjem) dot the coastline.
Wanting to see as much of the island as possible, we signed on to the optional excursion Scenic Bornholm that promised to take in the major highlights.
Our guide for the 3-hour coach tour was a young Canadian man who¹d had the good fortune to marry a Danish resident of the island, and who wasted no time extolling the virtues of life in the world’s happiest nation, so designated by the UN’s World Happiness Report of 2016. I haven’t the space here to go into the details, but I can tell you that the Danes do indeed have it made. You may recall that Bernie Sanders pointed to Denmark’s system of democratic socialism numerous times during his campaign, calling it the model of his vision for America.
The first stop of the tour landed us at an extraordinary site Osterlars Rundkirke (round church) — one of four such churches on the island. They were built in the 10th century to serve as both a place of worship and as a fortification to defend against invaders. It is one fascinating and beautiful edifice, as you can see from the accompanying photo.
Continuing on the to the coastal village of Svaneke, we offloaded in the midst of an arts and crafts fair in the village square that provided an opportunity to see first-hand the fine craftsmanship of Bornholm¹s potters, glass blowers, wood carvers and weavers.
Next, a 30-minute cross-island jaunt led us through Almindingen, one of the largest forest areas in Denmark, and the capital town of Ronne, continuing on to Hammershus Castle ruins. Built in 1250, it is northern Europe’s largest medieval fortification, and a reminder that this now peaceful island was once fiercely contested ground.
Back in Gudhjem, with some free time to wander, we hiked through the town¹s narrow lanes, notable for a number of historic smoke houses that for hundreds of years have produced one of Bornholm¹s leading exports smoked herring. Neither Mel nor I are particularly fond of herring but, along with a couple of fellow passengers, we had to give it a try. At Gudhjem Rogeri, the town’s most popular smoke house, we ordered up the classic Sol over Gudhjem, or Sun over Gudhjem (smoked herring on toast, topped with a raw egg yoke). Reviews were mixed, but I can tell you it definitely didn’t taste like chicken.
August 24, 2016
Photos by Dave Houser