Denmark: Danish Delights

Denmark combines gentle landscapes with a strong cycling culture, providing an ideal destination for a holiday on wheels. CHARLIE FISHER recounts the story of his tour

Denmark looks like a country created entirely from scratch by cyclists. It has the right terrain, the cycle-friendly facilities in the town centre; modest distances and cycle paths: in short, everything a cyclist could want.

It is joked that if you stand on a crate of beer in Denmark, you can survey the entire country with ease. Enthusiasts of hairpin bends, cols and altimeters will certainly find nothing to whet the appetite here. I did discover one steep climb in the Rebild National Park in the north of the country, however. It soars to an impres­sive 400ft above sea level!

The cycle paths themselves vary considerably, but are generally free from the bro­ken glass and canine memorabilia found on too many paths at home. Some are laid with gravel and run through woodland a short distance from the road. Others are smoothly asphalted: two-lane miniature roads alongside the real thing. Even the quietest country lanes sometimes have a separate cycle path. Those that don't are still well maintained. There are no potholes or projecting drain covers here.

There are cycle stands outside most of Denmark's shops and offices. One interesting design held the bike by the handlebars. But it wouldn't hold my heavily-laden tourer secure. I discovered this after causing a conspicuous demonstration of the domino effect.

The jewel in Denmark's cycling crown is the comprehensive signposting of the extensive cycle route network. While road traffic is directed from A to B by the most direct route, cyclists are directed along a delightful mixture of cycle paths and quiet country roads. A map showing these routes is available from the Danish Tourist Board.

The biggest obstacle to a cyclist's progress in Denmark is the wind. Based on my experiences, this means a gale roaring in off the North Sea. On a dry day near the west coast, the wind may carry an unpleasant amount of sand. This is the price the Danes pay for some of the longest sandy beaches in Europe.

Although flat, the landscape isn't dull. The skyline is punctuated by three unlikely structures: telegraph towers that look as if they could withstand a siege; old windmills, idle yet well preserved; and the modern wind turbine. These gently turning beasts have been hailed as saviours of the energy crisis. They are certainly not the eyesore some claim. If only all high-tech solutions to energy needs could look so elegant!

Western Denmark has one major tourist attraction that is known all over the world: Legoland. It is well worth a visit, if only to see what you could have built yourself years ago had parental miserliness not denied you adequate building materials! Outdoor and indoor exhibitions, rides, cafeterias and the history of Lego - you really need a full day to do it justice. The shop price tags reveal why your own children are unlikely ever to construct the JCB with working hydraulics!

My normal day was spent cruising past picture-pretty farm buildings and white­washed village churches. The larger towns of Viborg and Aalborg were no less pleas­ant. I spent a few hours in each admiring the architecture: functionality and beauty are harmoniously combined.

On my last day in Denmark I rode up to the extreme northern tip of the country. A few kilometres from the top is the quaint old fishing town of Skagen, notable for its many yellow-painted wooden buildings. The weather dissuaded me from doing what many visitors come to this thin sandy wedge of the country to do - stand in the water with one foot in each of the Kattegat and Skagerak seas! I preferred to watch the brave few from the dizzy heights of the nearby lighthouse.

Despite the good cycle paths, the little traffic in the towns and the lack of potholes, I still had a couple of mishaps. The first was when I hit a patch of soft sand. I mistakenly assumed that if it's possible to drive on the beach, then it's also possible to cycle on it. To the spectacle of a fine sunset, I added that of a cyclist gracefully somersaulting over his handlebars.

The second mishap arose from a collision with a newspaper! It was tightly folded, wrapped in plastic, and dropped on a country lane at the end of a long drive­way. The unwary cyclist should beware. Cats and dogs have tried unsuccessfully to trip me up at home on many occasions, but never newspapers!

In Denmark cycling is widely used for travelling to work and to the shops. Conspicuous by their absence are mountain bikes. I only saw a couple. The typical bike might be a very unstylish crossbar-less machine, with a single chainring and a five-speed hub gear. Chainguards, kickstands and rear wheel locks are fairly standard extras. These bicycles indicate a general commonsense unpretentious approach to life. The Danes opt for functional, easily-maintained machines, rather than something that glows in the dark and is capable of ascending a one-in-three gradient.

My experiences in Denmark can be summed up in one word - relaxing. I could feel myself unwinding to the slower pace of Scandinavian life.

Geography

Denmark comprises a large peninsula Jutland) and about 500 islands of varying sizes, of which 100 are inhabited. The most important are Sealand, on which Copenhagen stands, and Funen. The land is undulating and nowhere rises over 173m above sea level, so the cycling is rarely hard. Westerly winds off the North Sea can be strong. The terrain varies from dunes and heathland along the west coast of Jutland to beech forests, fields and lakeland both inland and on the islands.

 Attitudes

The bicycle is as much a cultural symbol of Denmark as the car is of America. There are around 5m Danes and three-quarters of them own a bike. More passenger miles are clocked up by moped and bicycle here than by train. The bicycle is seen not as a poor man's vehicle but as an integral part of the nation's transport system.

Transport

Road traffic is light, despite well-maintained roads. Although 1.6m Danes own cars, many cycle rather than use them. The network of secondary roads is extensive and fairly traffic-free.

Outside the major towns coaches will carry up to four bicycles. Bikes share the space with prams, however, and prams have precedence.

Denmark's many islands are served by punctual and comfortable ferries. They will all take bicycles and it is rarely necessary to pre-book. Most ferries have at least a kiosk on board and the larger ones have restaurants, mother-and-baby rooms and amusement arcades.

 Cycle facilities

Copenhagen had 50km of cycle track as early as 1912. Since then cycle tracks have appeared alongside many major roads throughout Denmark. The cycle tracks are kept in a good state of repair and are separated from the road and the pavement by kerbstones. Those not running directly alongside roads tend to be two-way asphalted tracks, separated by a white line. In conjunction with the cycle paths, traffic-calming measures have been implemented in many areas of Denmark. Recreational cycle paths are all over the country - routed through rural areas or urban backwaters, away from cars and other traffic. Cycle parking facilities are available almost everywhere.

 Fixing your bike

Since so many people cycle, there are a lot of bike shops per head of population. Most will carry out repairs. A useful phrase if you're stuck: 'Hvor er der en cykelsmed?' (Where can I find a bicycle mechanic?).

Touring

Denmark can be divided into three areas for touring purposes: Jutland, Sealand and Funen, and Bornholm.

Jutland, the peninsula, is the least densely populated part of Denmark. To the west are areas of marshland, heathland and dunes. Between Blavandshuk and Skagen there are some fine stretches of beach. To the east, there are low hills and valleys. Around the coast are fjords. Well worth riding is the 'Haervejen' (Army Road) which runs for 240km on the ridge of Jutland. It has been used for over 1000 years from the Viking period onwards, and has accumulated history around it.

Sealand and Funen are the islands to which tourists traditionally go. The terrain is mainly fields, beech woods and lakes. Architecturally and historically the islands have a lot to offer. Castles, half-timbered houses, churches and impressively engi­neered bridges abound.

Bornholm is a small island in the Baltic seven or eight hours east by ferry from Copenhagen. Despite a rugged coastline it is no more insurmountable than the rest of the country. It would be a good base for families as it contains most of what is best in Denmark in a small area. Each year it hosts the Tour de Bornholm; a fun ride round the island for people with disabilities and their families.

Accommodation

Denmark has over 500 campsites, 100 hostels and upwards of 1000 hotels, so finding somewhere to spend the night isn't hard.

Danish youth hostels are of the more modern, multi-roomed kind. Each room has between two and six beds and can be booked by a family.

 Food and Drink

The universal lunch is the Scandinavian open sandwich: smorrebrad. Just about anything goes on it: fish, shrimps, cheese, eggs, sausage, pork... Seafood is an important part of the diet and is of good quality. Danish cheeses, too, are well worth trying. The beer isn't cheap, but can be excellent.

Maps

A good general map of the country is the Danish Cycling Federation's cycling holiday map. The scale is 1:500,000, so it's unsuitable for actual touring, but it is very useful for planning. It shows cycle tracks, camp sites, hostels, bus routes, ferry services, and rail routes that will carry your bicycle, etc. Another useful map/leaflet is 'On a bike in Denmark', available free from The Danish Tourist Board. The best maps for touring are the 1:100,000 maps published by the Danish Geodetic Institute.

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