Bornholm, A Cyclist’s Paradise

So far this year I’ve done two things that have made me really happy.  First, I bought a bike, and second, I went to Denmark.  On the surface you may think these things have nothing in common, but you would be incorrect in that assumption.  I’ve traveled around most of Europe, and nowhere (even in Holland) have I seen more bikes than in Denmark. In Copenhagen I’d venture to guess they outnumber cars 3 or even 4 to 1.  Everyone rides a bike; old people, young people, fat people, fit people…everyone.  It’s pretty amazing to see the double decker bike racks, completely full at the subway stations.

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The Danes have it good when it comes to cycling.  Their climate is mild, it’s often sunny, it’s super flat, and they have dedicated bike lanes everywhere (even in small suburbs).  The cycling infrastructure is so amazing that you wouldn’t even think about needing to wear a helmet, because it’s so safe.

Copenhagen is a great city and everyone should experience the thrill of cycling past palaces, parks, hippie communes, and lakes.  But I discovered another place in Denmark that is paradise to cyclers.  The wee little island of Bornholm.  Although owned by Denmark, it sits in the Baltic Sea in between the southern coast of Sweden and northern Poland and it’s truly the Garden of Eden for anyone who loves their bike!

You actually do have to go through Sweden to get there, but the transit connections (train or bus) from Copenhagen are very straightforward.  You travel to Ystad, Sweden (which takes about 2 hours) and then you board a catamaran type ferry that whisks you to the island in just under an hour.  Note that although food is crappy and overpriced on the ferry, they do sell cheap alcohol because it’s an ‘international’ route.

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The ferry docks in Rønne, which is the largest town on Bornholm.  I suggest booking accommodation here, as there are more restaurants, a supermarket, pubs, shops etc. There are also places to rent bikes if your hotel doesn’t, which is key to enjoying your holiday time on the island.  We stayed at the Hotel Ryttergården and found it to be good value at around $150.00 CAD per night with a decent breakfast buffet included.  It took us about 30 minutes to walk there from the ferry terminal, or you could take one of the convenient, but expensive, public busses, or a taxi.

Once you settle into your digs, grab the nearest bicycle and make your way down to the beach with a bottle of wine.  The sand is wonderfully soft and white and you can bask in the sun (Bornholm is widely known as the sunniest place in Denmark) and take it all in.  But don’t get too comfy, or tipsy, because there is so much to see right at your fingertips on this lovely little island.

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Our first evening, we cycled back into Rønne for dinner and ended up at Cafe Gustav. They serve traditional Scandinavian fare at reasonable prices.  Think of it as the Ikea cafeteria, with really good food.  After dinner we were back on the bikes, and did a lap around town; down cobblestone lanes with colourful half timbered houses, past old churches, and along the water.  We didn’t get to see the sun set, because that doesn’t happen until 11pm in June.

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IMG_3752The next day we hit it early, our destination, Hammershus, Northern Europe’s largest medieval fortress built in the 13th century, a mere 25km north near the town of Alinge.  I’d never gone for a 50 km round trip ride on my hybrid bike, let alone on a comfy high riding city bike, but I figured since we didn’t have anything else to do, the reward would be worth it.

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Cycling on Bornholm is very well organized, with over 200km of trails.  Look for the green cykelvej signs to point you in the right direction.  It’s nice because they tell you how far you are from various places.  Stop at the Netto (supermarket) on your way out of town and get provisions for a picnic, and don’t forget to stop at one of the bakeries in the square to get your Danish for the day!

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Once we were all loaded up, we headed north toward the town of Hasle, stopping along the way at a deserted little beach to enjoy a snack.  In Hasle you go past a bunch of old white buildings that are still used to smoke fish.  The smoky fish smell combined with the salty sea air and lilac flowers is enough to make you feel like this is as good at it gets. Continue on through town and eventually you’ll find that the cykelvej takes you down a steep hill, and along the seashore.  This part, between Hasle and Vang, will be the most amazing and breathtaking 4km bike ride of your life.  We found a little dock with two purple deck chairs on it, just begging us to sit down and spend the rest of our lives there.

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But eventually you get to the end of the ‘fun’ part of the ride, and then the pain comes. You have to haul your bike up a set of about 50 wide steps to the top of the hill to get into Vang. Even my husband wasn’t able to ride up.  Then at the top, the path continues on, and winds through meadows, down country lanes, and up country lanes, and through a thick forest. You eventually make it to Hammerhus, and man is it worth it!

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The fortress is well preserved, free to enter, and has washroom facilities on-site.  You have free run of the place and if you sit down and close your eyes, you feel as though you’re one of the Starks of Winterfell.  Eat your lunch, breathe in the salty air, listen to the sheep baaaaaaa down below, and linger, enjoying this place for what it is.  Most of the other tourists you’ll encounter will be Danish, many of them school children on field trips from elsewhere in Denmark.  It’s nice to not be surrounded by North Americans for once, who typically favour the Rick Steves approved island of Aero when searching for city retreat in Denmark.

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I was stressing about getting back, because I did struggle a little with the last part of the ride, but I realized it was because I was ‘hangry’.  Properly feed and hydrate yourself and if you’re reasonably fit you’ll be fine.  The way home is actually easier because although there are some hills (just push your bike up the short 14% grade ones), it’s mostly downhill or flat, and so pretty that you forget your legs are burning.  Round trip, with stops the journey took us 5 hours.

When you get back to your hotel you’ll feel an amazing sense of accomplishment because you went for a 50km bike ride on a beautiful Danish island and saw a 1,000 year old castle to boot!  Grab a cold bottle of whatever makes you happy and spend the rest of the evening on the beach, basking in the stunning, simple beauty of Bornholm.  I promise you’ll want to go back!

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