Geographically closer to Sweden, and geologically an outpost of its Linderöd Ridge, the Baltic island of Bornholm fought to stay Danish after the Treaty of Roskilde made several provinces Swedish in 1658. This was much thanks to local merchant Villum Clausen, and the irony is not lost on me when I find that the catamaran I board from Ystad to the island’s capital Rønne bears his name. No hard feelings though. Bornholm is simply one of the true hidden gems of Scandinavia, and on my top five list of things to see along such great things as the Norwegian fjords, Swedish Lapland, and Visby. I love the peaceful atmosphere, great local food, scenery, friendly people. and peculiar old Scandinavian dialect.
A popular way to see the island is to bike around it, and most places are well sign-posted. I brought my own bicycle from Sweden, but you can rent one in Rønne and set off as soon as you have picked up the keys and a map. We chose to go a full lap around the coast, but you can also cross the inland through the leafy Paradisbakkerne and see several of the defensively constructed “round churches” the island is famous for.
The cliffs of the North coast
The first village you reach after Rønne is Hasle which is famous for its fish smokery, but we pressed on along the seaside and soon reached Jon’s Kapell where a really steep dirt track through the forest had us walking the bikes to the top. The afternoon saw us reaching the hostel at Sandvig where we checked in before taking a look at Scandinavia’s biggest fortress ruin at Hammershus. Dramatically situated on the green cliffs of north-west Bornholm, it is the place where the Bishop of Lund (then belonging to Denmark) had his seat. Today it is mostly inhabited by sheep, giving the place a feeling of Corfe Castle in England, but by the sea. Sandvig village was a short ride away, and turned out to have several nice restaurants for our evening meal.
The next morning we whizzed past Allinge, along the most amazing downhill bike path which seemed to last forever. At the bottom of it, you can to turn right if you intend to explore the inland. We continued along the coast, and got caught up in a heavy summer rain which was the perfect excuse to stop at the Bornholm Art Museum. The architecture alone is worth a stop here, and so are the cliffs below the museum. The rain refused to stop, despite this being known as the Sunshine Island, so we had to bite the bullet and move on to our destination for the night – pretty Gudhjem.
There is a famous herring dish in Denmark called “Sun over Gudhjem” with a cheerful egg yolk and red onion on your fish. We saw none of that cheerfulness in the weather when we rolled down to Gudhjem (hence the lack of photos). This is one of the steepest hills in southern Scandinavia as far as percentage goes and, again I felt like I was somewhere in Devon or North Yorkshire rather than Denmark. Confidence in my bike and how to use its breaks took me down to the pretty harbour where boats leave for little Christiansø. We had decided on another hostel and it turned out to be not such a bad choice as they were geared up to wet cyclists and the convenience shop up the road sold Jameson’s to warm us up.
Denmark’s easternmost town
The next day we had great weather along a stretch where I had wanted to spend more time had it not been for the fact that we finally enjoyed a ride in the sun again. We arrived in little Svaneke, and stopped for lunch at the fish smokery, glad to finally experience this local speciality. Content, we then continued a few kilometers south to the village of Aarsdale with its impressive windmill since we had booked accommodation there. The mill with its gift shop was worth a stop, and since the kitchen in our B&B had closed, we had a drink before sauntering down to the peaceful little harbour for half a grilled chicken in the fish smokery. The following day was our rest day, not because we needed one but since we had promised our daughter some fun. We caught the bus back into Svaneke and onwards to the amusement park with the hilarious name of Joboland. The name brings a smile to any English speaker, and it used to have a Danish farm name which I am not sure why they changed. Still, it is a great place for families. No white knuckle rides, but swimming pools, a zip line across a pond, gokart, a huge playground and some unusual fairground rides as well as few animals. In the evening, we went back to Svaneke to try the famous brewery. Svaneke Bryghus is famous all over Denmark and both beer and food was excellent. Svaneke truly is a great base from which to explore the island if you can manage to book accommodation in high season and want to have a base for travelling around. Quaint little alleys with typical yellow houses, and a lively harbour full of yachts is perfect in my opinion.
The sandy south
Passing Nexø the following day, we continued through the village of Snogebæk with its many summer cottages, and a harbour where I had been recommended to try the local chocolate. I was not disappointed and am glad to have found the pralines in Copenhagen too afterwards. The famous Dueodde was our stop for the night and here we had booked a cottage in a campsite which was a great choice. Dueodde beach is known for its sand which is so fine it has been used in hourglasses, so of course we spent time on it, and the weather had certainly picked up.
There was a peculiar feeling the last morning, as we knew we had to return to Rønne to catch the ferry home. This day was actually the one with most kilometres to cover, but now we were on the more flat south coast this was easy going, and we even managed to stop for a while by a vineyard which makes decent wine of both berries and grapes. This is where I realised even more how special Bornholm is. Wherever we looked we saw ladybirds – hundreds of them. They are there to act as a natural pesticide, eating other, crop-damaging insects. After a couple of hours enjoying cycling in the sun we reached Rønne where we had time for the very informative regional museum, and a stroll around town before heading home. I would actually not mind living here if I had an independent job. Direct train to Copenhagen airport via that ferry ride to Sweden. Ferry connections from Germany. It really is centrally located despite being an island.