“The water’s warm today, isn’t it?” I say to the elderly Danish man swimming nearby. “Almost Caribbean, if it weren’t for this breeze,” he replies. He means the wind whipping across the water, blowdrying the fellow bathers huddled on the beach, and threatening to topple the blackboard teetering outside the still-shuttered ice cream parlour.
In search of the fabled Viking spirit, I’d gone for an early-morning swim in Blokhus, a town on the northwest coast of the Jutland Peninsula — the part of Denmark that juts into the North Sea. Danish and German tourists have long flocked to its charming summer houses, clear waters and white-sand beach. Shivering on the shoreline in late July, though, I’d struggled to see its appeal at first.
Frankly, I blamed the Beach Boys. Having recently seen their lead singer, Brian Wilson, play at Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens and been inspired by his timeless odes to surfing safaris, I’d decided it was never too late to learn. But instead of heading south — to Morocco, say — I’d jetted in the opposite direction. My plan was to visit Klitmøller, a once-sleepy fishing village that’s become one of Europe’s best surf spots, thanks to strong winds and gnarly waves. (Its nickname? Cold Hawaii.)
But I never made it. A storm was brewing when I arrived in the nearest city, Aalborg. Wary of the drive to Klitmøller, I’d opted for a different kind of surfing — searching online for a good hotel nearby. Which is how I ended up in Blokhus and at Strandhotellet — Denmark’s newest ‘beach hotel’ — in particular.
Scandinavia, you see, does bad weather well. Think of all those well-designed buildings, with their smart use of space and snuggly soft furnishings (heard about hygge? If not, I reckon there’s a book or two about it) — and the dozens of beach hotels that dot the Danish coastline are a case in point. Constructed with climate and geography in mind, they usually have cosiness in spades. Think: snug corners, roaring fires and sweltering saunas for when it gets really grim outside.
With its fancy furniture, swish spa and contemporary cuisine, Strandhotellet provided both an upmarket take on the beach hotel and a decent base for exploring the town once I got back from my dawn dip. With its mini-golf course, ice cream parlours and old-fashioned shops selling buckets and spades, Blokhus resembles most English seaside towns. But the food is better. I ate excellent schnitzel at Futten, a maritime inn built in 1761, and decent smørrebrød — the Danish open-faced sandwich — at Strandingskroen, a hostelry built in 1844.
And by the time I’d ticked off the tourist attractions — the highlight being an annual sand-sculpture festival taking fairytales as its theme this year — and explored the forests, lakes and dunes north of town, Blokhus and its abundant natural beauty had won me over. The following morning, instead of continuing on to Klitmøller, I returned to the windswept beach. Cold Hawaii, I decided, could wait.