What does Denmark conjure up to us all? Pastries, bacon and cured herring, Carlsberg beer and Lurpak butter; and Noma restaurant that champions the New Nordic cuisine. Danish design with its egg chair and artichoke lamp, its lego and wind turbines. Cinema and ‘Dogme 95’, ‘Borgen’ and ‘The Killing’. Helena Christensen and also Hans Christian Andersen, immortalised by the iconic Little Mermaid statue.

Words Adam Jacot De Boinod

What does Denmark conjure up to us all? Pastries, bacon and cured herring, Carlsberg beer and Lurpak butter; and Noma restaurant that champions the New Nordic cuisine. Danish design with its egg chair and artichoke lamp, its lego and wind turbines. Cinema and ‘Dogme 95’, ‘Borgen’ and ‘The Killing’. Helena Christensen and also Hans Christian Andersen, immortalised by the iconic Little Mermaid statue.

Words Adam Jacot De Boinod

For sheer comfort and ease, for rest and repose, for good vibes and bonhomie, I strongly recommend Denmark. How easy a country to get around and a holiday to manage. And what an inspiring people. Indeed when I travel I like to develop a mosaic of the generic looks that typify a nation. In Denmark all appear to sport a grin and to shun a grimace. No one uses titles and no one wears a tie. Danes are fresh and direct and trusting and secure. Indeed it’s often dubbed the ‘world’s happiest country’. As their renowned philosopher Søren Kierkegaard declared, “livet forstås baglæns men må leves forlæns” (“life is understood backwards but must be lived forwards”). The gap between rich and poor is one of the lowest in the world. And only in Denmark could there be a board game called ‘Konsensus’ based around the concept of collaboration.

Denmark is made up of around 400 islands, even more than Greece, and it’s almost as flat as Holland with its highest point at just above 500 feet. Indeed Copenhagen resembles Amsterdam with her abundant canals and bikes. For refreshingly, car is not ‘king’ as a third of Copenhageners cycle to work, even enjoying their own traffic lights that let them set off a few seconds before the cars. And it’s from this comparative lack of combustion for a capital city that I could hear her church bells toll and walk breezily along her cobbled streets that comprise the spacious pedestrian shopping district of Stroget. Her skyline is mercifully spared the usual high-rised constructions allowing me to appreciate the many kinds of church steeples from the oriental to the western (with its Roman baroque versions of St. Peters to Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza).

I loved visiting Vor Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady), a cathedral under whose expansive coffered nave is a super pure, super white, uncluttered interior with only statues of the twelve apostles for adornment. Presiding over the altar is the simple but imposing figure of Christ fronting a backdrop of gold as the one hint of colour.

I also walked along Christiania, a former military base and now commune, past bike rental and bric-a-brac shops beside the canal with its houseboats to the bridge across to Nyhavn. And beautifully positioned along Nyhavn, this 17th-century waterfront lined with brightly coloured townhouses, is Kompasset (www.restaurantkompasset.dk) a restaurant with taste, simplicity and a super cosy feeling. All in keeping with their word ‘hygge’ meaning a quality of cosiness and conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment and which is the epitome of Danish culture. Here too I discovered the drinking toast across Scandinavia involves declaring the word “skål”! (pronounced “skoal”) which has a somewhat macabre background as it originally meant ‘skull’ and refers to a custom practiced by the warlike Vikings who used the dried-out skulls of their enemies as drinking mugs. Food has an equally inventive vocabulary in the Danish dictionary I rifled through. For the names of traditional Danish pastry (‘wienerbrød’) there’s ‘kanelsnegle’ (cinnamon snail), ‘spandauer’ (baker’s bad eye after the yellow cream in the middle) and ‘frøsnapper’ (frog snapper). As for a longer word, I found the intriguing ‘palaegschokolade’ for chocolate in thin slices for sandwiches.

Formerly Denmark’s first public hospital, and housed in a magnificent 18th century Rococo building, is the Design Museum (www.designmuseum.dk/en/). It has decorative art and a heritage collection in one half and its modern day and cutting-edge Danish 21st century design in the other. The museum is beautifully styled and presented and has just the right number of rooms that surround a square garden lined with gorgeous linden trees that offer a welcome respite. It all very successfully develops its theme of ‘past, present and future’ and I found it truly a font of inspiration.

I also reached Tivoli Gardens, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. Truly a playground for young and old and a spot so full of wonder that it inspired Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney. It’s set conveniently right by Central Station, and so seamlessly on I continued by train to the sound and the strait, the area north of the capital that is North Zealand. It overlooks the famous Øresund Strait and is protected over the Baltic at Helsingør by Kronborg Castle which provided the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet known to us as Elsinore.

Only forty minutes away on a regular train service is this town of Helsingør and the second leg of my journey. Once Denmark’s second largest town, it’s reminiscent of both Hansel and Gretel as well as the Gingerbread Man with its yellow and terracotta painted houses and its grid of streets parading shops that, amusingly to English eyes, make all too clear to all their trade with names like ‘Home’ the Estate Agent, ‘FixPhone’ and ‘YouSee’ the optician.

North Zealand is nicknamed the Danish Riviera or the Danish Côte d’Azur but has none of their flashiness or artifice, or the moneyed opulence of the Hamptons, as the Danes come for their summer holidays. More bikes and boats than bucket and spade, there’s a joyful sense of entire generations of families collected around pontoons with diving boards and among the boats, the picnic tables and the villas with their private beaches and their views across to Sweden.

I stayed at Hotel Villa Brinkly (www.brinkly.dk). It’s a hidden gem sandwiched between the sea and a forest. Indeed the Egebæksvang Forest is perfect for a proper stroll or ‘forest bathing’, the simple and modern method of being calm and quiet among the trees, and the beach on the Øresund strait offers an uplifting vista across to Sweden. The hotel is set on Strandvejen, the forty-kilometre beach road, which winds along the coast from Copenhagen to beyond Elsinore.

I felt instantly becalmed by the neutral and serene colours and the peaceful vibe. It originally opened in 1933 for retired seafarers whose culture is reflected in the antiques and artefacts. It has a real heart into which I was invited like a personal drawing room in this relaxed and airy wooden Danish hotel. This sense of soothing and calm is all the result of the loving care of its hosts Erik and Annette.

This chalet-cum-beach house with its distinctive navy-blue colour has eight cabin-style rooms and one family suite with panelled ceilings and pine walls, naval artefacts, and each possess its own outdoor terrace and furnished patio. There are views either of the waterfront and sea in front or the forest with its gorgeous avenue of trees behind. In the foreground is the yard where the owners grow their own herbs and vegetables and tend to their pair of Guinea pigs. All very heavenly, homely and grounding.

I went on a shortish bike ride down to Humlebæk to the Louisiana Art Gallery (www.louisiana.dk/en/). It attracts connoisseurs from all over the world and, along with the new Munch museum in Oslo, is Scandinavia’s premier modern art gallery. In, and extending from, this former gorgeous family summer house and, tucked beneath the sculpture gardens that roll down to the sparkling and serene waterside, is an endless cavern of halls sufficient to house four extensive exhibitions at any given time alongside the museum’s permanent collection. It’s very good value at DKK 145 and is a full day out.

Almost like a museum in itself, and as another part of my full day out, I had lunch across the road at Gamle Humlebaek Kro (www.gamlehumlebaekkro.dk) which goes all the way back to 1682 as a former staging post along the Strandvejen, nicknamed ‘the nobleman’s highway’. The restaurant is like an alpine chalet and very popular with the locals which is always a good sign.

There’s cycling and there’s recycling. For everywhere the Danish are committed to recycling and passionate about the environment; for being eco-friendly is seen as a basic duty and something you do to be a part of Danish society. Indeed Noma, the famous restaurant meaning ‘mad Nordic food’, uses fresh and wild natural ingredients that are often foraged.

Open from March to October, which encompasses the full Danish holiday season, is Café Vitus. Set in a modest hut and overlooking Snekkersten harbour, it’s full of the local community with their dogs and prams, their bicycles and boats. There’s nothing quite like a marina to eat beside and watch as fellow diners moor, eat and sail off again. It’s where local celebrities gather in a low-key environment, seemingly anonymous among the pink hydrangeas and outside the simple shed-cum-chalet that belies the artistry of the food. Here I enjoyed the freshest of shrimp and avocado salad before a deliciously naughty treat of hot chocolate with cream. A hidden gem.

Back from the coast, streets of identikit bungalows provide homes that are rigorously neat, minimalist and full of designer touches, as these zen-like homes possess a Danish aesthetic that’s heavily influenced by the German Bauhaus school. They use plenty of natural materials like leather and wood, and lots of lamps, with natural shapes like fir cones, are typically placed in the middle of rooms and imperative no doubt in winter months.

As for tips, like much of Scandinavia it is expensive to the British purse but the Danish are not accustomed to tipping waiters or taxi drivers who are obliged to have a bike rack to take you home if you have had two too many glasses of wine. To understand more fully the Danish way of life I strongly recommend How to be Danish by Patrick Kingsley and The Year of Living Dangerously by Helen Russell, and for specific guidebooks DK Eyewitness Denmark and The Monocle Travel Guide Copenhagen.

I must go back. Whenever but soon.