Travel Review: Aalborg and Skagen, North Jutland, Denmark
- Credit: Archant
With a flight time of just and hour and a half from London to Aalborg, it’s worth heading up to Denmark for a romantic weekend getaway to explore the gastronomical pleasures of the new Nordic cuisine movement.
“Did you know Vikings invented cruise tourism?” teased Jesper Lynge, bursting into raucous, infectious laughter.
Lynge was introducing us to the food his Danish ancestors ate, and he certainly looked authentic with his bouncing beard and habit of opening beer bottles with an axe.
He gave up his conventional consultancy day job to run the restaurant which sits alongside Lindholm Høje, one of Scandinavia’s largest Viking burial grounds.
We had worked up an appetite spending the chill crisp morning outside exploring the graveyard, which boasts over 700 graves dating back to 1000AD, then finding out in the museum how they were excavated 100 years ago from under the deep layer of sand which had hidden them.
Now I was curious to find out what Lynge thought these mysterious Medieval warriors might have actually eaten in their day.
Lynge – whose personality makes him prime celebrity chef material – taught us that going back is time is about keeping things simple and using the highest quality artisan ingredients.
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He’d baked us some tasty bread using ancient wheat strains, and served it up with salmon he’d cured with salt, with a creamy chive dip.
We also tasted cured sausage flavoured with star anise, which the Vikings may have brought back from Russia on their travels, a rich ox stew, creamy Parmesan style cheese with rhubarb and quince preserves, all accompanied with a hot apple, honey and mead drink.
My partner and I were having so much fun that our fascinating afternoon with Jesper extended into the twilight, as the sun set and the flickering candles became our only source of light.
Eventually it was way past time to make the 10-minute journey back to Aalborg for a spot of Danish style pre-Christmas shopping.
The capital of North Jutland, town planners have worked hard to move Aalborg away from its industrial cement-producing roots to appeal to the younger university generation.
A waterfront revamp has brought it well and truly into the modern day, with the iconic Utzon concrete building - mirroring the city’s industrial heritage - designed by and named after local man Jorn Utzon, renowned designer of the similarly futuristic Sydney Opera House.
Next year, once Aalborg’s £600m answer to the Barbican is complete, this city will have well and truly put itself on the map.
After a stroll around the unique shops in the pedestrian area, we went for dinner at the sophisticated award-winning Mortens Kro, meaning Morten’s Inn.
It is run by one of Denmark’s leading celebrity chefs, Morten Nielsen, who has been at the forefront of the new Nordic cuisine movement that emerged in Copenhagen a decade ago and emphasizes the need for “purity, simplicity and freshness”.
His five-course fusion-style tasting menu, paired with fine Northern wines, is all the more enjoyable in the restaurant’s chic surrounds, boasting eye-catching modern art and blue neon lights.
Our hotel, the First Hotel Europa in the Plads Europa, was just a short walk away, whose reasonably priced rooms, decorated in a bright Scandinavian style, provide the perfect base from which to explore this neat little city.
Up bright and early the next morning, we hopped in the car to make the hour and a half drive to Skagen, a cute town on the northern tip of Jutland where the tiny but very expensive traditional houses are distinctly painted in ochre and surrounded by miniature white wooden fences.
Now a fashionable Scandinavian summer holiday destination, it was put on the map thanks to the painters, poets and writers who flocked here a century ago.
Legend has it they were attracted by the area’s unique light - but our guide to Skagen’s Museum put shot to this urban tale, telling us the bohemian crowd were more likely drawn to the town because it was cheap and behind the times for its day and the fishermen there made interesting models.
The museum boasts artwork by Michael Ancher and P.S. Krøyer, who helped found it in 1908 in the dining room of Brøndum’s Hotel just opposite where we stayed.
The hotel’s owner, Degn Brøndum, would feed the artists who in return gave them his paintings - which still adorn the hotel’s walls - and eventually made him extremely rich once they made a name for themselves.
In a recent revamp the decision was made to keep the communal showers and toilets in the corridor and I’m glad they did, as it all contributes to the nostalgic feel of the place.
We ate lunch at Pakhuset, the former fish store, which houses a unique collection of replica figureheads, washed ashore over the years from ship wrecks.
Open every day of the year, this cosy little place does fish to perfection using fresh produce bought at the nearby auction every morning.
The light, slightly creamy, succulent fish soup was a feast to remember, while the lemon sole fish of the day was done to simple perfection, the same going for the Danish style apple tart.
A five minute drive down the road near the lighthouse is Grenen, Denmark’s most northerly and ever shifting tip – it has apparently moved as much as 1km in the last 100 years.
We reached the beach through the wild dunes, walking alongside rose hips and sea buckthorn berries – which I was delighted to see served up later on for desert at Brøndum’s.
Battered by the wind we trekked along to the choppy point in the distance where the two seas of Skagerak and Kattegat meet.
The wilderness made our return to Brøndums Hotel all the more cosy and romantic, and later on we sat in the darkened drawing room next to a flickering fire, sipping champagne.
A magical evening meal whipped up by Anders Rex - a well-known name in Danish gastronomic circles - began with a selection of sea-inspired “amuses bouches” arranged on stones balanced on a piece of driftwood.
A three course meal of cured pheasant and pears, tender loin sprinkled with grated dried foie gras imitate the taste of truffle, and the sea buckthorn desert conjured up some entirely new taste sensations for me and was a true gastronomic journey.
A food adventure made all the more perfect by the hotel’s nostalgic surrounds.
Chefs in North Jutland certainly know their stuff, and in two days we had so much fun.
The hour and a half flight from Gatwick to Aalborg with Norwegian can be picked up at just £90 return, with children travelling at a snip, at half the price.
Norwegian is a budget airline, but is classier than any other I’ve known, and they provide wifi during the flight.
Having previously never been further north than Aberdeen, I can now see it’s just as easy to travel to as it is to some of the more conventional southern weekend destinations like Barcelona.
I’ll certainly make the journey back up soon.