Copenhagen is regularly ranked among the world’s most livable cities. Certainly the international popularity of the Danish capital is well-deserved, thanks to its fine museums, grand architecture, great shopping and cutting-edge restaurant scene. However, few travelers discover the delights of Denmark beyond its largest metropolis. As I recently found on a 10-day trip through the countryside, this pretty, polite, peaceful country, roughly half the size of Maine, is a wonderful destination for delicious food, impressive castles and charming country house hotels. For many years, Falsled Kro, a longtime favorite on the island of Funen, was the only property I recommended outside Copenhagen, but now it’s been joined by several other addresses, which collectively form a splendid touring itinerary.
Travel in Denmark is easy, convenient and comfortable. The country has excellent infrastructure, with well-maintained roads and ferries. Kastrup, Copenhagen’s main international airport, is so attractive and efficient it inspires immediate envy. Just to the north, the countryside resembles a vast and lovingly tended garden. In late spring, the rolling green fields were interspersed with bright-yellow bands of flowering rapeseed, while huge high-tech windmills — the country has been a pioneer in the generation of wind power — were arrayed on the crests of the hills.
In need of a rest after the transatlantic flight, we stopped first at Kokkedal Slot Copenhagen (“slot” is the Danish word for “castle”), a 62-room hotel located on the scenic eastern shore of the island of Zealand, the so-called Danish Riviera, 35 minutes to the north of Copenhagen. This handsome white 18th-century manor house sits on a low hill, affording views of the surrounding estate (including a nearby 18-hole golf course) and the distant Baltic Sea. It proved to be a quiet, gracious place. The ground floor of the hotel is occupied by a large lounge with Bohemian crystal chandeliers, gilded mirrors, a conservatory veranda used as the main restaurant during summer months — from September to May, dining moves to the vaulted cellar — and a cozy bar with a fine selection of aquavit, the signature Scandinavian spirit.
After a warm and efficient welcome, which is characteristic of Danish hotel-keeping, we settled into our light-filled Junior Suite, which came with a beamed ceiling, oak parquet floors and a large, comfortable bed made up with good-quality linens and an oyster-gray satin coverlet. A sitting area was furnished with a wood-framed sofa and a matching armchair. The bath was appointed with Victorian brass fixtures and came with a separate tub and shower.
Having explored the hotel, we bicycled around the grounds — which contain working stables and a riding school — and afterward enjoyed the sauna, steam room and indoor pool. Later we had an excellent dinner of salted Norwegian lobster, followed by a rib-eye with grilled lettuce, truffle sauce and onions. Both the service and wine list were commendable.
As well as being a very pleasant place to stay, Kokkedal is also an ideal overnight for anyone planning to visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in nearby Humlebæk, one of Europe’s best contemporary art institutions.
Beautiful setting, stylish rooms and very good food.
No porter on duty.
The world-renowned Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is a 15-minute drive from the hotel.
A 40-minute drive along quiet back roads to the northern tip of Zealand brought us to the pretty seaside village of Gilleleje. A popular weekend destination for Copenhageners, it has a relaxed, rustic appeal similar to that of the North Fork of Long Island. This little fishing port was a favorite watering hole of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who came here to lose himself in thought while gazing at the pewter-colored waters of the strait separating Denmark and Sweden.
Located atop a cliff overlooking the sea, the 24-room Gilleleje Badehotel instantly reminded me of the unpretentious, easygoing seaside hotels that were once found in places like Nantucket before a different idea of luxury became the preferred template. This quiet, comfortable place is much beloved by affluent Danes, some of whom come for the weekend or a short holiday, while local homeowners stop by its restaurant on nights when they don’t feel like cooking.
The white-painted wooden hotel was built in 1908, but it has been updated with respect for the sensible idea that life in seaside places should be simpler than it is in a city. I often find that the best way of getting to know a country isn’t by visiting its historic monuments or pacing its museums, but rather by spending some time with the locals in one of their favorite getaways. So if you want pillow menus and 24-hour room service, this hotel definitely isn’t for you. But if your idea of a perfect afternoon is a long clifftop walk savoring the clean salt air, followed by a good dinner in a candlelit dining room, you might be very happy here. The hotel also has several cozy lounges, where you can settle in with a good book over a cup of tea or something a little stronger.
If possible, you should book one of the two double rooms on the third floor, which come with parquet floors, abundant light, comfortable beds and beautiful sea views. The baths provide only showers, however. The property’s chief amenity is a small spa with a sauna, a Turkish bath and a pleasant relaxation lounge. In the dining room, the short menu changes nightly to feature the best local seasonal produce. During our stay, this included delicious Danish ham with artichoke purée and basil oil, veal tenderloin with potatoes Anna, and lemon-marinated strawberries with toasted almonds, mint and vanilla ice cream.
Stirring sea views, peaceful location and efficient service.
Balky blinds in the windows.
This simple, pleasant hotel is a popular weekend destination with Copenhageners, so book well in advance.
As many food lovers know, Denmark has recently become a culinary destination. The man chiefly responsible for the transformation is René Redzepi, of the famous noma restaurant in Copenhagen (which closed in February). His influence has spread across the country, with numerous chefs who trained with him now flying the colors of his New Nordic cooking, which espouses local, seasonal and often wild, foraged ingredients. This has upped the country’s gastronomic game immeasurably.
A leisurely two-hour drive southwest across Zealand took us through some of the most immaculately groomed farmland I have ever seen. Along the way, we stopped for a picnic on the white sands of Lammefjord beach, an impromptu feast comprising deliciously tangy brown bread, ham, cheese, apples and a sip of the aquavit that the butcher who sold us the ham had insisted on giving us.
The 34-room Dragsholm Slot hotel is housed within a 13th-century castle, one of the oldest buildings in Denmark. Today it boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, Slotskøkkenet, run by chef Claus Henriksen. (There is also a cheerful bistro with modern Danish furniture, lovely views and a less complicated menu.) Having driven up a long tree-lined lane, we found the castle on a hill beyond several barns and some annex rooms (which should be avoided). Fortunately, I had booked a double room in the main U-shaped castle building. This proved to be spacious, with fine views over a formal garden below to fields beyond. Attractively furnished, it provided a four-poster Hästens bed (a Swedish manufacturer that makes some of the world’s best beds). The bath (shower only) came with distinctive toiletries by Munkholm, a family-owned business. And a complimentary snacks tray, with sugared sunflower seeds and a wild-mint drink, was a pleasing touch.
Having unpacked, we set off to explore. The 800-year-old castle has an austere but very beautiful chapel, a library and numerous lounges to be enjoyed with a good book. The historic displays explaining the castle’s history were interesting if somewhat in need of updating. Afterward, we enjoyed a memorably lazy afternoon before going downstairs for dinner in the basement restaurant, secluded behind the castle’s three-foot-thick walls. With a cooking style he describes as “nature conscious,” chef Henriksen builds his menu around seasonal vegetables and herbs. Our roast pork loin with kale and “Danish capers” (pickled elderflower berries) was predictably delicious, but the real revelation of the meal was the Danish white wine suggested by sommelier Peter Fagerland, which we sampled with our appetizer of steamed cabbage with clam sauce, parsley and dill.
Dragsholm Slot is one of those places that gets under your skin very quickly, and next time we will definitely stay for more than a single night. In addition to an extended history and superlative food, the castle’s charming staff help to make this a comfortable, exceptionally well-run and welcoming country house hotel.
Magnificent castle setting, strong sense of history, comfortable rooms, delicious food.
The bar closes early.
The castle is reputedly haunted, but the ghosts left us untroubled.
After an excellent breakfast featuring superb local bacon, free-range eggs, Danish pastries with homemade jam and apple juice from the estate’s orchards, we headed to the ferry in Odden. This crossing is the best way to reach Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city (population 260,000), on the east coast of the Jutland peninsula. After a pleasant nearly hourlong crossing, we arrived at the handsome port, which is currently in the midst of a major regeneration, reconfiguring its formerly rough-and-tumble waterfront as a leisure destination. Several museums have recently opened, including the striking new building of the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, which was founded in 1859. The museum is crowned by a round, panoramic walkway, created from a spectrum of colored glass, that provides fine views over the city. The museum’s restaurant ARoS FOOD HALL is excellent.
Our hotel in Aarhus, the 39-room Villa Provence, is contained within several old houses and located in the heart of the city near its pedestrians-only core. Despite its owners’ affection for the south of France, which explains both the name and the potted olive tree in the stone-paved entry courtyard, the property is furnished in a restrained Nordic style. Our suite came with a four-poster bed made up with a plush mattress pad and individual duvets, a Biedermeier sofa and a small balcony overlooking the courtyard. The light-filled bath featured a claw-foot wine barrel-style soaking tub. The hotel has no restaurant, but we enjoyed a pre-dinner drink beside a fountain in the courtyard before going to one of the many standout restaurants nearby. Overall, this charming and friendly boutique property provided an excellent base from which to explore.
Central location, on-site parking, charming atmosphere and décor.
Slow breakfast service; an espresso machine would have been welcome in the room.
Book as far in advance as possible, since this is the most sought-after hotel in Aarhus.
From Aarhus it was a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Skagen, a salt-sprayed seaside village situated on a spit at the northernmost point of Denmark. On arrival, Skagen reminded me of Provincetown, Massachusetts, with its huge sand dunes and spectacular beaches groomed by white-capped breakers surging in off the Baltic. In the 1870s, the tiny fishing port started to attract artists who were bewitched by the surrounding landscapes and the purity of the region’s light. A fine collection of their work is on display at the Skagens Museum. Hungry after the drive, we headed to the dining room of the charismatic old wooden Brøndums Hotel, an establishment that dates to 1859, when it was given a license by King Frederik VII. There we enjoyed a lunch of smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches) topped with tiny shrimp and mayonnaise, and roast beef with pickles and rémoulade, which we washed down with a shot of dill-flavored aquavit.
After a stroll, we headed to the 52-room Ruths Hotel, three miles out of town in the pretty village of Gl. Skagen. We felt drawn to this white-painted cottage with a terra-cotta tile roof as soon as we set eyes on it. The receptionist, a friendly man who had once worked in an English pub, showed us the hotel’s spacious main lounge, bar and library. He then indicated the way to the spa and two restaurants — one a brasserie, the other a gourmet affair — before taking us upstairs to Room 55 (which you should specifically request).
This large, ethereal Junior Suite came with an oak parquet floor, a writing desk, a powder-blue sofa and a balcony from which we had a distant view of the white-capped ocean. The spacious, well-lit bath was equipped with a Jacuzzi tub and separate shower. Settling in, we immediately regretted we were staying for only a single night.
Since it clearly requires some kind of Nordic fortitude that I lack to brave the nippy waters of the sea, it was a pleasure to discover the hotel’s heated indoor pool in a glass-windowed pavilion. We also enjoyed spending time in the small spa with its sauna and steam room.
Ruths has been in business since 1904 and has a devoted following. Many regular guests book one of the cottages on the hotel grounds for a longer stay. Its restaurants are also the best in the area, which means they attract locals as well as visitors, creating a convivial atmosphere each evening. After a long walk on the windy beach nearby, we were hungry when we went down to dinner. There we enjoyed the excellent Skagen Menu. This five-course prix fixe began with salt hake with corn and sour cream and continued with cod with Brussels sprouts and wild fermented garlic, sweetbreads with mushrooms and onions, beef tenderloin with hazelnuts and truffles, and fruit with caramel and chocolate. We left Ruths with real regret and a strong desire to return.
Peaceful setting, friendly service, beautiful sea views, comfortable rooms and small but lovely indoor pool.
Grouchy service in the breakfast room.
You definitely want a room with a sea view — Room 55, for example.
To break up the five-and-a-half-hour drive from Skagen back to Copenhagen, we stopped first in Henne, on the western coast of Jutland. There we stayed at the delightful 12-room Henne Kirkeby Kro (“kro” means “inn” in Danish). This sturdy redbrick structure with a thatched roof dates to 1790. Its English chef, Paul Cunningham, who has been cooking at the inn since 2012, won a second Michelin star this year.
Arriving after a long stretch at the wheel, we were extremely pleased to find ourselves in such a peaceful and pastoral place. The inn itself is surrounded by a beautiful kitchen garden. Its rooms are divided between three buildings: the original inn, the Jægerhuset (The Hunting Lodge) and the Staldgården (The Stable). All have a sleek décor and Hästens beds made up with duvets. The three accommodations that we preferred were the two Junior Suites in the original inn and the Johannes Larsen Suite in The Hunting Lodge. We stayed in the latter, which came with modern paintings, cocoa-colored area rugs and a bath with a black-tile floor, double vanities, an oversize soaking tub and a large separate shower. In the afternoon, we went for a long, refreshing walk on the broad beach in Henne, where only the seagulls kept us company.