Travel review: Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen, Denmark.
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From nowhere a group of women wearing long skirts, cloth hats and furs stepped forward, one leading from the front and shouting what we hoped were words of welcome.

Plumes of smoke rose from a camp fire, where ribs were being roasted on a spit, and bread baked on hot stones.

We advanced cautiously where we were grabbed by the forearm then embraced in giant bear-hugs by each and every member of the gathering.

Our tour guide Sanne Jakobsen turned to us and explained that we had passed the first test – a frisk for weapons – and now it was time to celebrate, swap stories and feast under the stars.

Drinking deep from a hollowed horn containing spiced honey that we imagined must be mead we soaked in our surroundings.

We had arrived that evening at Lejre in East Denmark at the Land of Legends, a museum and education centre dedicated to sharing the rich cultural history of the country’s most famous pirates – the Vikings –through real-life experiences.

Dinner consisted of five authentic courses using ingredients that could quite easily have been foraged and served to noblemen and kings during the Middle Ages – known as the Viking Age.

It was while eating cabbage, hazelnut and apple salad with roasted coalfish; tearing into fire-smoked ribs and freshly baked buttery sourdough bread washed down with stout, that we continued our discovery into what it meant to be a Viking.

A group of re-enactment actors and an archaeologist told us that Lejre is the home of the legendary Beowulf, and digs in the area had revealed much about the Vikings.

Remnants of two thatched cottages, set by the river had given historians a great insight into ancient architecture, while standing stones and burial grounds told much about society and religion.

After dinner we sat round the last embers of the fire on wooden blocks, wrapped in blankets and listening to local folklore and songs of old.

It was a magical start to a weekend away in Denmark.

Earlier that day we had flown into Copenhagen heading straight for the National Museum’s latest exhibition.

For the first time ever, VIKING has placed the world’s longest Viking ship on display – an exhibition that is due to open at the British Museum in London in March.

Interactive story boards and games, holograms and ancient artefacts, helped retell the story of the Danish Vikings as one of conquest.

The strong seaborne Scandinavian pirates sailed across the North Sea in longships from Denmark to England to loot.

Starting with Lindisfarne in the North East of England, the warriors first targeted mostly undefended monastic sites along the east coast during summertime raids.

Then as they became more confident they moved ashore and took villages and started to build armies and settle.

For 250 years they were in Britain, until The Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Today the popular conception is the Viking was a violent bearded brute – giant men, with long plaited red hair, who wielded axes, carried round shields and wore horned helmets.

In part this is true – although they never did have horns in their helmets – but they were also peaceful fishermen and farmers, credited with bringing Christianity to Saxon Britain - facts the Danes we met were keen to set straight.

From the National Museum in Copenhagen we took a half hour train ride to Roskilde, which was to be our base and where we would spend our first night.

It was not until the following morning – after a night spent around the campfire at Lejre - that we got to explore the locality, which had once served as the Viking capital.
At the heart of the town is Roskilde Cathedral, a lofty red brick example of Romanesque and Gothic architecture that in 1995 was made an UNESCO World Heritage site.

For more than 1,000 years there have been churches on the very spot where the cathedral now stands, connecting us with great Viking legends such as Harold Bluetooth and King Canute.

Down at the waters’ edge is the Viking Ship Museum – a beautiful modernist building where we discovered five restored 1,000 year old Viking ships.Copenhagen has 390kms of bike lanes, making two wheels the transport of choice for most, but it is also very simple to negotiate on foot, metro and waterway.

One of the best ways to discover the city’s famous landmarks is by canal tour. In just under an hour we saw The Black Diamond (The Royal Library); the world’s most famous restaurant Noma; the Copenhagen Opera House, which is one of the most expensive in the world; Parliament and of course The Little Mermaid bronze statue made in honour of famous fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen.

Back on land, Copenhagen offers something for everyone.

For cafe culture and vintage shops you can head to Jaegersborggade; for amusement Tivoli Gardens has been entertaining residents since 1843.

The best Danish fashion and interiors can be found at Kongens Nytorv; the Latin Quarter around Larsbjornsstraede is a hub for the avant-garde; while the lakes are popular with families.

TRAVELFACTS

* Sophie Hazan travelled as a guest of VisitDenmark www.visitdenmark.com and stayed at Kong Arthur Hotel in Copenhagen, part of the Arthur Hotels Group, and at Hotel Prindsen in Roskilde.
* A one night stay at Kong Arthur costs from £95 (DKK 845) per single room and from £118 (DKK 1,045 ) per double room (ex. breakfast - breakfast costs £17.50 (DKK 155) per person per day). Go to www.arthurhotels.dk/hotel-kong-arthur.

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