Mary Dejevsky: Denmark – no country for adult gourmets on a budget
One of the country’s most respected commentators on Russia, the EU and the US, Mary Dejevsky has worked as a foreign correspondent all over the world, including Washington, Paris and Moscow. She is now the chief editorial writer and a columnist at The Independent and regularly appears on radio and television. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham.
Sunday 29 July 2012
Denmark has long been a great destination for families with young children, offering everything from broad, safe beaches and non-scary food to Legoland, the holy shrine of plastic bricks. But can it deliver for grown-ups? The Bridge, The Killing, and New Danish cuisine have certainly put the country on the map for couples – although my husband and I were drawn by long-standing interests in the history of the Vikings, and in contemporary design.
With direct sailings – Harwich to Esbjerg – costing more than £800 return for two people and a car, we instead drove north through the Netherlands and Germany.
We were steeled for Denmark to be expensive. It is – or at least it is if you prefer an en-suite bathroom. The class of hotels exemplified by the French Logis group is almost entirely missing in Denmark, leaving a choice between business hotels on the one hand and scenic inns and B&Bs, where many rooms come without private facilities, and you may have to drive to find a restaurant. The minimum you can expect to pay for a double en suite room is around £100.
As for the excitement about New Danish cuisine, this may be because it is still relatively rare and largely limited to Copenhagen. Elsewhere, eating was reminiscent of provincial Britain 20 years ago – a steak house or two, and an absence of any fish except frozen plaice, even beside the sea.
The better news is that petrol is no more expensive than in Germany and there are no motorway tolls. Urban driving is generally civilised, including in Copenhagen. But this does not prepare you for the demons that seem to possess Danes the moment they get on to their overcrowded motorways. Beware, too, the traffic entering the motorway from slip roads. Incoming traffic has equal priority with that already on the motorway. Competitive hardly describes it.
One reason for driving was that my husband has difficulty walking. We expected that Denmark, as a Nordic country, would excel in matters of accessibility. That was not always true. The spectacular Viking ship burial at Ladby, for example, is at the end of a half-mile path from the museum and car park. The path is rough, but flat, and something like an American-style golf-buggy would have made it possible for someone with impaired mobility, but not needing a wheelchair, to negotiate. There were little carts for children, but nothing for adults, and my husband could not manage the walk.
Those little carts testify to something else. Yes, for a couple not wanting to camp or settle for communal bathrooms, Denmark is expensive. However, for a family, the country is much more affordable. There is a lot of self-catering accommodation, and many hotels have family rooms. Food for children eating with parents is often free, and while there are generally no discounts for pensioners or the disabled, children have free access to museums and much else.
Denmark has focused its tourist efforts on families, which in many ways is admirable. But there were times when I wished that the country could work harder to cater for the needs of its adult visitors, too. Perhaps it's time for Danish tourism to grow up.
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