The Danes' Great Belt is braced

Click to follow
The Independent Travel
When a particularly fierce Baltic gust caught the ferry soon after she sailed from Nyborg harbour, everything lurched to starboard - except my coffee. Cleaning up the spillage, I looked wistfully at the plans for through trains from the Jutland peninsula to Denmark's capital, without a sea trip. They start tomorrow, connecting Copenhagen by fixed link with the rest of Europe for the first time.

The about-to-be-obsolete system has a certain merit: the train from Odense edges on to a ship equipped with rails. You can stay in your seat or wander up to the deck and attempt to drink coffee. The problem is speed. It's InterCity travel, according to the railway authority, but not as we in the non-archipelagic world know it.

Tomorrow, the muddle of transport around Denmark's islands becomes a little less tangled. The Great Belt project involves a repertoire of tunnels, artificial islands and a bridge, stretching in all for 12 miles between Denmark's two largest islands - Funen and Zealand. There is already a bridge from Jutland to Funen, and Copenhagen lies on the east coast of Zealand. Once Queen Margrethe cuts the tape tomorrow, Copenhagen will move an hour closer to the mainland.

The traveller will miss out on a couple of bursts of scenery, but in Denmark this is not too much of a loss. Landscape comprises neat meadows, polite towns and chilly-looking beaches. The main feature near the shore is a sequence of tall windmills, reaping an electrical harvest.

So spend the time saved by the new link at either end of the line. Copenhagen'sappeal is well known: a national capital on a comfortable, human scale.

But Odense, Denmark's third-largest city, on Funen, is often overlooked. Touristically, it is a one-crop town - being Hans Christian Andersen's birthplace. But the fairy tale is to be found away from the park and statues in the dreamy side streets, where cute cottages rub up against stout redbrick warehouses while your feet are quietly pummelled by century- old cobbles.

Ninety minutes away in Copenhagen the builders are still working frantically. After the Great Belt, the next mega-project will seal Scandinavia's connection with Europe. By 2002, a tunnel beneath the Oresund strait will link Denmark with Sweden. You will be able to travel by train from London to Stockholm, and your coffee will barely be perturbed.

Danish Tourist Board, 55 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9SY (0171-259 5959)