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Articles Blog

Skagen, Denmark

Karyn Planett

If you look at a map of Denmark, you’ll discover that Skagen is indeed the furthest, most northerly point in the country.* Well the mainland part, considering that the Faroe Islands and Greenland are both autonomous countries within the Kingdom of Denmark. Anyway, that’s it, right there at the tippy top. In fact, if Denmark was a Christmas tree, that’s where you’d put the star. A milk shake? It’s where the cherry would go. You get the picture. Any further north, you’d better be wearing a wet suit.           

Perhaps that’s why so many famous Danish artists made their way to Skagen… because of its brooding, remote isolation. Its end-of-the-earth, on-the-edge-of-the-beyond feeling. Maybe that’s what inspired them for all the imagery that swirled through their heads. There’s a chance you, too, will be swept up in Skagen’s mystical magic as well as its defining sunlight, and just let your creative juices flow. 

What’s In A Name? 

First of all, it’s not Skah-gehn. Certainly not. Locals pronounce it Skain. Or, occasionally in English as The Skaw. Why? Because they can. There aren’t really a lot of them, only about 8,000, though that number multiplies in spades as the town receives some two million visitors each year.   

Some early visitors were rather famous and perhaps none more so than King Christian X and Queen Alexandrine. In the early days of the 20th Century, they enjoyed many stays in Skagen with a gaggle of friends. The spotlight, as it were, shone brightly on this tiny town. The royals enjoyed the comfortable surroundings of Klitgaarden, the official summer residence for Danish monarchs. 

There is a bountiful herring offering in Skagen’s adjacent waters for fishermen willing to risk these sometimes brutal seas. That colorful tableau, coupled with a predictably-glorious afternoon light, lured a retinue of Impressionist artists. With easel, brushes, smocks and such, these Scandinavians became known as the Skagen Painters. It’s a rather uninspired name for a vastly inspired group of artists. Their stories and works speak volumes of their talents and gifts as practitioners the visual arts. Art enthusiasts will mention the names of P.S. Krøyer as well as Anna and Michael Ancher. They gained great fame with their works. So, too, a gentleman named Holder Drachmann who was not only an artist but a poet, as well. There were others whose works are among those displayed in Skagen’s Museum. 

More of this story unfolds at the Anna Archer House, the home she shared with husband and fellow artist Michael. A peek into the Brøndrums Hotel gives even greater details as to the comings and goings of these celebrated artists who came in search of the perfect light. That’s not all according to a fellow named Arnold Bennett. He wrote in his 1913 Journal, “What strikes me now most as regards Denmark is the charm, beauty, and independence of the women. They go about freely, sit in cafés together, smoke without self-consciousness. They seem decidedly more independent than Englishwomen.” Perhaps that carefree lifestyle was also an attraction. 

For the record, Skagen boasts the largest fish oil factory in the entire world. It’s a simple factoid you might use some day in Jeopardy.   

Other Points Of Interest 

Nature lovers won’t be trumped by the artsy travelers, and with good reason. This part of Denmark is ripe with wildlife and landscapes, migrating sand dunes, sea eagles, and more. Many like to stand on the shoreline at Grenen, watching carefully for waves, because this is the tip of the top of Denmark. The cap of the Jutland Peninsula. It’s here that the North Sea and the Baltic Sea come nose-to-nose, crest-to-crest with dramatic results.   

And, if that’s not enough, there are the sands of Rabjerg Mile. Sounds like a World War II movie, remembering that this part of Denmark did see action, but it’s not. It’s the curious hiccup of Mother Nature where a massive, in fact Northern Europe’s largest, migrating sand dune is found. Traveling at a speed of approximately 50 feet per year, it won’t break any land speed records but it is impressive. If you stand at the base and stare up, you’ll grasp the fact that it is not only about 130 feet high, it also measures approximately one-half square mile. It’s so impressive, that over the course of 300 years, this sandy quirk of Mother Nature literally swallowed up the Skagen Church. Unlike the smaller structures in its path, the church’s tower still juts forlornly some 60 feet above the dune, a symbol to its divine resistance though parishioners abandoned the church in 1795.             

Well, ponder all these wonderful tidbits about this tiny little get-away that’s so spotlessly clean it seems one could eat right off the street. And, speaking of eating you mustn’t leave town without some sort of herring offering. For many visitors, it’s an acquired taste. Something possibly more familiar to our taste buds is the Skagen ham. Enjoy it with some freshly baked bread, a hunk of local cheese, and a fine offering from the microbrewery that has taken over the former power plant. So that’s what they meant when they said they were generating the juice.