Denmark is justly proud of it’s 5,000 miles of clean and sparkling white sandy beaches and from September this year will be marking out one area in particular along the south west coast from Blåvandshuk to the Tønder marshland. This is the area known as The Wadden Sea officially becomes Denmark’s third National Park.
The Wadden Sea is of particular importance because it is one of the world's most valuable tidal areas, being located in the middle of the Eastern Atlantic migratory routes. It attracts between 10-12 million migratory birds each year that use the coastline as their stopover and wintering area in northern Europe.
In addition to the birdlife, this vast wetland area with its miles of precious beaches is home to Denmark’s largest population of spotted seals, with sightings throughout the summer months being virtually guaranteed. One of the best ways to see them is on a Seal and Wadden Sea Safaris that depart from Esbjerg Harbour each day.
Alternatively to learn more about the region visit the Wadden Sea Centre, which is dedicated to educating visitors about this fascinating area. Exhibits at the centre include the travelling life of migratory birds; a cultural exhibition of life in the area from the middle ages to the present day and a fascinating multimedia show about the storm surges that have affected the Wadden Sea over the centuries. The centre also organises over 80 guided tours including a tour by ‘tractor bus’ to explore the local flora and fauna of the nearby island of Mando at low tide.
Activity Carts are also available for families to take down to the sea flats to fish, dig and learn about the area at their leisure. Sharp-sighted beachcombers may even be rewarded with genuine treasure in the form of particles of golden amber. These nuggets of prehistoric pine resin can be found in many places along the Danish coast. The best conditions for amber-hunting are after a storm, when the waves cast exciting discoveries all over the shore.
From October to Easter, the centre organises for groups of oyster hunters to take a 3 km guided walk out to the oyster beds where participants are invited to pick and eat as many delicious oysters as they wish. In so doing visitors can also do their bit for the environment by helping to remove non native Pacific Oysters, considered a pest by environmentalists. The Pacific Oysters where introduced to the region in the 1980’s and have since become established, taking over the areas that were once populated by the native blue mussels. The decline in the blue mussel population is in turn leading to a decline in the number of shell-fish eating birds and therefore having an impact on the native biodiversity of the ecosystem.
The centre can also organise to take groups to some of the best spots to observe the mesmerising natural phenomenon of ‘The Black Sun’. This dance at dusk by huge numbers of migratory starlings takes place in Spring (mid March for two – three weeks) and Autumn (from mid August for two months) as they come at the end of each day to feed on flies and other insects, creating extraordinary circling flocks at sunset. The marshes on the outskirts of Ribe are one of best places to park the car and await the spectacle.
Ribe is the oldest city in Denmark and this year celebrates its 1300 anniversary but each year the town also celebrates its seafaring history and the importance of shipping through the centuries with the Wadden Sea Regatta. This year it takes place from 16-21 July 2010 and will see flat bottomed boats called ‘prams’ and other wooden ships come into the town via the river of Ribe and out through the sluice Kammerslusen retracing the old trade routes in the Wadden Sea from Ribe to the island of Fanø.
The pretty little island of Fanø is a 17 km strip of land just outside Esbjerg harbour. The beaches on Fanø are so wide that even cars can drive along them from Fanø Bad to Havside Berge and a number of operators run beach activities such as blo-karting and wind/kite surfing. The island is also gaining international notoriety for its Kite Festivals. The first – 'the International Kite Festival' - takes place for two weeks in June culminating in fours days of competition from 17 – 20 June where from morning to night the sky is filled with kites of numerous shape and colour. Attracting over 5,000 participants, the festival is open to everyone and attracts kite fliers from all over the world. There are numerous activities over the four days including workshops, shows with historical kites, a Kite Party and the famous kite auction. From 4 – 8 August, the ‘Family Kite Festival’ takes place which is specifically designed for families with kite making workshops and other activities.
Nordby, is the main town on the island with very picturesque and colourful thatched houses, as well as some excellent specialty shops such as an awarding winning butcher and bakery and even a candlestick maker. In the southern part of the island is the smaller and more remote village of Sonderho; in both parts of the island building restrictions have stopped new summer houses encroaching on the period buildings which add to the timeless appeal of this enchanting little island.
The best way to experience the area is to arrive by ferry with DFDS Seaways. They offer a regular service of departures every other day between Harwich and Esbjerg, during June, July and August and crossings three times a week between September and May. DFDS Seaways has fares from Harwich to Esbjerg from £232 for two people + car + caravan one way (caravans go free on Sunday & selected Mondays for bookings made 30 days in advance).
There are plenty of places to stay close to the Wadden Sea including the Ribe Byferie one of Denmark’s most popular holiday centres and an ideal place to stay close to the centre of the historic town or take a beach cottage on Fano.
From the ferry terminal in Esbjerg it’s a 12 minute ferry to Fanø where Novasol have a large choice of self catering houses and with the Danish school holidays following a slightly different pattern those in the UK, it's possible to make significant savings during this otherwise peak period, when prices in many other European destinations can be sky high. For example a very comfortable, well appointed house on the island of Fanø costs from £1,105 per week during the peak season in July but if travelling after 28 August the price drops to £664 per week – representing a saving of £441 on the peak-season price. The spacious house sleeps 8-10 people and facilities including a whirl pool, sauna and wood burning stove with views out over the heath land and dunes and free access to the local water park.
Alternatively the area offer a choice of campsites and cosy chalets which also benefit from excellent facilities such as swimming pools, spas, sports equipment and activities such as horse riding.