The fairy tale-like Egeskov Castle in Funen (Photo: Mandias/Flickr)
Am I the princess who’s a sensitive sleeper? The ugly duckling? The emperor with the questionable wardrobe? These are the questions that require your urgent attention as you travel across Funen in Denmark. It’s aptly nicknamed “the fairy tale island” both because it’s where children’s story author Hans Christian Andersen was born in 1805 and because it’s more atmospheric and captivating than any storybook.
The Danish island of Funen is a nice escape west of Copenhagen. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Located less than two hours west of Copenhagen and accessible by train, plane, or car, the island of Funen is a once-upon-a-time machine transporting you to a land far, far away from cubicles, taxis, and the ever-increasing pace of modern life. At the Falsled Kro, an adorable inn in the southern part of the island, you’ll want to pinch yourself when you see its bright, white brick exterior, thatched roof, and brown-beamed ceilings. The scents of a newly kindled fire and home-brewed anise-and-citrus tea mingle to welcome you into this very hygge spot. (That’s Danish for “cozy” and pronounced “hue-gah.”) The rosebuds climbing the walls frame your room’s doorway, while the purple and pink hydrangeas smile upon the courtyard; it’s a stiff competition for most adorable decoration here. It was not always thus: This piece of bucolic paradise was originally a smugglers’ inn in the 1600s and was restored after a fire in 1854.
The charming Falsled Kro (Photo: Christian Braase Helge/Instagram)
Even the breakfast is adorable. The three tiny fried quail eggs with a petite 6-inch strip of bacon and a sausage looks like a doll’s meal. If you’re concerned you’ll leave on an empty stomach, not to worry. Enjoy the basket of freshly baked bread with (decidedly un-Danish but still delish) dulce de leche and marmalade or a piece of lemon ricotta cake. The multicourse dinner, served in the glass-enclosed restaurant with harbor views, includes freshly baked honey-and-malt cocoa bread and a scrumptious, innovative entree of slightly smoked eel on a poached egg with sorrel sauce.
The breakfast at the Falsled Kro (Photo: Christian Braase Helge/Instagram)
The hotel Stella Maris, which overlooks the Svendborg Sound, is another lovely island option. Its decor is closer to Hamptons chic than fairy tale fab, with light wood floors, beige furniture, and nautical items throughout. Each room gets its own adorable accent wall with on-trend but classic wallpaper.
Wallpaper helps make the room at the Stella Maris. (Photo: Kim Rittberg)
A statue of hometown hero Hans Christian Andersen in Odense (Photo: Thinkstock)
Funen’s capital of Odense is a quaint little burg (population under 200,000) where Hans Christian Andersen grew up. The prolific author of “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,” and “The Princess and the Pea” is deified here. Andersen’s childhood neighborhood was considered a slum when he lived there, but the past two centuries have been good to it. His home has since been turned into a museum with an elaborate children’s theater featuring impromptu live outdoor performances. Artificial torches, a suspension bridge, and panels with intricate woodworking create elaborate set pieces, while the wardrobe room overflows with richly textured embroidered costumes sure to kick-start any child’s imagination.
Performances help bring the stories of Hans Christian Andersen to life. (Photo: Kim Rittberg)
Odense’s other offerings include a river tour and the Tidens Samling Museum, which showcases Danish decor and clothing from each decade of the 20th century. If you’re not into clothing, perhaps the Brandts Museum of Art and Visual Culture’s current exhibition on tattoos is up your alley — an entire wall is devoted to Ryan McGinley‘s large-scale photographs of naked people showcasing their epidermal designs. This truly rad museum offers cutting-edge installations designed to appeal to more than just the typical art set.
Tattoos exhibit at Brandts Museum (Photo: Brandts Museum of Art and Visual Culture)
Nearby Aero has an 18th-century charm all its own. (Photo: daveballardphoto/Flickr)
Now, continue your “fairy tale island” hopping by taking the ferry to the serene, slow-paced island of Aero, population: 6,500. Bike, sail, or walk around the countryside and its tiny town of Aeroskobing, where you’ll see well-preserved timber-and-brick buildings from the 1700s. Flower boxes are filled with color, while hand-blown glass peepholes and hammered iron details on doors hint at each home’s rich history. Many residences have ceramic dogs greeting you in the front windows, a tradition dating back to the nation’s years as a seafaring power. Local lore has it that if the pup is facing out, the husband is away at sea, the implication being that other men can drop in for a visit. Saucy! But honor abides on the island: Roadside stands selling strawberries and potatoes rely on the honor system for payment. The Rise Brewery produces 400,000 bottles of Aero beer, ranging in flavor from pale ale to walnut, and exports much of it internationally. If you choose to stay overnight, there is the charming Pension Vestergade 44, where cinnamon rolls are served on fine Danish china in the well-kept back patio area. Lastly, bring some rice to throw; you’re liable to bump into a bride, because the island is quickly becoming a hot destination wedding site; 2,100 weddings were performed there last year.
The local brew: Aero beer (Photo: Christoffer Glosli/Flickr)
You can’t complete the fairy tale without gliding into a castle or two! You can take a ferry ride across the Svendborg Sound to visit Valdemars Castle, a lavishly decorated home on Tasinge island that dates from 1639. Or stay on Funen and get lost in a garden labyrinth on the grounds of the 66-room Egeskov Castle. The Disney-caliber, gorgeous Renaissance castle dates from 1554 and has a photogenic pond, moat, and spires.
The sprawling Egeskov Castle (Photo: Kim Rittberg)
The castle also houses an impressive vintage motorcycle and automobile collection. Fifty well-maintained cars are on display, the oldest being a steam-driven car from 1899. For the doll fanciers, the castle houses one of the largest and most valuable dollhouses in the world; it’s insured for more than 50 million Danish kroner (approximately $10 million). The Banqueting Hall is available for large, “exclusive” dinner parties. You’ll have to inquire to see if you fit the bill.
From classic cars to classic dolls (in background), there’s plenty to admire at Egeskov Castle. (Photo: Kim Rittberg)
And just as your mind wanders and you start to fantasize about living in this fairy tale palace, a woman with a big smile pops out of the castle holding hands with her son. Unbelievably, Denmark’s Countess Caroline actually gets to live in this dream house. Maybe she wants some company?