A year of living Danishly
Chalkmarks ARoS Rainbow

THANKS to those Scandinoir sagas, Sarah Lung jumpers and being voted the happiest place on the planet, Denmark’s appeal has been bursting out of northern Europe like a Viking’s arrow.

It’ll keep us looking upwards in 2017 but it won’t be sophisticated Copenhagen that grabs our attention but arty Aarhus.

This seaside metropolis is hosting the European Capital of Culture jointly with Paphos in Cyprus. It’s also been chosen as the European Region of Gastronomy shared with East Lombardy in Italy and Riga and Gajua in Latvia.

Never before though has one place held both titles in the same year.

From the top of the ARoS Art Museum I suddenly see why it calls itself “the smallest big city”.

While you can walk across the centre in 20 minutes, a lot happens down there. There’s beach, forest and a harbour area. It also has the world’s first open-air museum, Scandivania’s number one shopping hub and a Michelin-listed food scene.

I had followed the sculptures and installations up the spiral staircase at ARoS ending at the top of a spectacular 360° glass rainbow walkway to gaze down at the streets below.

This colourful glass artwork is the signature feature on the Aarhus skyline. It is like a halo over the city, and people glancing up can only see silhouettes behind the tinted-windows. As I look out, I can see centuries of the city’s history as spires, old factories and mills from the city’s industrial past spread from the centre.

It’s a very photogenic university city with no shiny skyscrapers. Only the c12th cathedral – the tallest in Denmark at 315ft – pierces into the sky from the Latin Quarter.

Situated on the eastern coast of Jutland, Aarhus is just over an hour away from the UK.  So it’s easy to make it over for a weekend trip to visit Denmark’s second largest city.

Vikings would have been causing panic around these parts more than a thousand years ago but today there’s only helmeted cyclists to contend with.

Back down at ground level, my first stop is the newly revamped harbour area which will attract a record number of cruise ships next year.

It was an easy walk across town to the newly built Dokk1 (Dock 1) which will be one of the focus points for the explosion of activities and spectacle events.

When the outside is finished, there’ll be a concert plaza area, swimming pools and a promenade.

I jump out of my skin as a three-ton bronze bell rings out behind me. This eccentric installation sounds out every time a baby is born in the city.

Resisting the temptation to wait for another arrival, I instead head straight into the past to peek inside what could have been the home of the young storyteller Hans Christian Anderson. Another short walk away is Den Gamble By – The Old Town – which re-creates how Danes have lived for more than three centuries with 75 buildings complete with original decorations.

While open-air museums have become regular attractions around the world, this was the first. Opened in 1909, Aarhus got in early on preserving its urban heritage.  It begins on the cobbled streets of a market town from the 1800s filled with small timbered houses and workshops and leads you through to a neighbourhood from 1920s and then into 1970s.

Outside the city centre at Moesgaard Museum I came face to face with an even older attraction – a peat bog man – a corpse from more than 2,000 years ago.

When Grauballe Man was discovered in 1952, its perfectly preserved skin and long mop of red hair led to a woman’s claim that it was the body of her long lost relative. Scientific tests however revealed the man actually dated from the Iron Age and had probably been offered as a sacrifice before his body was thrown into a bog. The British Museum has long wanted to exhibit this fine example of early man but the remains are too frail to transport.

An hour away by car is the Sea War Museum built specially for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland.

On May 31st 1916 more than 8,000 British and German sailors in the biggest sea battle of the WW1 lost their lives in just 12hours. Those then living near the spot where the museum stands said could they could hear the sound of guns from the shore.

On this site closest to the battle ground 26 granite stones have been positioned representing the ships that went down. The memorial park is a stark visualisation of the huge loss of life.

When complete, it will include 8,645 figures – reminiscent of the sea of red poppies at the Tower of London in 2014.

As well as attracting visitors with a taste for history, Aarhus can serve up a weekend of tasty delights – and more than just Danish pastries and bacon.

Securing the European Region of Gastronomy title means chefs can show off their new Nordic culinary skills with local delicacies.

In other parts of the world oysters evoke an image of exclusivity, think flashy champagne bars. But here it’s easy to pluck one straight from the sea and such oyster safaris are available along much of Jutland the coastline.

I head to Limfjorden and, armed with a bucket and kitted out in rubber trousers, I wade waist deep into the into the freezing North Sea. With a guide, I plunged elbow deep to pluck these shelled gems from the seabed. My haul would have made me a small fortune in the south of France but 20minutes later we were cooking them over a smoky barbecue on the shore.

To wash those down the area also produces beverages including beer from the micro brewery Fur Bryghus on Fur island – once voted one of Denmark’s most beautiful islands.

At Stauning Whisky they’re making their own malted rye. As you can’t produce aged whisky in the less that 25 years their making young whiskies using traditional methods and winning awards for it. Even owners from Scottish distilleries have been visiting to relearn some of the old tricks.

Tiger Rug by Xu Bing made from 500,000 cigarettes

Back in Aarhus, the Latin Quarter is a real foodie hub with cafe-lined cobbled streets where you could spend a whole day moving from lattes to beer to grazing on a classic open sandwiches piled high with pickled herrings on freshly baked rye bread.

A popular spot for a bargain night out is Cafe Lecoq where a beer and dinner on a Tuesday night costs just 50Krones (£5). But get there early as when the plates are gone there’s no more food.

As a grand finale to my trip I eat at Michelin-starred Substans. Here the focus is on fine dining but without the formalities. There’s no table cloths but candles on white wooden picnic style dining tables. The waiters wear leather aprons and trainers as they serve up a seven course meal including haddock, veal, pork and two desserts.

With this combo of art and food at the heart of the 2017 celebrations, I already can’t wait to go back.

Book it

Wexas (020 7590 0610) offers five nights from £630 (per person) B&B. Price includes return flights from Heathrow into Billund with BA, five days car hire, 2 nights Hotel Svanen in Billund, 1 night Hotel Hvalpsund Færgekro, and 1 night Hotel Oasia (Small Danish Hotels)

Denmark tourism: visitdenmark.com

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