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Luxury houseboats: five-star floating on Denmark’s western fjords

I settled in, starting to really enjoy the strangeness of the fjord and its landscape

August 10, 2011 | By:

They're houseboats but not as we know them: in the Jutland town of Hvide Sande, the Danes have come up with a more stylish option. Oliver Bennett climbs aboard

Danish Houseboats_Hvide Sande_high50_620

Float your boat? These contain saunas, whirlpool baths and top-deck barbecues. Photo by hvidesande.dk

Houseboat holidays in the UK tend to be on folksy barges, which one steers through endless locks that always seem in need of WD40. Tough work, to which I can attest – and a windy, beer-soaked week in the Midlands it was.

But in a fishing town in Jutland, western Denmark, there’s a different kind of houseboat: a gleaming, chintz-free, luxury floating experience. 

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These boats don’t move: they are permanently moored. Ideal for those who love the gentle sense of anti-gravity engendered by sleeping on water, but who don’t want to spend the week swabbing and knotting.

I sailed across the North Sea to investigate, enjoying a flat sea and a fish buffet on board an extremely pleasant DFDS ferry. At the other end, I drove from the port of Esbjerg into Jutland, a mirror image of East Anglia: flat terrain with big skies, pastures and slow rivers bordered by rushes. After driving for an hour or so, I arrived in a raw, fishy seaside town called Hvide Sande.

Jutland scenery

Hvide Sande is agreeable enough, a bit of a Fort William: a hub rather than a destination. It was the wider Jutland location that mattered. On one side, there was a windy sea where sandy beaches stretched in each direction: 40 clean kilometres all told. Behind was that flat landscape, punctuated by wooden holiday homes, kites, horses and cycle paths.

I met the houseboat contact and was taken a short distance to the flat and ethereal Ringkøbing Fjord: an eel-filled and slightly eerie lagoon. Round a corner, past a small field of fishermans’ huts that looked like Monopoly houses, were the houseboats.

These are extraordinary hi-tech boats, in corrugated steel, designed by Danish architects Cubo Arkitekter. They have two decks, a little sauna, a whirlpool bath, three bedrooms (sleeping up to eight) and veranda, with a barbecue on the top deck.

I settled in, starting to really enjoy the strangeness of the fjord and its landscape. At night, the sun set over the water, revealing startling Nordic reds and yellows. It remained light until about 10.30pm in early summer, doing odd and pleasant things to the pineal gland.

Bells clanged from the church at Ringkøbing, the ancient town across the fjord, eel fishers waved as they passed on a night’s fishing expedition, water lapped hypnotically at the boat‘s side.

Vikings and Legoland

During the endless dusk, my son and I crabbed off the side of the boat, watched cormorants dip, and barbecued eels and herrings. During the days, we looked for amber in the endless beaches, climbed lighthouses, cycled in dunes and pine forests, and enjoyed the pretty but windy beaches, with their Saharan levels of sand.

The towns were pretty, safe and uneventful: just what this Londoner wanted. Ribe, Denmark’s oldest town, had been a great medieval centre and I walked around its cathedral, reading about the various Haralds and Eriks who had ruled the roost, then enjoying waffles and coffee in one of its quaint cafés.

I visited a Viking Village nearby, where students dressed in sackcloth showed us how to make Viking patties, paint woad and build longboats. Fun.

An hour away was Denmark’s second town, Aarhus, where I visited the art museum, the ARoS, currently showing Olafur Eliasson, then Den Gamle By, an open-air architecture museum that was a treat: like walking into a Hans Christian Andersen tale.

Then, as a concession to my son, we went to the original Legoland in Billund – oddly fascinating. Still, it was good to get back to the boat: to a cold Carlsberg, a hot sauna, and a long sleep.