Bornholm, an Island of some 30 kilometers in length, situated in the middle of the central Baltic Sea, is a classy sailing destination for German, Danish, Swedish and Polish skippers. The “Bornholm run”, just like I did it two weeks ago, is a standard summer-trip that is executed by dozens, if not hundreds, of sailboats annually. But, although a “standard” trip, it is far away from being ordinary or boring: Bornholm Island is one of my favourite destinations in the Baltic Sea and I would go as far as to state that this little island can be called the “Madeira of the Baltics”. And here is why …
I originally intended to sail GEKKO northwards through the Great Belt to try to reach Anholt (another classy sailing destination) and maybe the skerries of Gothenburg. The fact that I´ve had my girlfriend aboard (for her first real big sailing trip) and she got very seasick the first day plus a not very encouraging weather forecast for this part of the Baltic Sea made me scale down my ambitions significantly, lower the daily mileage and look for a destination where we wouldn´t have to expect bad weather. Voila: Bornholm!
Central focal point in the middle of the Baltic Sea
Sailing, for me personally, is an act of inner cleansing. Sailing brings peace of mind, refocuses attention and scales back personal problems. Sailing longer legs of 50 or more miles per day has a very special effect: Problems, challenges, things that occupy my brain all the time, stay on land. You leave them behind, the do not matter anymore. Instead other input becomes valid: The sound of the waves, the pattern of the sea. Wind that is blowing and the motion of the boat. It is tranquilizing, highly addictive. A cleansing process, as I said. Sailing to Bornholm requires such long legs, 10 to 16 hours daily.
For Gabriella, who did her first ever real long sailing vacation that time, it was a big time start. Overwhelming impressions, everything was new: My skipper´s language, the live aboard (reduced, simple, rough), the very special life of a sailor. Getting up with first light, getting ready he boat and casting off, sailing with the elements and caring for nothing by the wind direction and the strength of the gusts. From my home of Luebeck it´s a 150 miles trip t Bornholm, which of course could be done in one leg, but this would have easily been way too much for her to bear. So I chose the classic “pearl necklace”-route: Gedser, Klintholm and Ruegen Island – which she loved. Seeing a different marina and harbour every day, different people, different destinations, different food … pleasant anticipation for Bornholm rose by the day.
Where to drop your anchor on Bornholm
My preferred first destination when coming to Bornholm is Hasle Sogn. I choose this little harbor over Rönne, capitol town of Bornholm, because although not the most beautiful marina of the island, Hasle always has a free berth and there is no industrial zone, no cruise ship- and ferry pontoon like in Rönne. You arrive in a small village, nice people, lush atmosphere. Sailing to Bornholm from Ruegen is a 10 to 13 hour trip so usually one arrives late: I hate looking for free berths after such long days, so Hasle never let me down.
Apart from Rönne, nearing the island from North, there are some other – much, much smaller – harbors you can sail to. One of the most beautiful harbors o Bornholm, in my view, is Gudhjem which is pure magic. Also, Svaneke is a place to visit as well as the small island of Christiansö, some 5 miles North of Bornholm. As always, boats bigger than 38 feet will have to arrive early to catch a berth, Bornholm is frequently visited and berths are rare. I also liked Nexö in the South of the island, so there are many places to tie up your boat when arriving to the island.
The magic scent of flowers
But why Madeira? Well, I´ve been to Madeira by boat some 5 years ago and I can very vividly remember the impression this island did make on our crew. After 4 days sailing the Atlantic Ocean, being seasick heavily and tackling 7 metre waves, a surfing 46 feet cruiser that dashed down with +10 knots, I still have this scent in my nose: Flowers! It seemed, at least in my memories, that Madeira island was full of flowers, a smell that radiated out for miles into the ocean. Kind of the same with Bornholm.
The whole island bristles proud with wild flowers. Be it at the very coastline, big areas of rose hip bushes. When I arrived, big time summer, the smell of the glowing red fruit, some bushes still blossoming, was overwhelming. A sweet scent of this tasty tea fruit, paired with the salty fresh air coming in with a stiff breeze from the sea, mixed with the odors of algae and mussels on the beach. Breathtaking!
In the inland, Bornholm is heavily used by agriculture. Big cornfields, bright orange and golden with heavy laden grain, the flickering heat of the sun. It is just awesome! At the sidelines of each cornfield, wide stripes of wild greenfields are fully overgrown by cornflowers, violets or red poppy. The humming of an endless army of bees and thick bumblebees is apparent, the smell is just overwhelming.
Although Bornholm is heavily used by agriculture, wild nature and untouched forests are seldom (mostly in the North), it appears to me – an ordinary German – like a true paradise. The whole island is kind of detached from modern day European life as we know it here: Yes, of course, internet WiFi connection is – as usual in Scandinavia – on LTE- and 5G-level, there is contactless payment everywhere, all technical amenities are at your disposal, but this all is kind of hidden behind a well groomed curtain of traditions, laid-back-rural life and a wonderfully slowed down lifestyle. If you seek this, Bornholm is the island you should set a course to.
An eventful history
As much as it seems to be a forgotten gem, Bornholm played a vital role in history. First settlers came here 8000 years before Christ, many stone settings can be seen even today. The Vikings used to live o Bornholm during the modern age and put a stamp on the island´s inhabitants. Just like Gotand, due to the central location in the midst of the Baltic Sea, Bornholm became a node point for Baltic trade routes and thus an important location.
One can see this when visiting Hammershus. One of Europe´s biggest castles. The people of Bornholm have a love-hate relation with this huge medieval building. Over the centuries it has been used by an illustrious range of demoniac oppressors who git to rule over the island. Starting with clerical sovereigns, reeves empowered by far away Kings of Sweden or Denmark, even the German Hanse received the island of Bornholm as pawn and cultivated an iron grip – governed from the Castle which served as center of power, feared and dark dungeon, place of jurisdiction and collecting point for heavy dues.
Nowadays Hammershus is one of the major tourist attractions of Bornholm and finally put t a good use. Going there by bicycle is one of the must-dos when I am on the island. It´s a nice, adventurous 3-hour ride from Hasle along the cost, through thick wild forests, over steep hills and down long paved streets. Bornholm was a hub for jewish refugees during WW2 and until 1946 under Soviet protection. Still today many scars from the war can be seen, lots of wrecks, and leftover ammunition can be found all around the island. Travelling is always a time travel as well – on Bornholm, this becomes a Centuries-encompassing adventure.
Bornholm today: A proud Danish exclave
Today´s life on Bornholm is mostly agriculture, livestock farming and of course tourism. Daily ferry connections to Poland, Sweden and Germany provide for a constant influx of tourists. There are no hotels and no resorts but rather loads of Air b´n´bs and flats for rental. Many caravan-sites are used by car enthusiasts and we, sailors, are welcome in many harbors.
One nice tradition of Bornholm is smoking fish. Although not all of the fish has its origin in the Baltic Sea, you should visit one of the traditional smokeries and have at least one breakfast feast enjoying the different kind of smoked fish and seasonings. Together with fresh bread and a fad-öl, this is definitely a culinary highlight. Also, Danish soft ice is famous, the guys love to garnish with various toppings.
Life on Bornholm is unlike that of modern day continental Europe. I only know the island in summer, during high season, but I can imagine that it is even slower, much more picturesque in winter times. There is almost always a village festive going on, Danes love live music and dancing. They are very friendly and open to visitors, especially sailors, I have the impression. When berthing you can count the seconds until the first one will want to start a conversation with you. In this, I am always amazed to the bone how perfect the English language is spoken in Scandinavian countries, a fact that embarrasses a German like me.
The Magic of Bornholm
Bornholm is real magic. No matter if you come here in summer, walk along the sheer endless beaches in sunshine or rain, if wind blows in hard from the open sea or a dead calm makes the water flicker. This island has its own charm, its own character. When coming here, I do not hoist the Danish curtesy flag, but the “Bornholmian” flag which is red with a green cross. Do they feel like being Danish? I have the impression that this special breed of people living here more see themselves as descendants of the Vikings.
Now, though Bornholm might sound like a boring odd destination, it isn´t. I have been sailing to this island since five years now and every time I come here I am enchanted by the magic time and again. I always see something new and I enjoy doing the things I am already familiar with. Bornholm is far away from being boring, it´s a magical island with its own unique character and a fantastic venue to visit.
Of all the harbors we visited during our summer sailing trip, it was the time on Bornholm that my girlfriend enjoyed the most. This destination must be on your list to see when you happen to sail the Baltic Sea, preferably in summer. Enjoy the flowery island, sandy beaches, wild nature, rich history and most of all, the uniqueness of the people who live here. What a destination – Go, visit Denmark!
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