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In Denmark: Bathe like an emperor in the artists’ Land of light - Skagen

Skagen, the northernmost town of Denmark, has been one Scandinavia’s most popular tourist destinations for generations. But why should millions of people travel each year to what is essentially a picturesque fishing village? The fact that there are some 60 km of windswept beaches in this same area is one reason. World-class seafood is another.

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In addition to these constant and considerable attractions, visitors to the top of Denmark can also now bathe like Julius Caesar in Scandinavia’s first full-scale Roman Bath. The facility, which cost about USD 6 million to build, opened September 9, 2005 at the Skallerup Klit holiday center, just north of the fishing port of Lonstrup..
To put one in the proper Mediterranean mood, one dons a proper white terry cloth toga immediately upon entering the bath and spa facility. Soft and vaguely New Age music is playing in the background. Perhaps one wishes to refresh oneself with grapes, other fresh fruits or juice before sinking into one of the three turquoise-tiled pools with water at various temperatures? To move from a steam bath or sauna directly into a cold bathe is a great way to get your circulation going.
Naturally, it is possible to pamper oneself at Romulus with a facial of body massage, clay or algae treatments and a whole cornucopia of other pleasant forms of self-indulgence.
Skallerup Klit, where the Romulus bathhouse is located, is an enormous upscale vacation of a scale and sophistication which seems to flourish only in Denmark. This form of vacation isn’t cheap, but the quality is top-notch.
Some 263 modern and spacious apartments and houses are available, many of which feature wood stoves, private saunas and Jacuzzis, in addition to a modern kitchen complete with dishwashers. There are a mind-boggling amount of activities available for both kids and grown-ups. In addition to the new Roman spa, there is a full-size bowling alley combined with an Irish pub, squash, badminton and tennis courts, a large swimming pool and an “adventure” pool with water slide, rock caves and a waterfall; a fitness gym, a jungle track, giant trampolines, a restaurant, a bistro and a pizza restaurant (take-outs are A-OK).
Before soaking in the Roman bath, one can take a one- hour ride to the beach on Icelandic horses. Or why not experience this area’s amazing nature, cultural attractions and tourist sites?
I recommend a visit to nearby Råbjerg Mile, the largest shifting sand dune in Northern Europe. One can easily imagine that one is Lawrence of Arabia on the hilly dunes, and they are a great place to fly a kite because of the ever-present wind. The dunes are close to Skagen’s Grenen, a steadily expanding finger of beach at the very top of Northern Jutland where one can stand with one foot in two different seas, the Skagerrak and Kattegat.
There is an otherworldly form of light in this particular corner of Scandinavia (vociferously promoted in all the tourist brochures) which helped make Skagen a magnet for 19th century artists—a sort of Paris of the North—from the end of the 1870s up to the turn of the century. This colony of open-air painters largely rejected the Impressionist style, opting instead for the realism of natural light. They portrayed the landscape and beaches as well as the everyday life of thehard-working residents of the fishing villages.
The most famous artist in this group was Denmark’s P.S. Krøyer, whose paintings are among the most-loved in Scandinavian art. (Oneof his paintings completed in 1888 called “Hip, hip hurrah!” portrays a festive picnic, which is the inspiration of a 1987 film of the same name about the Skagen colony, staring Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård).
The Norwegian painter Chr. Krohg and the Swedish painter Oscar Björck were other prominent Skagen artists who made a splash at exhibitions in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Venice and Chicago. Skagens Museum is the best place to view the works of these pioneering Scandinavian artists.
Taking a stroll in the colorful harbor area or along the beach, it isn’t hard to recognize some of the same motifs which inspired the Skagen artist colony a century ago. And if all that walking, culture and fresh air makes one hungry, the perfect solution is near at hand.
My party of journalists installed itself in shellfish heaven at Skagen Fiskerestaurant. We chatted loudly as we trooped into this rustic eatery with a sand-covered floor. But a few minutes later, all one could hear from our table as was the steady cracking of crab legs and West Coast crayfish, slurping of oysters and the clicking noise of empty blue mussel shells tossed into galvanized steel buckets. Scandinavians take their shellfish-eating so seriously that they hardly have time to talk.
Historians and tourism promoters may talk about the divine light in the Skagen area as a key reason for the 19th century artistic movement. Indeed, the luminescence at the shoreline can be bewitching, and both sunsets and sundown over the water are breathtaking. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the real reason the artists came to Skagen in the first place was the tasty fish.

Text: David Bartal

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