From our Hidden Treasures series
Most visitors to Germany never get north of Frankfurt, and even fewer venture above Hamburg to Schleswig-Holstein, a thick neck of mostly flat ground that divides the Baltic from the North Sea. It is a breezy land of thatched roofed houses, clean air, and big skies; a different sort of landscape, a different sort of architecture. Motoring south late one afternoon from Denmark on federal road #5, about an hour or so north of the port city of Husum, it was time to find a place to stay.
From Michelin's excellent 500 Charming Hotels and Inns, we selected a couple of prospects that fit our requirements: quiet, country, restaurant, and about €100 for a double room. Though calls via our tri-band GSM mobile phone drew a "fully booked" response from the Holländische Stube in Friedrichstadt, we hit paydirt at the Hotel Lundenbergsand in Simonsberg. A double room for one night would be €95.
The Sea, The Sea
This is sparsely populated country, and after leaving the main road, the route to the hotel turned into a series of almost deserted narrow dike roads. Fortunately, there are discrete signs to the hotel. Set in a copse of trees, the snow-white Lundenbergsand backs up to the 30-foot high dike that protects it from the sea. Dormer windows peek from a massive, steeply-pitched thatched roof.
Other than its coziness, the interior décor is a bit of a change from the stereotypical small Germany hotel. The overall feeling, in fact, is somewhat nautical. The combination reception area/stube/dining/breakfast room is done in a muted green, accented with green Delft tiles. On the walls are a ship's wheel, pictures of ships and thatched roof farmhouses, and raised inscriptions in what we presume is an ancient Frisian language. Oil lamps hang over each table.
Room Number 11, reached via a stairway off the public room, is compact and spare but comfortable enough for a stay of two or three nights. There is a white wooden bed, a table and two chairs, a small TV, furrowed sisal carpeting, stripped wallpaper, a painted wood ceiling edged in white molding, pictures of boats and flowers, and a chest-high window. The latter affords a long, peaceful view of sky, hedges, waving grasses, and wheeling birds. The bathroom has adequate space and lighting and one of those after-the-fact, add-on corner shower enclosures.
Dinner in the stube – there was also a more formal dining area – featured ample portions of good but not great food. Predictably, the menu includes a preponderance of seafood selections. Chunks of grilled and fried North Sea fish comprised the Kapitansteller (€15.9) and baked Scholle (€15.9) was fairly massive and halibut-like. Shared starters of grilled Garnelen (shrimp) and a salad cost €8.50 and €2.80. The price of a 0.4 liter glass of Königpilsener was €2.90. Without beverages, we paid €49.9 for dinner for two with dessert.
Plenty of daylight still remained at 9:30pm, so a walk on the dike seemed in order. Even though it is no more than 30 or 40 feet above the sea, one has a sense of altitude and vast space from atop this sturdy embankment. Sheep sprawl on the grass-covered berm as it slopes to the water. A man with a complicated-looking camera and tripod squints toward the pink horizon. A couple sit cross-legged on a blanket and sip red wine. Other than the sheep, the photographer and the wine drinkers we are alone. The tide flats of the Wattenmeer National Park stretch far into the distance and reflect the limitless sky.
This is an unconventional kind of beauty. To the east, 30-foot metal blades of giant power-generating windmills turn slowly in the breeze. Some might see them as interlopers, but their almost regal presence seems almost to enhance the peaceful but rather melancholy scene. Just before dark, as we headed back to the hotel, a little hedgehog scrambled across the road in front of us. Through the night, the window in our room stayed open. Other than the wind rippling the long grasses, we didn't hear a sound.
Solitude is perhaps the best word for this unusual part of Germany - the kind found on mountain-tops and lonely beaches. It's not only good for the blood pressure, but also for the soul. So just once, why not forgo the kitsch of southern Bavaria and the Black Forest for the charm and quiet of western Schleswig-Holstein and the Lundenbergsand?
Rating: Quality 13/20, Value 14/20