Let’s talk international travel again – Is Aalborg the best little city in Denmark? I’ve only been in the country a week, but it’s getting my early vote. If you can ignore the McDonald’s and Burger King on its central pedestrian drag, then central Aalborg is a dense little dollop of Scandicharm with a fabulous fjordside location, some striking historical buildings, proper cafes, and an honest-to-goodness breath-stealing wonder in the form of the Iron Age and Viking burial ground at Lindholm Hoje. Here are eight things I loved about Aalborg:
1. The lido
OK, so the temperature’s a touch ‘brisk’, but it is a fjord in the North Sea – and it’s nothing those happy to sea-swim in the UK would have trouble with. The pool is beautifully decked, ideal for dozily sunbathing while the floating pontoon rocks gently on the water.
2. Ferrero Rocher ice-cream
Maybe I just haven’t patronised enough ice-cream parlours lately (in the current English summer, who has?) but this was a new flavour on me, and dear god it was delicious. I found it at the little Paradis parlour on Algade, just before the Budolfi Cathedral.
3. The smallest cathedral in Denmark
The Budolfi is a tiny treasure-box of painted renaissance wood-carving – including a spectacular pulpit supported by a Charles Atlas-like Moses. In the porch, look into the corner to your left as you enter, and see another weary figure, this one ‘holding up’ the pillar of the roof – the cartoonlike face is endearingly childlike, and not at all in keeping with the rest of the cathedral’s grand scheme.
4. The largest renaissance house in Scandinavia
If it wasn’t one extreme it as the other with Aalborg’s builders. This magnificent building, five storeys tall, now towers over Burger King. It was built by merchant Jens Bang, who clearly wanted his property to have the same impact as his name.
5. Penny Lane Cafe
Sod expensive New Nordic stuff – Penny Lane (try and nab the cozy table in the window behind the door) does scrumptious, heaped open sandwiches that will keep you going for hours (or until you walk past the ice-cream shop), and some delicious juices and cordials, freshly squeezed over crushed ice. The trays of cakes and pastries will keep you coming back day after day.
6. The airport
I know, I know … it’s only an airport. But this one is 12 minutes and £3 by bus from the town centre, and it’s super-efficient. When I arrived, people were still dropping off bags for a flight leaving just half an hour later. And can I just say that the chap on security was the nicest ever. Kudos. You can fly there direct for £49 from London – or the flight from Copenhagen takes just 30 minutes and is a gorgeous route, right across Denmark.
7. It’s got a medieval monastery. And sunbathing monks.
The Monastery of the Holy Ghost was founded in 1431. It nestles in the very heart of Aalborg, just off the smart C.W.Obels Plads, which is filled with open-air restaurants. But walk 20 metres through the monastery gates (the premises are open to the public, and there are tours inside twice a week) and into its courtyard, where a fountain plashes gently, and you’re in another world. I saw several elderly gentlemen sunning themselves on patio chairs in one corner – I do hope they were monks.
8. Lindhom Hoje
All of the above pleasures, or similar, you could likely find in many exciting travel places – but Lindholm Hoje is truly unique. It’s an extensive Iron Age and Viking burial site (600s to 1000s) on a hillside overlooking the fjord (again, just a 10 minute bus-ride from the city centre), where hundreds of normal men and women – some of high status but most clearly just normal villagers – were buried in a number of different styles through four centuries. It’s beautiful and moving, hard to walk around without letting your hands brush the stones as you think of how each stone circle, or boat, or triangle marks the resting place a man, woman or child who lived and died more than a thousand years ago.
The photos show: the courtyard of the Monastery of the Holy Ghost; the Budolfi Cathedral, the Lido and Jens Bang’s House
The Aalborg Regatta is an annual event, mashing up ships, music and a funfair. This year’s Regatta takes place this weekend: http://m.visitaalborg.com/ln-int/tellus-product/731754