Russet revolution

Richard Tulloch's wardrobe clashes with the decor on a beautiful Danish island.

'That shirt doesn't fit in here," my wife says. "It's repulsive." She prides herself on her ability to spot bad taste, mine in particular, and the purple-and-aqua pattern splashed across my chest is admittedly striking. "It's a cycling jersey," I counter lamely. "It's supposed to stand out and repel motorists."

But even I can see that my shirt looks wrong on Bornholm, an island where everything, from each waving wheat field to every cottage windowsill, seems in perfect visual harmony.

The Danes have gone to a lot of trouble to make this place look good. In Svaneke they've even had their water tower designed by an architect – a chap well known to Australians.

Bornholm is where the Danes go to recharge the batteries with beauty, fresh air and country charm. It's an hour's train ride from Copenhagen into Sweden, then another hour or so on a sleek catamaran ferry, which we note was built in Western Australia.

"We're big on nature, arts and crafts and crazy ways of getting round the island," says Kim in the Bornholm Tourist Office. "It's only 30 kilometres across and 40 kilometres up and down. You can do it on rollerblades if you like."

We pass on that one and instead choose Bornholm's most popular means of transport, the rental bike, with a deal that includes getting our luggage shuttled to our accommodation each night. It's also reassuring to know that in case of rain, fatigue or loss of motivation, we can flag down a bus to take us and our bikes somewhere dry and comfortable.

Fortunately, we never need to resort to that wussy alternative. The weather is fine, the rolling hills manageable and the surroundings beautiful. Poppies are sprinkled through the ripening crops, the sea is never far from view and villages are all colour co-ordinated.

Paint on Bornholm is apparently available only from a limited colour chart. Cottages are deep russet red or yellow ochre, with black timberwork. Interiors are white.

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Purple cycling shirts are frowned upon. We stop for lunch in the little town of Halse, known for its "rogeri", the smokehouse where herrings are hung to dry.

In the old days, smokehouses may have been smelly, unpleasant workplaces but now their beachfront locations and characteristic pyramid-shaped chimney stacks make them ideal for conversion into cafes and charming holiday houses. The aroma inside the Halse rogeri is irresistible. We order the traditional local delicacy – a whole smoked herring served with heavy rye bread, chopped radish, chives, lettuce and a raw egg yolk. I don't know the etiquette for eating raw egg yolk, so I just pour it over my herring and it does the job well.

Further up the coast the shoreline is broken by rugged cliffs. Jon's Chapel is a spectacular rock formation where legend has it an Irish priest named Jon used to preach to a congregation on the beach below.

It's hard work to get down the steep steps, so Jon's flock presumably consisted of a little band of devout masochists.

Hammershus Castle, "the biggest ruined castle in Northern Europe", is strategically perched on a headland for maximum photogenic effect. So, too, is the modern Bornholm Art Museum, all white angles set against sea glimpses.

"This place looks really stylish," my fashion guru says pointedly. I get the message and pull a dark rain jacket over the offending purple shirt before we go inside.

The museum is superbly designed to let nature in – low windows give us views of forests and fields and a tiny stream trickles down the treads of the internal staircase.

The work of Bornholm's artists is seriously good and we particularly like the early 20th-century landscapes and the modern ceramics. Stylish indeed.

Gudhjem village is also a triumph of art direction. It lures the tourists with a perfect white windmill at the top of the steep hill and a church tower at the bottom. Half-timbered houses are all painted regulation red or yellow and every second building is a craft gallery, glasswork being the speciality. German tourists are arriving by the busload.

We join them for an excellent all-you-can-eat smorgasbord at the smokehouse. Again the major menu item is herring: smoked, double-smoked, pickled, pickled in sugar, pickled in pink sugar, battered, deep fried with onion relish or smothered in yellow mayonnaise.

Those who don't like herring can have salmon (smoked, of course).

Then it's on to Svaneke and that water tower. We heard it's now surplus to requirements but it still stands above the village, a black pyramid on three concrete legs, with an elegant metal staircase winding into its belly. There are no backstage tours but as water towers go, it's pretty special – it was designed by Joern Utzon on his way to do the Sydney Opera House.

The following day we roll past wide beaches and back into Ronne, the island's capital. "What's that smell?" my wife asks. I consult the guidebook. "Ronne was named after the Danish word for rotten and once smelled putrid, due to decomposing seaweed."

"Rubbish," my wife says. "It's that shirt of yours. You've been sweating in it for three days." I peel off the lurid purple and slip into something more understated. My wife puts on her Gudhjem glass earrings. Then we blend effortlessly into Ronne's cobbled backstreets. We could almost be mistaken for Bornholmers.

The writer was a guest of the Scandinavian Tourist Board in Australia and Scandinavian Airlines.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) offers connections from Sydney to Copenhagen. For airfares, including upgrade options, phone 1300 727 707, or see flysas.com.au. Combined train/ferry from Copenhagen to Ronne on Bornholm takes about three hours and costs from 248 kroner ($60) one way. See dsb.dk/bornholm.

STAYING THERE

Pension Slaegtsgaarden in Allinge, Bornholm, offers bed and breakfast from 300 kroner. See slaegtsgaarden.dk. For other options, see bornholminfo.dk.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Bike hire on Bornholm costs from 65 kroner a day, see bornholms-cykeludlejning.dk. For other accommodation and activities on Bornholm, phone 9212 1332 to order a Scandinavian Essential Guide, or see bornholminfo.dk or visitscandinavia.com.au.

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