Home by the Sea: Skagen, a forever inspiration for artists and writers

The sand particles come flying in, stinging my face and piercing my skin as the boisterous gale hurls small pebbles in my direction. The howling of the winds is drowned by the hysterical waves. I turn my gaze towards the oceans that are putting on a spectacular show, bordering between violent passion and seething fury. There are two of them, tinged in shades of blue and grey separated by a mere sliver of a sandbar.

The waves collide and lash at each other and the air brims with a briny mist. I stand atop a hill on the northernmost tip of Denmark. I am at Grenen in the heart of Jutland Peninsula, where the North Sea, referred to as Skagerrak, meets the Kattegat, drained by the Baltic Sea. Standing here on the spit, I am overwhelmed by a gamut of emotions as I watch a seal tossed around by the angry, excited waves.

The sandy beaches of Grenen with its tempestuous waves have been the fascination of many an impressionist painter from Skagen, the northernmost sea side town, located barely 5 km from here. Shaped like a bough of a tree that veers away from the mainland, Grenen is referred to as “the branch” and it makes you feel like you are on the top of Denmark. Even more iconic than Grenen is the Sandornen or the sand worm, a tractor that takes you uphill to this spit called Skaggens Odde, which runs for over 30 km.

If Grenen takes you into a world of storms and shipwrecks, Skagen is an oasis of calm, filled with pretty yellow houses, rugged seascapes, buried churches and towering lighthouses that seems straight out of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. No wonder the author called it home briefly.

There is something distinctly special about the fishing town, called The Scaw and pronounced as “Skayen”. I feel like a traveller lost in the annals of time. The quaint fishing harbour with its red warehouses add to the romantic aura and old-world charm. The balmy breeze carries with it the salts of the sea. Bicycles whiz past lanes filled with half-timbered homes painted in a distinct shade of yellow and with sloping red roofs. Picket fences line lush gardens. It is a riot of colours everywhere. Walking around town, I learn that Skagen, which is also known for a brand of watches by the same name, has also inspired the rest of Denmark to paint their homes with a distinct golden hue (the famous “Skagen yellow”).

Walking around town, I learn that Skagen, which is also known for a brand of watches by the same name, has also inspired the rest of Denmark to paint their homes with a distinct golden hue (the famous “Skagen yellow”).

But more than that, it is the bewitching light that blinds me, adding a luminous texture to the landscape, heightening its tones and making it look straight out of a painting. A group of impressionist painters who stumbled upon this town a couple of centuries ago were lured by the unique light and they settled here, capturing vignettes of Skagen. The Skagen painters, as they were called, included Anna and Michael Archer,  P S Kroyer and the poet, Holger Drachmann. Their paintings and poems slowly put Skagen on Denmark’s tourism map.

At the Skagen Museum, the town comes alive on canvas. I gaze at dramatic seascapes, portraits of fishermen, women by the beaches and life by the ocean. Every painting is a slice of life as seen by these painters. Later, I lunch at the century-old Brondums Hotel, a landmark of sorts, that has housed Queen Christina and Andersen. It was in the laundry of the hotel that the Impressionists started their first studio, and, today, it houses the Skagen Museum.

Next on my agenda is the restored home of the Archers, now a museum filled with paintings of idyllic landscapes. But I am more tempted by the verdant garden filled with fruit trees. I laze in a chair, basking in the comforting sunlight.

Afterwards, we drive through the lanes of Old Skagen towards remote beaches and onwards to Ruths Hotel, which opened a century ago. As I wander aimlessly, I trace the journeys of Inspector Kurt Wallender from the crime series penned by Swedish author Henning Mankell. It was here that the fictional detective had come to soothe his troubled conscience after having killed a man during the course of a case. It was through his story that I had first been introduced to Skagen, long before travel guides did. Now, I could finally have a sense of the peace that he had so coveted.

Finally, I head to the harbour where the red cabins stand as a stark contrast to the blue waters. Flirtatious and lusty, the winds gently play with my hair and caress my face. They tease the waves and shepherd the clouds across the sky. The magical light casts an intoxicating spell on me as I stand there, lost to the world.

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