Iain Lynn takes a trip to Denmark and learns all about its unique spirit – a feeling of calm and cosiness
It’s fair to say I have a bit of a reputation for being a tad grumpy, some might even go as far to say a little bad-tempered.
My girlfriend has taken to looking at me and nodding while watching re-runs of One Foot in the Grave.
And recently at 6.30am I had the misfortune of disturbing a burglar on the other side of my patio door trying to get in.
While I was waiting for the police to arrive, one of my work colleagues tweeted the following: “In future put a note on the door: Intruders beware – man in bad temper. It does the trick at work!”.
I needed a break, so my girlfriend thought it would be a good idea to visit possibly the happiest place on earth, at the most magical of times.
She’d heard the legend of the hygge from a cheerful work colleague of hers called Lars and thought Denmark would either cause me to implode or fix me.
So at an unearthly hour at Liverpool airport we set off for a Christmassy Copenhagen with Norwegian Air.
There are many reasons to visit, proper festive markets (not the ones we find here with a giant garlic bulb-shaped shack and pork sandwiches at a fiver a go), beautiful buildings illuminated by twinkling lights, festive ale and flickering candles everywhere.
Apparently this is all because of the hygge – a word that cannot be properly translated.
But it is a feeling of calm and cosiness, warmth and happiness.
We stayed in the Scandic Palace hotel, an historic character-filled building, excellently located next to major shopping streets and the central station.
Also just across the square was the Tivoli Gardens, our first festive visit and initial encounter with Glogg – a variation of mulled wine with nuts and raisins that tastes like a mince pie in a glass.
Everyone knows too much pastry is bad for you, so replace it with wine – genius!
At Tivoli, I was expecting something like Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach and, while there was a collection of fairground rides, the main attractions were the decorations, stalls and food on offer.
From Father Christmas and his reindeer, to stalls selling hot chocolate, beer and festive ornaments, the gardens are a must-see at Christmas.
Through the Nordic village there were little Nisse figures and ornaments on display. These are little fellows from folklore who apparently live in your attic, and if you’re nice to them they’ll help you. I’m not sure what they’ll help you with, maybe some wiring, or laying those giant rolls of insulation.
Anyway, Danish children leave rice pudding out for them on Christmas Eve, so I don’t think they have too much of a tough time.
Travelling around Copenhagen proved easy on foot, but there is also metro and suburban railway or, if you’re feeling energetic, everyone seems to ride a bike.
We had a three-day Copenhagen Card which gave us free public transport as well as entry to lots of attractions, museums and activities, including the Tivoli gardens, art museums, The Roundtower and around 75 other locations.
We took advantage of the card when taking a canal boat tour, which provides some chilly but stunning views of the Opera House, The Little Mermaid, The Black Diamond – an impressive black marble addition to the Royal Library leaning gracefully over the water – The Parliament, The National Museum and the old Gammel Strand, where flea markets take place at the weekend.
Our guide flitted effortlessly between Danish, English and German to point out various attractions and provided us with an entertaining hour. It was a great way to see the city and showed us the locations we wanted to go back and explore.
First on our list was Nyhavn; what you’d typically expect when thinking about Copenhagen, colourful buildings surrounding a traditional harbour.
However, look more closely and each building is now home to a bar, restaurant or shop and around the water’s edge are traditional Christmas stalls selling glogg, and aebleskiver which are a bit like a cross between donuts and pancakes with traditional jam and icing sugar to dip them into.
A bit further along the harbour, shoppers were entertained by a jazz band.
The lead singer in a pointy elf hat also doubled as lead trumpeter and all members were rosy-cheeked – was it the singing or the glogg? The members weren’t entirely sure of the band’s name, but they made a pleasing noise all the same.
A popular Copenhagen festive tradition is the Christmas tables exhibition at the Royal Copenhagen shop.
Every year the tables are set to a theme by new artists and this year’ was all about carols.
Think Liberty’s famous window decorations and you’ll have the right idea. But more intriguing was the Royal café next to the shop and its famous smushi.
This is a cross between sushi and a sandwich and includes toppings such as traditional herring, which was delicious, but also roast beef and pork.
We washed it down with a Tuborg Christmas ale and a Danish rice pudding – served cold with almonds and cherry sauce. I have to admit the hygge was starting to work, and I was beginning to feel very Christmassy . Which is a good job as a full choir and brass band had spontaneously appeared as we returned to the street making me feel like I had stumbled into an American Christmas movie.
Copenhagen is famous for its gastronomy, with a total of 15 Michelin stars being awarded to 13 restaurants in 2013.
And of course, the famous Noma is in the city, voted best restaurant in the world for three years running and second in 2013. Its drop from first to second place means you no longer have to wait six months for a table – now it’s a more reasonable three.
However, eating out is pricey and at the risk of my hygge levels dropping we decided to dine out with cocktails and gourmet burgers at Cocks and Cows, where beers, homemade burgers and cocktails fell closer to my price range.
For a sample of alternative Christmas and a different way of life, on Sunday we stopped by Christiana which holds an unconventional yuletide fair.
The market, reminiscent of a bazaar, is held in the free town of Christiana, home to about 850 residents, and is governed by special laws as the authorities regard it as a large hippy commune which probably explained the scent of glogg and rice pudding mingled with a distinctive herbal aroma.
After visiting the outstanding food market called Tovehallerne and sampling our way around the stalls, next on the list for us though was more glogg.
This time we tried the version regarded as the best in the city from the Hviids Vinstue.
This glogg comprises red wine, port, cognac and rum together with the raisins and nuts.
It was a heady combination and ideal for warming up on a cold day.
Now feeling thoroughly festive we topped up our food levels at a small candle-lit café before having a final wander along Copenhagen’s quirky backstreets.
Buoyed with optomisim about her new cheerful boyfriend, my other half suggested a return visit to Copenhagen, this time in the late Spring.
I thought it was a great idea until she reminded me that the city is playing host to Eurovision on Saturday, May 10.
I’m not sure there’s enough hygge in the world to get me involved in that extravaganza.
It is fair to say that the friendly folk and candle-lit bars, restaurants and cafes of Copenhagen all contribute to the cheery atmosphere in the city, one that even managed to diminish most of my grumpiness.
Choirs, markets and slightly wind-swept and chaotic Christmas trees all add to the charm.
In fact, as I toasted the city with a last Christmas beer, I managed to raise a grin too.
Put Copenhagen on your Christmas list for this year.