VisitFyn invited the experienced travel journalist Johnni Balslev to come along on a cycle ride between Svendborg and Faaborg. This illustrative article with its delightful pictures was the result.
Tragedy, mystery and enchanting landscapes
Text and photos: Johnni Balslev
The tourist information office in the old packhouse building by the harbour in Svendborg is an excellent place to start a cycle ride to Faaborg. Step inside for information and to see many of the high-quality products made in South Fyn.
Stand with your back to the tourist information office and you will see the ferry port for the Ærø ferries to your left. Right next to that is the little ferry Thurøboen, that sails to the island of Hjortø. After the ferry berths comes the Sejlskibsbroen jetty where elegant schooners from the age of slow travel are moored. The numerous tall masts look good against the backdrop of the old warehouses and the town of Svendborg itself, which is a member of the international “Cittaslow” movement that places emphasis on quality and good living.
Directly in front, you will see the Restaurant and Hotel Ærø which has a terrace with a magnificent view. The hotel also has an annexe with a tower on the other side of Brogade. Tower room no. 310 played a significant part in the often-told and tragic story of Elvira Madigan and Sixten Sparre. Let’s take a minute to brush up on the story.
A tragic end
Elvira Madigan, a famous tightrope walker, is just 19 years old when she meets the somewhat older Swedish lieutenant, Sixten Sparre.
Sixten is besotted with Elvira and attends many of her performances all over Sweden. They soon start exchanging letters, and two years later they flee to Denmark together. However, Sixten already has a wife and two children. And he has just deserted from the Swedish army.
On arriving in Denmark, they spend a month at Hotel Ærø before moving into a small place in Troense on Tåsinge. They make the move to avoid Elvira’s brother, who would shortly be arriving in Svendborg with a different circus. And possibly also on account of their large and unpaid hotel bill. However, they did plan to return to Svendborg once her brother had moved on. Sixten Sparre had counted on receiving additional financial support from his family, but this never materialised for the heavily indebted 35-year-old dragoon lieutenant.
At a boarding house in Troense, they are given a packed lunch and a couple of beers. They take the simple meal with them to Nørreskov woods near Valdemars Slot (Castle). After lunch, Sixten Sparre shoots Elvira Madigan before turning the gun on himself. It was said at the time that they were found with peaceful expressions on their faces. The exact date is not known, but was around 20 July 1889. They are both buried in Landet Churchyard on Tåsinge.
The Mærsk family church
Our trip commences on Brogade, riding down the road past Hotel Ærø. Take time to admire the beautiful old buildings and the street itself, which features the gentle curves of the old fishing town.
The entire route to Faaborg follows the Baltic Sea Route, which is clearly signposted so I won’t waste time listing the names of every road and street.
A large part of the old harbour environment is to be found behind the houses on the left-hand side as you cycle out of the town. A little way outside the town, you will just be able to make out the old gateway to the ferry port for the ferry to Vindeby on Tåsinge. As the other bank is only 400 metres away the ferry connection soon became superfluous once the Svendborgsund Bridge to Tåsinge was opened in 1966.
The route continues along the banks of the Svendborg Sound and passes under the bridge, where we turn off towards St. Jørgens Church.
Detour: The Baltic Sea Route turns right before you reach the church, but I think you should make a detour here to take a look at the church in its delightful setting. Many members of the Mærsk-Møller family are buried here. Peter and Anna Mærsk-Møller founded the A.P.Møller shipping company here in Svendborg. Mærsk McKinney Møller was the grandchild of Peter and Anna Mærsk-Møller. Stroll through the well-kept churchyard and take in the beautiful view out over the Svendborg Sound.
Return to the route along Niels Hansen Vej. To the right, you will pass a park-like area near Kai Nielsens Vej. Here you can see Kai Nielsen’s charming sculpture “Svendborgpigen” (The Svendborg Girl).
Luxury hotel and narrow roads
We now continue along Kogtvedvej towards Rantzausminde. A fair way out from town is a sign to the luxury hotel Stella Maris. Once a mission hotel, it now provides top quality accommodation and has a wonderful restaurant with a fine view out over the countryside and Svendborg Sound.
Soon after leaving last traces of the town of Svendborg behind, we pass the beautifully located Rantzausminde Strand Camping before Rantzausmindevej turns into Lehnskov Strand. Here, there is a wonderful view out over the undulating landscapes that await us a little farther down the road.
The lightly trafficked road leads us down to the water before turning sharply into the woods. There are public toilets on the road by the water.
After a short run through the woods, the route takes us alongside the old stone walls that surround Lehnskov Manor. A small herd of horses grazes lazily by the long driveway leading up to the manor house. Lehnskov is mentioned in records for the first time in 1412, but the impressive main building dates back only to 2000. The best view of it is from the water. The estate covers around 400 hectares and in addition to agriculture and forestry, it is devoted to authentic craftsmanship and restoration of old buildings.
Syltemae River Valley
We now cycle along Ballevej towards Ballen. At the point where we turn off Ballevej and onto Strandvejen, there is a large house on the corner offering Bed & Breakfast accommodation.
The harbour has space for 120 boats, but there’s not much to capture your attention in the harbour, unless you are a sailor. There is no kiosk, but there is a toilet and a small beach with a jetty.
Just past the harbour, the road turns 90 degrees to the left, crossing Syltemae Å river. You will see small boats nestling among the reeds on both sides of the road. “Syltemae” is the Fyn version of the Danish word “syltemade”, which comes from “sylt” (salt) and “made” (seaside meadow). The river follows a natural path and you can follow the river valley (part of the Archipelago Trail) by foot along the left-hand side. In some places the valley can be up to 20 metres deep, with steep slopes and bubbling springs. It is best to wear sturdy boots to walk the trail. You can download a folder (in Danish) about Syltemae Ådal (river valley) at svendborg.dk.
Langgyden turns inland from the beach, and we continue along Strandgårdsvej to the left. A little way along this road, we come to the sign to the charming Syltemae Camping with its fine view out over the water to the point where the old ferry Ærøsund was scuttled in October 2014. The artificial reef it formed is a popular diving spot today. Kayak trips are organised from the campsite to destinations such as the nearby island of Skarø.
The route now winds its way through the enchanting marshland landscape towards Fjællebroen.
A couple of roads lead to Vester Skerninge, but they are not part of the Baltic Sea Route. However, with its romantic, classically rural setting, Vester Skerninge Kro (Inn) is an excellent suggestion for a hearty lunch or some light refreshments if you haven’t brought anything with you. Visiting the inn means riding an extra 3 km each way, and if you are riding an electric bike, it is a good idea to check your battery levels.
Large harbour with little activity
The route now comes to Strandhuse, just before Fjællebroen. One of the first things we see is Firkløvergården, a farm that provides Bed & Breakfast accommodation, as well as space for campers and RVs in the back garden.
Fjællebroen is home to a large marina with space for 180 boats. It used to be a shipping point for the large estates in South Fyn. Local farmers used the port to transport their agricultural products, while the authorities did their best to prevent smuggling from Germany – an occupation that has long been linked to the Baltic Sea. Fjællebroen was home to a customs office up until 1974.
There was also a shipyard here. The Hoffmann brothers moved their shipyard from Strandhuse to Fjællebroen in the 1880s. The yard was closed in the early 1900s, but reopened again during the Second World War, when the respected boat builder Carl Banke re-established operations. The building east of the harbour was later dismantled and then rebuilt on the island of Strynø off the coast of Rudkøbing, where it still forms part of the Smack Dinghy Centre on the island. From the harbour in Fjællebroen, there is a fine view of some of the attractive buildings on the other side of Nakkebølle Fjord. What looks like an impressive manor house is actually an old tuberculosis sanatorium.
From tuberculosis to Tvind
Nakkebølle Sanatorium served as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients from the time it was completed in 1908 to the end of the 1960s. It was built by the National Association for Combating Tuberculosis. Later on, it became a nursing home run by the Municipality of Odense, before being used as a refugee centre to help cope with the flood of refugees arriving in Denmark. In 1998 it was purchased by the Tvind organisation and today it is home to Nyborg Søfartsskole (Shipping College), the school known as Småskolen ved Nakkebølle Fjord and a Bed & Breakfast hotel. However, the Bittenhuset annexe is owned by the Municipality of Faaborg-Midtfyn, which uses it as a school camp facility.
Detour: If you like, you can ride through the particularly lush countryside to the imposing buildings. It is a detour of around 1.5 km each way across Nakkebølle Fjord. The fjord was previously dewatered, but the water has now been allowed to return. At the north end of the fjord stands Nakkebølle manor house in its 250 hectares of land. The history of the manor stretches back to the 1200s. The current main building dates from 1559, but has been restored, renovated and remodelled on numerous occasions.
Back on the Baltic Sea Route, we cross Hundstrup Å river, where a large herd of cows can be seen lying down and relaxing in the heat. Shortly after that, we ride into Vester Åby.
Chocolate factory at the inn
Here, the route surprisingly leads us down a residential road on the left-hand side, and a little farther on we have to cross the busy main road between Svendborg and Faaborg.
Detour: I would strongly suggest taking a short detour of a couple of hundred metres to visit Konnerup & Co chocolate factory, where you can buy ice cream, chocolate and other tasty treats. Everything is made on site in what was once Vester Åby Kro (inn). The large shop also sells other quality products from South Fyn at attractive prices, including utterly delicious gift boxes ... This is sweets for grown-ups. See konnerup-co.dk.
After this little break, we ride back along the right-hand side of the main road. Shortly afterwards, the Baltic Sea Route turns north and enters a completely different landscape. What is odd is that we will be riding a short way on a two-way cycle path before crossing Bøgebjergvej at a blind bend. School kids have to cross here, too; which is a pity as there is a perfectly safe bike path a little farther down the road. We’ll also be taking this path, riding on the left-hand side. Surrounded by beautiful, undulating countryside.
Strangely, the cycle path is covered in loose chippings, which can make it a little unsafe for children to ride. Pejrupvej is the only stretch of gravel track on the route, however, and luckily it is only short and quite charming.
Safely back on asphalt again, we touch the outskirts of the town of Pejrup. We then cross the old railway line between Faaborg and Odense. In the summer, you can follow a part of the route on board a vintage train between Faaborg and Korinth. Pejrup has a delightful village hall, and the old station building is now home to Hostel California. There is a hint of old hippie culture in the air.
Beautiful landscape with a touch of mystery
The countryside has become a lot hillier, with great views of fields interspersed with patches of woodland.
We are now passing Holstenshuus manor. Stop for a moment and admire the beautiful view from the road out over the lake towards the main building.
The manor house and grounds are truly impressive. The brochure about the estate highlights large areas in the park that are reserved for the manor owners. Other areas are open to visitors for an admission fee of DKK 20, which can either be placed in a box or paid via MobilePay. The grounds were originally laid out as a Baroque garden following symmetrical lines, but have gradually become landscaped to a greater extent, according to the English model – a development seen in much of Denmark.
And I now have a small confession to make ... I’m pondering a mystery I’d like to share with you.
Close to Holstenshuus stand the only church ruins in Denmark. They are actually all that remain of Finstrup Church. Towards the end of the 1400s, it was so significant that King Hans’ wife Queen Christine of Sachsen donated money to the church, having passed it en route to Nakkebølle. The mystery is that Finstrup Church was later demolished – as was the village of the same name a little while later. So what happened?
One story is that the lord of Holstenshuus Manor buried his beloved hunting dog beneath the altar at the church. This was an act of sacrilege, which meant that the church had to be torn down. The ruins have been examined at least three times but no traces of a dog have been found – nor of many human graves. This indicates that it may well have been a pilgrims’ church.
Could there be another explanation for the destruction of the church and, subsequently, the village? Well, all sorts of power struggles were under way at that time. Power struggles that eventually turned into a full-blown civil war in Denmark. It is known in Denmark as grevens fejde (the nobles’ quarrel), but it was actually a civil war, lasting from 1534 to 1536, with the citizens and peasants on one side, and the nobility on the other. Along with a dash of meddling from various major powers. Could the removal of Finstrup Church have been a precursor to the main conflict? Holstenshuus was still called Finstrup up until 1723.
Detour: There is a sign to the church ruins on Slotsalléen, behind the park and Holstenshuus, just off the Baltic Sea Route. Give free rein to your imagination as you look at the humble, cruciform ruins.
Having returned to the front of Holstenshuus, we continue on our way towards Diernæs Church. We are approaching an altitude of 60 metres above sea level when we enter Diernæs.
It is thought that Diernæs Church took over from the church in Finstrup. It is likely that parts of the church foundations and the christening font come from Finstrup Church. Step inside the church after admiring the magnificent view out over the undulating landscape running down towards Faaborg and the South Fyn Archipelago.
There is a leaflet in the church that presents its history. Personally, I think that the pulpit from 1625 looks utterly beautiful following its painstaking restoration in 2003.
Outside the church, a memorial has been raised to the village school that stood beside the church for two hundred years. The entire area around here is known locally as the “Little Himalayas”.
Nothing to do with kale
You will really notice the altitude at Smedebakken hill, where the cycle path descends steeply towards Faaborg. Before taking on this stretch, sit for a while on the bench beside the road and drink in the view out over the fields, woods and archipelago. And be thankful that you don’t have to cycle up Smedebakken.
Take care not to pick up too much speed on the downhill run. Right where the hill levels out at the bottom, there is a sign to Kaleko Mill on the left-hand side of the road. The mill is most definitely worth visiting.
The oldest watermill in Denmark, Kaleko Mill is a totally charming and historical place. Especially when Archipelago Museum volunteers open the doors and present some of the authentic craftsmanship. When we visit a bookbinder is hard at work. One of the two mill wheels has recently been restored, but the buildings around the mill workings date back to the early 1600s. A mill with a single wheel was built on the same site approx. 200 years before the current mill. The numerous rooms have all been furnished as snapshots from a forgotten age. The last miller moved out in 1912. “Kaleko” doesn’t have anything to do with kale; it refers to the cold, unheated and poor hovel.
The setting with the small, alcohol-free café is perfect for taking a quiet break. There is seating both indoors and out. To find out more, see øhavsmuseet.dk.
While we were there, the neighbour landed his small aeroplane just a few hundred metres from the mill. Almost silently.
It’s now time to head into Faaborg. The first attraction we come to is Faaborg Minitown, a miniature model of the town itself. Walk around the winding streets among the 150 houses built on a scale of 1:10, and feel like Gulliver in Lilliput. The admission fee is DKK 25 for adults. To find out more, visit faaborgminiby.dk.
Faaborg is a delightful town with a lively harbour and plenty of life and activities in the narrow streets that lead off from the pedestrian-only town square. There are all kinds of restaurants, inns and bars to choose from, as well as several fascinating museums.
Describing Faaborg itself is beyond the scope of this little travelogue, but the town is absolutely worth an extended visit. For additional information, see visitfaaborg.dk.
This is where the Svendborg–Faaborg ride drew to a close for journalist Johnni Balslev, but see below for ideas and inspiration about other things to see and do in the region.