This is a list of our favourite 18 things to do on the unrepeatable Island of Aero, as I visited with hubby and Frodo (our golden retriever)
The discovery of the Danish Island of Aero (or Ærø in Danish), just south of Funen, led to one of the most beautiful adventures of my life, taking me from homeswap to homeswap, all the way from Sweden to Holland…
Do you ever organise trips using travel maps, pointing your finger and saying decidedly, “Yes, this is where I want to go”? And then you fall in love with the place you have discovered just by chance?
That is exactly what happened to me. After leaving Sweden, I was looking for a place to stop to break up the long journey to Amsterdam. Common sense said that somewhere around Odense would have been the ideal halfway point, perhaps a small town or a roadside motel in that area.
An island with an arduous hour-long ferry ride to get there wasn’t exactly what my husband and I had in mind.
But I have learned this in life: if a name, a point on the map, an idea makes my heart beat faster, it is better to follow the inspiration, even at the cost of taking a few hundred kilometres off the beaten track. Of course, a one night stay turned into two nights, then three… thank goodness! Aero really stole our hearts.
So here they are: 18 wonderful things to do on the Island of Aero
1) Enjoy the ferry ride
You can reach Aero from three different ports. We used the Svendborg–Ærøskøbing route (which dropped us right in front of the house we’d be staying in), but Fynshav and Faaborg are also connected to the island by ferries. In fact, on our return, we used the Søby–Fynshav route.
The position of the island is such that any crossing will be a pleasure. I suggest you order one of those long coffees – I like them so much – on the ship, and then go up on deck to enjoy the spectacle of the many islands and tongues of land. If the weather is really bad, stay inside and take in the sights from one of the many windows… always with a cup of coffee in your hands.
2) Walk among the houses of Aeroskobing and decide which is the most crooked, the most beautiful, the most mysterious
Aeroskobing (or Ærøskøbing) is not just the most beautiful town on the island, it is a fairy tale that has become reality. Its cobbled streets meander between houses that look more like they’re built from marzipan than real bricks and mortar.
Two roads divide the town, Vestergade and Vestre, starting in the centre and plunging down to the sea. But the real attraction is its half-timbered houses, looking just as they did when they were built in the 1700s. The wood has become so distorted, it has made the facades look odd, like drawings in a children’s sketchbook. But they are in excellent health, perfectly groomed and painted in incredible colours.
At the information office, you can acquire a map to help you identify the most interesting houses: the Philip Kock Hus is the oldest, dating back to 1631. The Hammerick’s Hus houses a museum of antiquities and other curious objects.
The irreducible Dukkehuset, on whose facade you will not find a single straight line, is so beautiful that it has the reputation of being the most photographed “house” in the whole of Denmark…
3) On Aeroskøbing beach, choose your favourite cabin and dream of how you would furnish the interior
The beaches on the coastline of Aero Island are beautiful with a thin velvety white sand. On a fine day, you may even think you’re on a tropical island. But even more irresistible are the old cabins, created for convenience and privately owned back in the 1920s. By 1960, their use had declined and the question of what to do with them was mooted, but they had already become such a strong symbol of the island that removing them would have been impossible.
Instead, the authorities decided to regulate them. They are now leased, and cannot be enlarged or modified with electricity or water mains; everything must remain as it is. But they are pure poetry outside and in (yes, if they’re not occupied, you can peek in through the windows): romantic lamps, marine decorations, bookshelves. And, of course, everything necessary to prepare a cup of tea or coffee…
You will find the coloured cabins both in Ærøskøbing on the Vester Strand – this is the richest “collection” with 27 – and in Marstal on Heriks Hale where there are “only” 19 cabins, but they include the highly sought-after one with a thatched roof.
4) Take a stroll to the Søby Lighthouse at sunset
In your opinion, could a magical island like Aero be without a lighthouse?
Of course not!
Aero’s lighthouse is located on a fantastic golf course right at the western end of the island, beyond the village of Søby. Go there at sunset if you really want to fall under the island’s spell.
5) Visit the Marstal Museum of the Sea and discover your inner sailor
This is a true museum of the sea, with the most varied exhibits I’ve ever seen telling the story of the ships built on the island, from sailing to steam to modern engines. It boasts an admirable collection of models and ships in bottles; a beautiful art gallery; all the tools necessary for navigation.
In the inner courtyard is a play area for children who are free to run around inside and on the deck of the ship Martha. But above all, we loved the series of memorabilia that sailors had brought home from endless journeys around the globe.
6) Walk to Søbygård Mill
There are several mills on the island, their ancient blades turned by the wind, but perhaps the most “rural” one is located on the road to Søby. Leave your car (or bicycle) in the parking area in front of Søbygård Manor and follow the path as it rises and falls among the sheep and the rolling hills.
Further on, shrubs and trees form tunnels of vegetation so magical that I thought we had landed in Hobbit Shire! Finally, we arrived in front of the thatched mill, its huge blades silhouetted against the blue of the sky and a superb view of the island and the sea.
7) (Pretend to) bathe in Marstal…
As a Mediterranean, I would never bathe in the sea around Aero in September, despite the wonderful weather. No way! But if you’re of a more Nordic persuasion than I am, then go for it!
You’ll still have to decide whether to swim in the inner part of Heriks Hale, where the water is enclosed by the long tongue of land and is undoubtedly warmer than the outer part overlooking the open sea.
But if you are a true Viking, the chills will hold no fear for you.
8) Look for the ghost of Søbygård
Søbygård is an ancient manor dating back to 1100 when a real castle stood on its foundations. The current construction seems more Renaissance with interventions after 1700, but the moat still runs around the fortified base, complete with drawbridge. Above this, a lady dressed in white has been seen wandering desolately among the buildings. But you have to be lucky to catch her; so far, she’s only ever appeared on a select few nights in autumn and winter.
9) Visit the Vitsø reserve
Let’s stay in the vicinity of Søbygård, where there is a small lake around which numerous birds nest. From above, you will see the water merging with the sea: a swimming pool for the birds regularly flushed with salt water.
10) Eat smoked fish in Rogeri’s Beer Garden in Ærøskøbing
I’m not a great fan of smoked fish, but in Rogeri’s, it is a delicacy. It’s succulent, soft and not stringy; the aroma of the smoke is light so as not to hide the taste of the fish. In short, it’s a delight not to be missed.
Here you will find every smoked speciality: salmon, cod, herring, perch, prawns, always served with a kind word and a smile. It’s highly recommended, well worth the long queue.
11) Have a drink at Café Aroma and pretend you’re in Hollywood
This café is in Ærøskøbing, along the Vestergade where the ferries board. Stop here for a chat at the end of the evening, for an ice cream during the day or a beer before dinner; it doesn’t matter. You can sit outside, a stone’s throw from the sea, but even better is the crazy room inside. Every surface is covered with movie posters – how many movies will you be able to recognise?
12) Doorstep shopping in Ærøskøbing
Need to buy something? Don’t rush to the shops. Instead, take a look around the doorways of Ærøskøbing, where you will find handcrafted doilies, slippers made from boiled wool, home-made jams, vegetables harvested directly from the garden (courgettes, tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers), all for sale.
Payment is based on the honour system: each item carries a price tag (in Danish kroner) and there’s a piggy bank for you to drop your coins in. The people of Aero trust everyone.
13) Find the most beautiful doors
Walk the streets of Ærøskøbing or Marstal or Søby – can you resist the carved and colourful doors? Each one is so different to the others, but they’re all beautiful. Take a picture of the ones you like the most, and then you can make a collage as a permanent memento when you get home.
14) Buy bread and pastries at Ærøskøbing Bageri
While you are walking through the streets of Ærøskøbing, a scent of cinnamon and brioche penetrates your nostrils, making your stomach gurgle. The delicious scents may even make you feel faint with hunger. Blame the bakery and its café. I only know one remedy: let your nose follow the scent, then choose a tasty treat from the many on offer. I loved the dark bread and the fragrant cinnamon rolls.
15) “Stalk” the locals
The people of Aero are so sociable, it will be easy for you to find someone to talk to, and be sure to listen to what they tell you about life on the island. Start with a visit to the information office, where the staff are extremely kind and will show you everything you can do on the island during your stay.
Then, wherever you are – at the market; in line at the bakery; on a bench at the seafront – why not strike up a conversation with someone? Incredibly, you will discover that 1) they all speak English and 2) they are curious to know about you and what brought you to the island.
3 Things I haven’t done but will do on my next visit
The following three are things I haven’t done yet, but will on my next visits. Because you can be sure I will return to Aero
16) Hire a bike to explore the island
At 30 kilometres long by 7 kilometres wide, Aero lends itself extraordinarily well to explorations by bicycle. You can hire a bike on the island or take your own with you.
17) See the island from an aeroplane
Aero is bordered by islands and islets on the northern side, and these along with the stretches of cliffs, the lighthouses, the mills, cultivated fields and woods must be a sight to behold from up above. I took a flyer for “Ærø Flyveplads” home with me, and an aerial view is definitely on my list for my next visit. Best of all, the prices are affordable!
18) Visit Aero Island at Christmas
Because my work in the perfumery tends to get hectic as the festive season approaches, I’ve never spent Christmas away from home (not even a weekend away in December). Also, Christmas is the family celebration par excellence and nothing would make me miss it. Although I could make a few exceptions to this rule.
Christmas on Aero has to be special.
On the internet, I found some photos of the Christmas markets and the rooftops of Ærøskøbing sprinkled with snow. All I can say is that it looks enchanting. In short, if I could ever free myself from work in December, of all places I could visit, I’d most likely come to Aero.
The Homeswappers Mysteries
In the meantime, I’ve satisfied my longing somewhat by writing a Cosy Mystery set on the island during the run up to Christmas. My research allowed me to make the most of Aero’s atmosphere and visit at this magical time of year without leaving my own home.
An Aero Island Christmas Mystery
In the depths of the Nordic winter, the beautiful Island of Aero is steeped in pre-Christmas cheer and Danish hygge. But in one dark and forbidding attic, a gruesome secret waits to be discovered.
If you want to discover books about Denmark, both mysteries and non-fiction, please read my blogpost: “Books About Denmark and Danish Cosy Mysteries”