Last week here in Denmark, summer began. With temps reaching the low 20’s and the sun shining bright and long against the blue skies, it truly did feel like summer. Seriously – that is about as hot as it got here last summer, excepting a few extraordinarily warm days where clothes and canal swims were optional. When the sun is out, Danes soak it up. We all do here. Why would you not? Winter is dark and damp. And summer is fleeting and fickle. Case in point – we’re back to 13°C and overcast skies today.
Average summer temperatures in Copenhagen and Denmark range in the low to mid 20’s °C. That’s Celsius. We work in C’s over here in Europe. We’ve become conditioned and don’t normally convert. But for you, who work in F’s, I’ll make an exception – that’s between 68° about 75° Fahrenheit. Not tropical. But nice.
Come May, the light stays on late and there are many ways to take advantage of the longer summer hours here in Denmark. Most involve water. Much of Denmark is an island. Nowhere in Denmark – even on Jutland, where the country connects to the mainland of Europe – is there a point that is further than 52 kilometers (32 miles) from the water. Where we live, Copenhagen, sits on the island of Sjælland (pronounced Zhee-lan.) To leave this island requires a flight, a ferry or a very long toll bridge.
But don’t leave. Stay here. Many Danes do. Well, ok. Let me clarify. They don’t leave Denmark, but they do leave the city. They leave Copenhagen. Evacuate the city to be honest. Shops close up and streets empty, save for the tourists. There are full weeks in the summer when the neighborhood feels vacant. And where do they all go?
They travel. Danes do love to travel. Being a small country full of an educated, prosperous and multi-lingual populace – they love to explore and do so far and frequently. Thanks to their socialized work environment and Danish law that affords five weeks paid vacation (not to mention the average 9 public holidays), they have the time and space to do so.
But sometimes, all that travel requires is too much. You just want to get away. Take a break. Not have to go so far. Just have somewhere to relax. Refill the buckets. You’re not looking for the hassle of packing and preparing and parking and proffering documents and putting up with security checks. Not flying. Gah. Or maybe the idea of a long road trip in a tiny European car with three growing teens and a tween in the backseat makes you cringe. (Oh sorry, that’s my family.) Not us. We still love a good road trip. We’re American. It’s in our blood. But even we like the idea of a shorter getaway now and again. Somewhere under a two hour’s drive, even less. Danes have the answer. Enter. The sommerhus. The summer house.
A sommerhus is a second home. Now you may be thinking that having a second home isn’t so uniquely Danish an idea. Somewhere to regularly take a vacation or go on holiday, just get away. We do this in the States too (but we vacation on our holidays.) Many people the world over have second homes at the beach, at the coast (as we call it in Oregon), in the mountains, at the lake or wherever you do in your from. But a Danish sommerhus is different. Here in Denmark, summer houses are zoned against primary residency with intentions of promoting tourism. State sanctioned tourism directed within and without Denmark. And Danes do second homes well. I’m here to tell you there is something special about the Danish sommerhus. And if you own one, you know. If you’ve experienced one, you do too. And if you haven’t yet – you can. And you should.
The Danish sommerhus is simple. And cozy. Not lavish or large. A cottage. A home. Near the sea. Clean and concise. Like the Danes. And dare I say it – darn hyggeligt. You may have heard this Danish word hygge. Lots and lots of posts and books and articles have been written about it, how the Danes have it, how it makes them happy. How you need it in your life. How to get it in your life. Danes also love that hygge is untranslatable. Somehow that makes it theirs alone. And while I appreciate that much of the Danish language feels untranslatable, I don’t believe this is true. You too can feel hygge. You don’t have to be Danish. And a sommerhus is a rigtigt hyggeligt* place to try.
Hygge = fun
Hyggeligt = cozy
– Google Translate
Hygge is a feeling of cozy in it’s simplest derivation. Candles help. Danish design does too. But digging deeper, contributing to it’s complexity, hygge is a feeling of community. It’s spending time with your friends and family. Focusing on them. It’s a special moment shared. It’s good food lovingly prepared (or bought and shared). A feeling of laughter. And good times. And happy. Sorry if Pharrell Williams just popped into your head on loop. Just me? Turn that off. Or not. If it contributes to your hygge.
This feeling can sometimes be fleeting. Or a memory. Or just a sense. But that is hygge. You know it too. You do. You just haven’t put the word to it before now. There is no special recipe for Danish happiness above your own. They just have different words for that undefined feeling of congruent contentment that you probably already knew. And they recognize it. And aspire to it. And achieve it. Regularly.
And maybe our latest sommerhus weekend didn’t hold that gorgeous Danish summer weather from last week. But we slowed down. As a family. We took walks through the woods. Looked for four leaf clovers and tiny pinecones and sent seed pods aloft. We strolled the rocky beach and found treasures and crystals and the tiniest snails. Watched waves and seaweed be tossed about. We sampled fresh fish and warm coffee and trolled through antiques. We played football (both kinds) and pitched tents in a yard. We watched movies and made fires and shared dinner and chocolate. Together. It wasn’t perfect. Not every second. They all can’t be ever. But there were moments of hygge. That I will remember. I hope they do too. That Danish sommerhus hygge.
Want to try one? Find your own hygge? We found ours on Airbnb – look for places on the Danish coast, many with easy public access from central Copenhagen. On Sjælland, try towns like Dragør, Holbæk, Gilleleje, Tisvilde, Liseleje or Humlebæk. On Fyn, we love Kerteminde. On Jutland try Ebeltoft or Skagen. Or there are whole websites devoted to the Danish sommhus experience – try SommerhusDanmark.dk. Have a favorite Danish sommer town that I don’t know? Please share. Or have a uniquely Danish sommerhus experience? I’d love to hear! Comment below.
Cheers from Denmark. xo, Erin