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Destination: Denmark

How to Pinch a Krone : Finding discounts on rooms and activities in countryside and capital

August 25, 1996|STEVE HEALEY | Healey is a freelance writer based in Liverpool, England

COPENHAGEN — For the past 10 years my wife, Helle, and I have spent time each year in Denmark. Helle is a Dane, so we combine family visits with side trips to uncover some of the secrets of this level little land of Lego and Lurpak (Denmark's best-selling brand of butter). In my opinion, there are few finer spots in the world to vacation. But, inevitably, there are drawbacks.

There are two major ones. The first problem, primarily in June and July, is the mosquitoes. But if you go in late August or September before the weather turns frigid, you may dodge this one.

The other is sky-high prices. Is there a way to soften Scandinavian prices and savor this destination without breaking the bank? This year we were determined to find out.

My first advice is to get out of the capital city of Copenhagen--both to save money and to see the real Denmark. There are some ways to save money in the capital, but more about that later.

We set off from Frederikssund northwest of Copenhagen. Our drive took us from Denmark's largest island of Sjaelland (Anglicized, Zealand) by ferry to Jylland (Jutland), where we would sample farm life on Jutland's northerly island of Vendsyssel and then enjoy another farm stay in the Danish Lake District, the closest thing Denmark has to hill country. (In general, dinner, bed and breakfast at a farm is about half to two-thirds the cost of staying in a hotel or inn.)

Our car ferry to Jutland surged out into the Kattegat from the stem of Sjaellands Odde. Bright, blue light motivated me to don sunglasses and race to the top deck.

Almost immediately, beer crates were hauled upstairs and packed lunches strewn across the plank work. My second tip for economy travel in Denmark is to remember that you can turn native and take food and drink with you. A beer in a bar for $5 may cost just 50 cents in a supermarket down the road. Always check too to see if pant is payable. Pant is a refundable deposit levied on glass and plastic bottles, something often overlooked by visitors. Watch out for the words Retur Flaske (returnable bottle). On a large plastic bottle of lemonade the pant can be 5 Danish krone (pronounced CHRON ah). That's about a dollar!

So as the hour-and-a-half trip on the modern, well-equipped vessel sped by, Erik, my father-in-law, gave a demonstration of "playing the glass trumpet"--Danish slang for drinking from a bottle, which most Danes prefer to a glass.

Soon two catamarans will ply the route to Ebeltoft, cutting traveling time by ferry almost in half. Somehow it almost seems a shame to speed things up.

On route to the ferry, we had looked in at one of the 88 hotels and kro (inns) in the Dansk Kroferie (Inn Holiday) discount program. The Hotel Strandparken sat sedately in the town of Holbaek on Holbaek Fjord, an inlet off Isefjord. Clean, comfortable and serving good food, it was a typical example of what the Dansk Kroferie program has to offer.

At the Strandparken, two people can stay in a double room with bath and breakfast that would usually cost $107 for $95 using the program. Using a Familiekrocheck (Family Inn Check)--two extra beds for children in a family room--produces greater savings. The normal rate is $157; with the Inn Check it is $121. One can buy krochecks--vouchers--before leaving home. Guests can also buy a two-course dinner in each kro--the Dan Menu (Danish meal)--for an additional $16.

Traveling north through Jutland, we soon found ourselves in Rold Skov, Denmark's largest forest. We had planned a break in Rebild, the country's first and so far only national park, where parking and entrance are free. A gift from Danish Americans, it has been the venue for a festival and huge Independence Day celebrations since 1912.

Hills, hummocks, heathers and gorse replaced manicured pastures. Suddenly, the sky blackened and swirled and hailstones hurtled down along the winding road. The storm was abrupt, almost tropical, another manifestation of the hot summers that have settled over Denmark in recent years, bronzing bodies and scorching crops.

We were left with no time for the well-signed walks around Rebild's hills. We did find time, though, to visit the reconstruction of Abraham Lincoln's log cabin (there is a $1.70 admission to the cabin). Recently destroyed by fire, it has been rebuilt using cedar logs from the state of Washington and roofing from Oregon. It houses an exhibition emphasizing the bonds of friendship between the two lands. Apparently 300,000 people, some 10% of Danes, emigrated to the United States between 1864 and World War I.

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