Besides a very quick hop to Helsinki a year or so ago, I must confess that I really have not explored Scandinavia at all. So I have decided that that needed to change and I really wanted to surprise Mr. O for his birthday – Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark was always on our list, so away we went for a quick weekend away (where the flight from London takes a mere 80 minutes!).
The first impressions of the population of this small (but delightful) European country were set from the minute we stepped on the plane: I was like ‘Hello!!’ – everyone was so good-looking, it really was a sight for sore eyes. And in case you were wondering, these gorgeous people were to be found everywhere in town. Everywhere.
We landed at 5pm and were quite sad as we were going to miss one of the pre-Christmas traditions – the turning on the lights of the Hotel d’Angleterre, our hotel for the weekend. But when we arrived, we were stunned by this wonderful display. And obviously plenty of good-looking Danes admiring the view next to us.
The Hotel d’Angleterre, is the grand dame of Copenhagen hotels, having recently re-opened following a serious renovation – and I have to say, it was truly stunning. With the perfect blend of 45 shades of grey (not 50, note that), it was truly beautiful – a great mix of modern design and tradition, and incredible service.
The first thing we did, when we got to our hotel, was to head to our room and change for dinner. And boy, what a fab room! (Interestingly, it really reminded me of Hotel Villamagna in Madrid – just because it was one of my favourite recent hotel experiences, also a classic hotel recently refurbished to incredibly high standards and with great grey and white hotel rooms!).
We had a bit of time until dinner, so we made our way to the hotel’s cocktail bar (Marchal), and tried one of the season specialties: Glogg wine, which is the Danish version of mulled wine, which is delicious. I had the white version whereas Mr. O had the red version and absolutely worth a try if you are in town this time of the year.
Sorting out our dining experiences in Copenhagen was a bit of an adventure – the food scene is of course very interesting, and most restaurants use the same booking service which allows you to book a table online or get on a wait list. Noma and Geranium are the most booked ones, and despite being able to get on the wait lists for each meal while we were in town, we never got the call back. I did call Noma on the Friday to find out I was #72 on the list and everyone had reconfirmed. Not a chance in hell, but hey, there are plenty of fab options in town (and we booked everything with 2 weeks notice which is not ideal!).
I took advice from a friend, and booked a table at Fiskebar, which is located outside the city centre in the Meat Packing district. We were taken for a ride on our way out (as the taxi fare cost double than the return one… interesting!) and adored this restaurant from the minute we walked in. The service approach in this part of the world is nothing short of spectacular – everyone is so friendly and helpful and seem genuinely happy to welcome others to their country and places of business. Run by ex-Noma sommelier Anders Selmer, it is super hip and the seafood was delicious. We tried quite a few of their small bites and ended with a glorious Danish cheeseboard and a bottle of Chablis. Dinner for two cost approx €170, and €20 taxi ride one-way (€10 on the way back, oops).
We got dropped off just outside the hotel, but felt like doing a little walk around just to understand where we were located, which is as central as it gets. We realised that some serious shopping could potentially take place the next morning (yes!!), and then discovered this amazing champagne bar in the hotel’s back street. It turned out that Balthazar is part of the Hotel d’Anglaterre, and Denmark’s first champagne bar. It was fantastic and we stayed longer than we originally intended to!
The place was heaving and again, we were surprised by the quality of the service – we did not prebook a seat, but a gentlemen still took our coats without making us go to the cloakroom and returned with our ticket. He even found us a table to lean on, and made sure the waitress brought us the drinks menus. Having a look at a table which just became vacant, we asked if we could sit down, obviously expecting a no. We were very politely told that the table was reserved in 45-minutes time but we would be very welcome to sit until then. Living in London, you know this would not happen, and in Paris not a chance in hell (and I am not complaining. *really*). It was just interesting how things were approached in this part of the world.
Needless to say, everyone was dressed in black and looked über stylish and I got to see a lot of fur eye candy (and Danish eye candy), which then I learned it was absolutely necessary to survive the brutally cold days. And nights.
I have very few friends who had been to Copenhagen, and did not have a clear idea of what I needed to see, so after a fab breakfast, we decided to have a long chat with the hotel’s concierge. The whole chat was normally different from normal as he wanted to understand exactly what we were looking for and more importantly, where did we want to have our open-faced sandwiches for lunch. Apparently, it is one of Denmark’s delicacies (and we had no idea), so we just went with his recommendations. This was serious stuff as we could not get into any of the top places on Saturday (all fully booked), but managed to get a table for Sunday. So we decided to split our walking day and indulge in a bit of shopping whilst slowing making our way towards the Tivoli Gardens, whose Christmas market started that very same day. Coincidence? I think not!
Shopping in Copenhagen proved quite an interesting experience – Stroget has a mix of designer and high street stores, many of those you see in other cities, but I found the department stores most intriguing. Danish design made the homeware departments my destination, and rather worryingly for Mr. O, made me want to buy lots of things. I was quite taken with Nomess, which reminded me of Muji, but way better. I was smitten with the small boxes which are perfect for travelling (e.g. earrings, ear plugs, pills, you name it) and LOVED the black toiletry range – finally, cotton buds that match my bathroom at home! I was also very taken by the fur shops – I totally respect those who may not be keen on fur, but obviously no one has to buy anything they do not want. I actually have been looking for a fur coat for a while as a) my mother does not seem keen to let me inherit her collection, b) it has really gotten colder in Europe and the normal wool/cashmere blend won’t cut it anymore (I was wearing my black Max Mara coat on this trip, which is usually very warm, and I almost froze to death) and c) it is part of Danish culture and also mine (blame it on my mother).
I spent quite a few hours at Peak Performance‘s flagship store as I adore its ski clothes. It is a Swedish brand (but actually owned by a Danish group) and it was good to see the whole collection which won’t make its way to Val d’Isere and other ski resorts. What was also interesting, was the price difference – which I estimated to be 40%, but convinced myself it was 50%, just to make the deals sweeter. They do these really cool slim fit skinny ski trousers and they were indeed half the price. And so was my lovely new jacket.
With a fair bit of shopping in hand, we made our way to the Tivoli Gardens. I am not sure what the best way to describe this place – it was super quaint, and one felt Christmassy instantly, but it also felt a bit touristy with all the amusement park-style attractions. Nonetheless, we spend a few hours walking around and had a great time. I had a Copenhagen Card which included free transportation and entry to many attractions, but whilst I took only taxis, I did use it on this occasion.
Lunch was also fantastic – we had a table booked at Brdr. Price (again, not easy to do it on the day, so do book ahead), which was lovely. I had my first open-faced sandwich (ha ha), and of course, being in Scandinavia, I had to eat as many prawns as humanly possible. The word in Danish for these works of art is ‘smørrebrød’, and I could only guess how this could be pronounced. Mr. O decided to be more adventurous and had one of the Christmas platters, which meant he had a bit of a selection (with salmon, duck, herring and the lot), and I did try his of course (whilst trying not to give him too many of my lovely prawns).
We paired our meals with a glass of wine each and a local delicacy, snaps. I had never had those (and was picturing peach schnapps) and let’s put it this way, it helps you keep warm. Very warm. Lunch for two was €80 including drinks.
We spent the rest of the afternoon just walking around town, and slowly made our way back to the hotel. We also got to walk around and explore some of the Christmas markets, and taste some more Glook, of course.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel, where we had a lovely (and very civilised cup of tea), at the residents lounge, overlooking the fireplace. We felt very relaxed and just happy to be there.
Dinner was to take place at Manfreds & Vin, the sister restaurant of Relæ, the baby of former El Bulli and Noma chef Christian Puglisi. Manfreds is much more casual and very interesting – we decided to be adventurous and had the chef’s menu, which we accompanied with the wine suggestions (and notice that they were not wine pairings and came whenever our waiter fancied, which was quite fun). The focus was on natural organic wines, which we found quite unusual.
We enjoyed our meal, but I have no idea what we ate – the chef’s menu changes daily and to be honest, I felt we were given way too many picked vegetables – but to be fair, the menu said ‘a lot of vegetables, a bit of meat and fish’. The smoked trout was outstanding.
We headed back to the hotel for an early evening as we were tired (we both worked for the whole week, like any normal person) and the Hotel d’Angleterre was so homely and comfortable, we just wanted to spend as much time there as possible. We headed to the bar to have a round of fantastic cocktails and then to bed, where we enjoyed our half bottle of Pol Roger that came with our welcome amenity and our individual duvets (which may be the end of many marital problems, in my opinion). Our evening was perfect, and we even watched a documentary on Scandinavian cuisine on BBC Lifestyle (no comment!).
Obviously we were one of the last people to make it to breakfast at 10.30am, and I had to try again the magnificent rye bread with butter. And some more. But calories do not count when you are abroad, and we fully planned to walk them off. So we walked towards Nyhavn, the port area (whose photos usually equal Copenhagen to many people). As it was (relatively) early in the morning, and bitterly cold, there weren’t a lot of people around. But it was so windy and cold, that we decided not to walk for as long as we planned – but we had a peek at the royal Palace (and sadly no sight of the very good-looking Danish Royal Family).
We walked back towards the hotel as we had a couple of hours until lunch, and took shelter from the wind at the Magasins du Nord department store, which conveniently had a fantastic selection of cashmere lined leather gloves, which I could not resist. Because I really needed them!
We spent a little bit more time at this store, and then walked back to Nyhavn, more specifically to Told & Snaps, which is one of the spiritual homes of ‘smørrebrød’, which you know of course, is the word in Danish for open-faced sandwiches. And guess what? I had prawns again (absolutely delicious), whereas Mr. O went for a beef and egg combo, which he also loved. You are spoiled for choice (do have a look at the menu on their website, as it is worth it).
We also tried various types of snaps – in keeping with local custom and also to fight the cold. Obviously. And then decided what we should see if the fur shop still had my coat – which they did of course. Lunch for two cost 60 Euros.
Our weekend in Copenhagen was just a little taster of that this part of the world has to offer, and I have to say, we loved everything about it, but the Danish concept of hospitality really surprised us and really makes us want to go back for more. Oh those pretty people.
Disclaimer: a huge thank you to Hotel d’Angleterre (rooms starting at €450/night) and Visit Copenhagen who hosted us on this trip. If you are considering a visit to this part of the world, I recommend you have a look at the destination website (which is something I don’t do normally – it is that good and useful). Opinions are, as always, my own.