The wind from the Kattegatt blows in the bare tree branches and the hair flutters in a race with the flags down in the harbor in Gill bed. We stand by the Nakkehoved cliffs and look out over the fishing village and its harbour. Today, Gilleleje is a quiet and popular holiday resort with beautiful beaches and a lively harbour, but here on Zealand's northernmost coast some really dark nights took place during the Second World War. Events that, thanks to the proximity to Sweden, saved the lives of several thousand people.
The port city of Gilleleje
The wooden tables at the fish restaurants down in the harbor in Gilleleje are full of people. Tourists are mixed with residents during this spring month, during the summer the percentage of tourists is significantly larger. Then the Danes make a pilgrimage here for the beautiful beaches, the warm waters of the Kattegatt and the charming calm that only a fishing village can provide.
Gilleleje has been a tourist resort for almost 200 years, ever since the Danish philosopher and writer Søren Kirkegaard found peace in the town and started tourism here. He is even said to be Gilleleje's very first tourist, although that may be stretching the story a bit. Today you can find a memorial stone to him by the hiking trail Gilbjerg path, which runs along the scenic coast from Gilleleje to Gilbjerghoved.
To dare is to lose your footing for a little while. To not dare is to lose oneself.Soren Kirkegaard
Gilleleje has Zealand's largest commercial port and fishing is still an important part of daily life. There is always something going on here. Nets must be cleaned, boats must be prepared for tomorrow's fishing trip and the catch must be taken care of. It is lively and wonderfully un-touristy. Just the way we tourists love it.
In the harbor you will find a large number of inviting restaurants that (not surprisingly) serve everything that the sea can offer. Everything from fish balls to sushi, butter bread to moule frites. Most things seem to be served with remoulade sauce and a beer. Really don't mind.
In the harbor is also located The fishing shop which since 1936 offers locally freshly caught fish every day. also with its own smokehouse for everything from salmon to prawns. A specialty is the lobsters that are caught here in the Kattegatt, but here you will find most things from the sea.
Although the number of small-scale fishermen is decreasing over the years, the sea and its inhabitants are still very important to fishing. In recent years, it has become popular for the coastal population to become "sea farmers". Around the Danish coasts, you can now find thousands of hobbyist sea farmers who cultivate mussels, oysters, seaweed and algae from their docks on a small scale. Through these sea farmers' cultivations, carbon dioxide and nutrients are tied up from the sea and contribute to the sea feeling better and building healthy ecosystems. More seafood to eat and a healthier ocean is good for everyone.
The tourist town of Gilleleje
In Gilleleje, the plastered houses with roofs made of brick or reeds are close together. Many of the houses are nowadays summer homes for Danes looking for proximity to Zealand's fine beaches, tranquility and a large selection of restaurants. On the main street at Hotel Gilleleje Strand the small interior design and clothing stores are lined up along with brokers and cafes. It is not difficult to imagine the idyll that the village can offer on a sunny summer day.
There are plenty of nice beaches around Gilleleje. The area is not called Denmark's Riviera without reason. The most central is Gilleleje Veststrand - the small beach opposite the harbour. There are toilets here and it's easy to slip past the harbor and order a take-away fish and chips for a beach lunch with your toes in the sand. East of the city lies Strandbakkerne, a slightly larger beach that is still within walking distance of the village.
For those with a car, it may be an option to drive east to kilometers long Dronningmølle Strand or popular Hornbæk Strand. Don't be surprised if you hear Swedish on the beaches here, Hornbæk is a popular day trip for party-hungry Öresund residents by boat. A real holiday feeling is offered here in everything from the white beaches to restaurants and shopping.
Nakkehoved lighthouse and the heroes
Just east of Gilleleje at Nakkehoved's cliffs and lighthouse, you get a mile-long view of the strait towards the Swedish coast. Kullahalvön looms on the other side of the Sound just a little over a mile away and you can almost make out Mölle's crisp white house on the other side of the waves. Nakkehoved's lighthouse has shown the way for Kattegatt skippers for 250 years, a history that began to be lit with coal long before electricity was invented and which today has evolved into Denmark's first LED-lit lighthouse. Here by the lighthouse is also a small museum that tells about the history of Danish lighthouses from the 16th century onwards.
The proximity to Sweden and Höganäs on the other side of the strait has probably never been as important as during the Second World War. When Denmark was at war and occupied by Germany, neutral Sweden was within sight. Gilleleje was one of the villages where Danish Jews were saved from Gestapo persecution by being transported hidden in fishing boats to Sweden in the dark of night. In total, during a few dramatic nights in the fall of 1943, 1300 Jews were rescued from Gilleleje alone. The brave Danish fishermen were real heroes who risked not only their own lives, but also those of their families. Although it is almost 80 years ago, the memory of these dark nights lives on in Gilleleje and there are several memorials in the village so that these terrible nights of terror and persecution will never be forgotten.
Perhaps it is the memory of courage and humanity that I take with me as the warmest memory from Gilleleje. The fishing village that not only offers beautiful beaches and good food, but also a large amount of civil courage and heart.
How do I get to Gilleleje?
Gilleleje is located in northernmost Zealand, 30 minutes by car from the ferry in Elsinore. A perfect place for a day trip or maybe a long weekend with lots of fresh air, beach life and good food.
Map (opens in Google maps)
Do you want to read more about Gilleleje?
- Look into Visit North Zealand information about Gilleleje
- Read all articles about Gilleleje at VisitDenmark
- Listen to Sveriges Radio's documentary 70 years since Jews were forced to flee Denmark
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