A few metres from the sea we found two wooden trapezium-shaped shelters, raised off the ground on stilts. Chest-high at the front, clad in black tiles, the structure had a number of openings and artfully arranged portholes. This was home for the night. Paddling along the densely wooded coastline, the view ahead was suddenly broken by asymmetrical shapes rising up from a grassy headland. Excited, we beached our kayaks on a thin strip of sand and went to investigate.
Pulling out a map, Jacob explained that we were going to kayak for a few kilometres across Lunkebugten – “a tricky-bay” – before rounding a headland and following the coast to a remote spot on the eastern edge of the island where there were two shelters.
After struggling into a dry suit, I grabbed a handful of waterproof gear bags and headed down to the beach. As he stuffed food and camping gear into the kayaks, Jacob said that South Fyn was perfect for nautical exploration as the water around the coasts was very shallow with lots of bays and inlets. This makes it popular with families and serious kayakers alike. Kayaks can be hired in the nearby town of Svendborg, while KajakInn also offers short training courses as well as guiding services.
The shelters were built as part of a tourism project to encourage more outdoor enthusiasts travelling under their own steam to visit the Fyn area. Basic constructions with one side open to the elements can be found throughout the archipelago, but in 2015, new, all-enclosed designs were commissioned, ensuring year-round use (at a basic cost of £3 a night).
Five models were created by the Danish firm Lumo Arkitekter, ranging from the basic two-person Flounder, to the Monkfish that sleeps seven, has three floors and comes with a bird-watching platform at the top. The shapes are based on the huts used by local fishermen to store their catch although my Flounder reminded me most of a campervan pop-up roof bed.
All shelter locations include a fire-pit, with a toilet and water supply nearby. However, you must bring bedding and cooking equipment, as well as food.
Thankfully Jacob had filled the filled the kayak with more than enough provisions. That night, as we sat around the fire, feasting on chicken and dill casserole washed down with Bryg brown ale, and with the sea only metres away, I felt the Danish concept of hygge – roughly meaning cosy or content. Retiring to my shelter I realised it was more than just a timber tent; there was a feeling of solidity, a comforting tar smell, and I lay transfixed as the late evening light coming through the small portholes at different angles illuminated the cool minimalist design.
I slept well, with the shelter warm but well ventilated, although some have grumbled about feeling claustrophobic and the bare wood amplifying every movement and sound. This was soon forgotten as we made a near-perfect kayak journey back to the castle. As the sun burned off the mist to reveal the surrounding islands, our slim wooden Greenland paddles slipped silently into the near-still waters.
After leaving Tåsinge, I caught a ferry to Drejø, a small island 5km long and with permanent population of around 75. From the harbour, a track atop a dyke followed the island’s southern coast. Land here has been drained for centuries creating lush, flat fields, although in places pumping has ceased so as to create lakes and nature reserves.
My dyke walk was short, but a perfect taster for hikers who want to take on the South Fyn archipelago trail, a 200km network of signposted paths that circumnavigates the area.
Drejø’s three shelters were right next to the island’s best swimming spot – clear seas with a bathing jetty leading from the beach into deeper water. After a cooling dip, I met Jonas Jespersen, who manages the site, preparing wood for a new communal area. As he painted, using the shelters’ trademark black-pigmented wood tar oil, he told me: “We get walkers, kayakers, anglers. Last year was a terrible summer and we still had over 300 people staying. If we’re full, they just camp.”
Jonas pointed me in the direction of Gammel Havn, the old harbour. On the way I passed through the island’s village with its timber-framed houses and museum, not to mention a cafe selling the local skarø “birch juice” ice cream before heading back to my shelter.
An early start the next day saw me catching a ferry to Ærø, the third largest island in the archipelago. With the sky a deep blue, it felt more like Greek island-hopping than a Baltic boat trip and by the time we docked in the 17th-century market town of Ærøskøbing, I felt I had adjusted to South Fyn’s slower pace of life.
Here I met local cycle guide and writer, Allan Harsbo, who owns hire firm Bike Erria. While having a coffee in the beautifully preserved, almost Disney-like, cobbled market square, he noticed me staring at a bright pink Trabant car parked up next to us. “Ah yes,” he said, “Ærø is the Las Vegas of Denmark”. The island’s bureaucracy-free marriage laws mean that many non-Danes flock to the island to get hitched.
I was keen to start exploring so we picked up a couple of bikes and began meandering our way on dedicated cycle tracks and empty roads across the eastern part of the island. As we pedalled past quiet bays and fields full of solar panels and grazing sheep, Allan would light his pipe and exclaim: “Just listen to the silence.”
Eventually we arrived at the seafaring town of Marstal, its long maritime history displayed in fascinating detail at the local museum. More strenuous cycle routes head up to the tiny hills in the centre of the island, while others include the moated manor of Søbygaard, and breweries.
The final shelter I visited in this unique area was located beneath a small cliff on a beach. As I looked out of a porthole for the porpoises that are said to come in close to the shore, I marvelled at this perfect marriage of Danish nature and smart design.
• The trip was provided by VisitDenmark and Destination Fyn. Shelters from about £3pp, individually sleeping from 2-9 on first-come, first-served basis if unreserved. Reservations and locations map at bookenshelter.dk. Kayaks from £36 a day (kajakinn.dk). Bike hire from £8 a day (bike-erria.dk). To reach the area, visitors can take the train from Copenhagen to Nyborg (from £28 one way) and bus from Nyborg to Svendborg (£8). The ferry from Svenborg to Ærø costs £10 one way