Thinking about heading to Germany? The country is known for huge beer festivals, gritty cities, windswept beaches, and somber historical sites. Back up . . . beaches? Usually the warm, sunny Mediterranean comes to mind when you think of European beaches. Not land that borders the North Sea. Instead of Saint-Tropez or Mykonos though, think Nantucket, Brittany, and Cornwall. Now you’re ready for the North Frisian Islands, the home of Germany’s most gorgeous–yet still relatively unknown–beaches.
Located in the Wadden Sea, the North Frisian Islands are a group of barrier islands on the border of Germany and Denmark. Sylt, the largest island, has a distinctive anchor shape, its own Danish-influenced dialect, and a stunning 40-kilometer beach. Forty kilometers! Add in thatched-roof houses, striped lighthouses, and beautiful Sylt roses for a perfect island escape.
After crossing the Hindenburgdamm, a causeway that now connects Sylt to the mainland, head north to Munkmarsch. Nestled in between marshland and a marina, you’ll find Fährhaus Sylt, an old ferry building that has been converted into an elegant, comfortable hotel. On the protected eastern shore, gaze out at the calm water as you eat Frisian herring for lunch. Listen to seagulls as you read on the terrace. Sip champagne, sit in the steam room, and then have a soap brush massage at the spa. And rent bikes–or, perhaps, a Porsche–to explore the rest of the island.
Within a half hour you can be at either end of Sylt. You’ll pass World War II fortifications, small villages, medieval churches, and Stone Age grave sites. Butterflies fly by as you pedal. The resort towns of Kampen and Westerland have hip boutiques and chic restaurants. But skip the German crowds. Grab a fish burger and follow the bright gold rape flowers toward the beach. The exposed western shore isn’t nearly as calm. Wind whips through your hair. Strong waves crash just offshore. Windsurfers fight to stay upright. But you can walk for miles on the mostly deserted stretch of sand. Saunas are set up along the beach. Sit in the hot box until you can’t handle it anymore, and then run–naked, of course–into the chilly sea. No one is around to watch you, though at this point you probably don’t care.
Just be sure to return to Fährhaus Sylt in time for dinner. Restaurant Fährhaus has two Michelin stars and three tasting menus from which to select. Sylt won’t be a German secret much longer.