It was the best bakery in town, or so we were told. We sought it out on our phones on purpose. We stepped in, sandy off the beach. The children gathered around the counter barefoot. It was the third day of our holiday on the Danish coast.
This one, one of them said, pointing at a round yellow cake. Moon cake! exclaimed the one who can read. It’s called moon cake! But it’s not made of cheese! And they laughed and I did too because at the age three, that was a pretty good joke to have made.
The lady serving cut big slices up and placed them in a box tied with ribbon, a fancy thing that reminded me of the boxes of cream cakes my aunt used to routinely order in for late afternoon teas taken in the shade of her house in Lahore. I balanced the box on my lap all the way home, despite the little pleas: please can we open it now? Please open it now!
The boys ate moon cake in the garden of the summer house we quickly learned to call home for just a week or so. The baby napped in the car, parked under a tree on the lawn.
I guess I must have fallen asleep too because the next thing I knew, the baby was up and the boys, worn out from running laps in the wrap-around garden, were asking for pizza.
It was on the way to the grocery store that it all began. One kid throwing up, followed by the other. My husband and I looked at each other in horror.
That’s all, really, that you need to know.
It lasted two days. Two days out of a seven day holiday. I don’t know if it really was the moon cake or something else entirely, but I still cursed it with grown-up words and shoved the box angrily in the bin.
Two days of sickness was not great. But it was manageable.
And so we managed. We came through the other side. We vowed to eat home cooked meals made from scratch only for the rest of our stay. They were wiped out. We were too. So we kept the rest of the holiday low-key.
We caught the light. We took walks up and down the quiet country lanes that laced through the little village we happened to be staying in - me, nosily sneaking peeks at the beautiful houses we passed. We spent an afternoon in the gardens of Munkeruphus, an architect’s home-turned-museum, just around the corner. The day we visited, a dinner was taking place right there, beneath the great old trees in the gardens. They’d decorated the table with clementines, so pretty it looked like still life. We wound down narrow walkways edged with wildflowers sloping to the beach where our not-quite 100% kids built towers with stones and dipped their toes in the water, looking out at a lighthouse.
Another day we hesitatingly drove up to a coastal town called Gilleleje, and judged the boys’ complexions well enough to break that home-cooked vow, ordering brunch plates of fresh bread and cheese and blueberry jam. They survived; we ate there everyday for the remainder of our stay.
We played out on sandy beaches, looked across the water for Sweden, walked through woods, came close to Hamlet’s castle but gave up when little legs declared themselves tired, and that too felt okay because it wasn’t as though we had a list to tick.
In between, we stayed home, which wasn’t our home at all, and the kids ran wild shivering underneath an outside shower (not the only shower, I might add).
After the boys were in bed, we stayed up, searching for “house with wrap-around garden north London” on our phones. Imagine if we lived here, we said to each other.
Honestly, sickness or no sickness; it was one of the loveliest places I have ever been. Even if we didn’t venture far.
We’re heading back this summer, to the exact same summerhouse, tentatively adding more to our low-key plans.
We’ll catch the light for a little while.
Where we stayed
This beach house on the Danish coast, in the tiny village of Munkerup in North Sealand. It’s about an hour’s drive from Copenhagen.
Places to visit on the danish coast
Munkeruphus is a beautiful sort-of museum housed in an architect’s home. Built like an American Colonial, it is airy, sprawling and perfectly positioned with beautiful views over the sea. You can wander through the rooms, be inspired by simple, understated but homely interiors and let your kids draw at a mini-architect’s table. When we visited, the gardens were full of hidden treasures for the children to discover as part of an exhibit. From the back, there’s also a breathtaking descent to a very secluded, very pretty little beach.
Gilleleje is the closest town and it’s a lively little harbour spot. We spent lots of afternoons here. The sandy beaches are untouched, surrounded by pretty little cabins and summerhouses. There’s also bike hire, lots of cute little independent shops and plenty of places for ice cream. Cafe Flora was our favourite hideout. From a practical point of view, Gilleleje also has a number of grocery stores you need for a self-catering stay.
Hornbaek and Dronningmølle are sometimes referred to as Denmark’s St Tropez but I found them both to be perfectly lovely, child-friendly sea-side resorts.
A little more of a drive up the coast, and you arrive in Helsingør, another harbour town to explore and home to Kronborg Castle, otherwise known as Hamlet’s castle. Our kids enjoyed hanging out around the Maritime Museum (there’s also some old ships for them to marvel out in the harbour) and watching the big ferries set sail.
From Helsingør, you can also catch the ferry over to Sweden. This is a handy itinerary for a daytrip from Helsingør to Helsingborg.
As you drive along the coast, there’s no end of woodlands with walkways down to the sea; do pull over and explore.