Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Germany Holidays: Sylt


The most expensive aggregation of sand and marram grass in the North Sea, Sylt makes an unlikely celeb heaven.

On the map, the 40km-long island of Sylt, just south of the Danish border, appears like a badly dented glider trying to fly towards England, but with its string still tied to the mainland.
On the ground, the low-slung chic retreat turns out to be a giant sandbar with restaurants, with a fine sandy beach that runs the length of its 40km wingspan, backed by a fuselage of dunes, heather and a wig of grass. The string that secures this ‘St Tropez of the North’ to the mainland is a railway track, as there is no access road.
Never mind that this is not the Med. The temperamental North Sea weather is prized by the Sylterati (Bridget Bardot was here, as were artist Kandinsky and author Thomas Mann), who believe that soft sea air is better for the skin than any nourishing face creams. “When you have boiled yourself in the sauna, the idea is to run naked into the chilly North Sea”, suggests the brochure – presumably at one of seven nudist beaches exotically christened things like Samoa and Sansibar.
Sunsets are democratic, accessible to all
At its best, it’s the Teutonic equivalent of Martha’s Vineyard, with atmospheric sand dunes, lighthouses, reed-thatched cottages that house Hugo Boss and Louis Vuitton boutiques. Basic groceries are harder to find here than monogrammed luggage, and several of the restaurants are very highly rated in German foodie magazines.
Fortunately the sunsets are more democratic, accessible to all. And actually, plenty of hoi polloi already take their family holidays on Sylt, sticking to the larger resorts with more competitive prices. Many base themselves in the island’s metropolis, Westerland, a seaside town with no particular distinction other than a casino and well-heeled grannies meeting little Günters off the train.
The high life is focused on a select couple of thatch-roofed villages (Kampen and Keitum) frequented by the over-tanned and the over-forty. Most of the celebrity visitors are German industrialists, actors and actresses, for whom the year’s schedule holds the likes of a Ferrari rally, a beach polo tournament, a gourmet safari, and a visit from golden oldie rock stars, who still know how to make the sand bounce.
At certain times of year the island is invaded by wilder, less designer tribes. Kite surfers have a world cup here, Harley Davidson owners a rally, and beach bums assemble for the ‘Wimbledon of Windsurfers’ at the end of September.
An exhilarating place to be when the weather is bad; an intoxicating place when the party crowd is in town. And outside July and August, it is calm, serene, inexpensive and accessible to all.