North Sea Magic – a weekend in St Peter Ording
I have a confession to make. Even though I’ve traveled well over 50 countries and will usually always devote every bit of free time to go abroad and explore, I know next to nothing about the country I live and grew up in. That’s a rightful shame because I know for a fact that Germany has a lot more to offer than just an awesome capital. It was only when I was recently considering travel options that would not require a plane and could be accessed quickly and easily that I turned to the Northern coast of Germany – much-loved by locals and foreigners alike with a sea that holds more charisma and passion than any other I know of – the North Sea.
The Nordsee is not just any old body of water. It’s not trying to please with great weather and agreeable temperatures. There are no palm trees and no beach bars selling pina coladas. Instead it is known for being cold and choppy, some even call it rough. But these are exactly the attributes that attract its visitors, what makes them instantly relax. You come to the here to feel the wind blow in your face, to deeply inhale the salty smell of the ocean while wandering the endless dunes, watching seabirds fly above.
It’s here that I wanted to travel to for a very special occasion. I’m pregnant with my first child and this was going to be my last trip as a childless woman (if we’re not counting the unborn one, that is). My final vacation without a little one by my side that would require all my attention and care. A trip that would only be for me. Complete with nice evenings and dinners out, with spontaneous bike tours and plenty of calm and relaxation. After all, I knew those things would be off the menu for a couple of years, so this was the perfect treat.
From Berlin the train took a mere 6 hours to get to St Peter Ording – North Sea vacationing town extraordinaire. The ride is inexpensive and pleasant and there even is a direct train from Berlin to Husum, the next largest city, a quick 30 minute drive away. Since I had never been in this part of the country before (I had merely been to visit family living by the Baltic Sea when I was about 7 or 8) I had no expectations. All I knew was that most people who talked about it usually referred to how much they loved it, regardless of the time of year.
My trip started how most good trips start – with a wonderful hotel. It’s the base of any holiday, the place you call home for a few days or weeks and it’s not something you should underestimate. I admit that in the past I would often choose the cheap over the good, thinking I would only come here to sleep anyway. But over the years I have grown to appreciate a lovely place to return to every evening. It has the power to add the feel of an extra 2 weeks of relaxing to a simple 3-night weekend trip.
In this case I was lucky to try out the brand new “Zweite Heimat” hotel which had opened just a few days before my arrival. As the name “Second Home” suggests, it’s easy to feel right at home in the 4-storey building where each floor is named after a local family that has been living in St Peter Ording for many generations. All rooms carry the name of one of the family’s members. In my case that man was Boy Jöns.
I’d describe the decor as traditional and homey in combination with the modern twist known from good design hotels. Every room has a unique feel-good interior, often with lovely maritime references. Many feature balconies with a table and chairs overlooking the sea. There is an honesty bar on each floor where a bottle of wine will set you back an incredible €9, probably the cheapest I’ve ever come across at a hotel of this scale. What I love about this place is that it’s the perfect refuge if you’re having one of those days where all you want to do is cozy up in your bed and only leave it for some spa pampering down the hall. There are various massages and treatments on offer here, but you do have to book in advance as spaces fill up quickly.
Zweite Heimat doubles as a restaurant dishing up wonderful breakfasts as well as à la carte lunches and dinners for both guests and visitors. If you don’t stay here, it’s still highly recommended to drop in for a lovely seafood lunch or a relaxed coffee in one of the beach chairs out on the terrace.
Possibly the best part about Zweite Heimat is its prominent location, right on the beach. Just walk across the road and there you have the wide open sea, complete with one of the largest beaches you’ll find in the whole of Europe.
Even if the weather does not permit getting in your swimsuit and going for that tan, it’s a great place for a walk or a run (many people here love to bring their dogs, too) which should always be finalised with a drink at one of the cafes in the infamous pile dwellings one finds everywhere along the shore. Some are housing restaurants while others just provide public bathrooms. I was able to try out a couple and can highly recommend Strandbar 54° Nord for their excellent terrace, where on a windy day people can cover up in a cozy blanket on one of the comfortable lounge chairs while snacking on a delicious waffle or a piece of cake.
The food quality of this spot is impressive, considering that it’s mainly catering to tourists and really presents itself more on the “snack side” of the culinary offer in St Peter Ording. But that is hardly a surprise once you find out that the owner is the brother of Axel Kirchner, himself the chef of another beach restaurant called Strandhütte. I am not at all exaggerating when I claim that here I have possibly had the best meal I’ve ever had in a German restaurant. This too explains why we were hard-pressed to even get a table when we just walked in one evening. I definitely recommend booking in advance when coming here.
If you are among those people who value great food when they travel, St Peter Ording is for you. I never expect much from restaurants in tourist centers but this one still has me raving to friends.
When you’re not eating, going for long walks along the beach or spa treatments there are plenty more options to fill your day. Bike rentals are virtually everywhere and since there are only few cars, riding one is a highly enjoyable endeavour. Turn your back to the sea and you’ll soon find wide fields with cows, sheep and horses.
The town is divided into four parts, all with their own unique feel to them, all close to the ocean which is why this place first and foremost is long! While the different parts are best explored by bike, you can also hop on the bus that is free for tourist card holders. The tourist card (Kurkarte in German) is available from hotels and landlords subletting vacation rentals and shouldn’t cost you anything. It gives you unlimited access to all the beaches (normally €2) and the bus.
The part I stayed in (and would most recommend staying in) is Ording, the epicentre for all things sports like surfing, kitesurfing and so on. It’s a lovely area with all the action happening right along the beach that attracts a young and modern clientele while charming your pants off with adorably traditional (guest) houses and some happening new hotels.
The other spot of interest is Bad, the center of St Peter Ording, complete with many shops, restaurants and event stages. Come here to enjoy an ice-cream in the sun while going through the listings of the “Veranstaltungskalender” – the town’s very own event guide that you can pick up from hotels or tourist information. Bad is also the meeting point for free of charge Nordic Walking sessions that happen twice a week, as well as other fun beach activities like Yoga. Again, check the listings for times and meeting places.
Of interest for all spa-lovers might be the Dünen-Therme – the public pool that doubles as a popular wellness center offering anything from massages, deep tissue treatments and the very popular Thalasso therapy. The Therme is currently being extended, so one may experience some light construction work. It will be in use throughout the summer though and is certainly worth your time. The pool area features indoor and outdoor pools, made extra fun with a couple of big slides and waves! For more info and prices, check out this website.
The other two neighborhoods in town are Dorf and Böhl, both of which are more quiet areas with many guest houses mixed in with local houses. There are lots of bike lanes here, various opportunities for camping and – as always – easy beach access.
If you have more than a weekend to spend it’s worth venturing out of St Peter Ording and explore some of the surroundings. A great spot is Husum, a larger city nearby with almost 100.000 visitors. Husum is great for a stroll and has a lovely old town vibe while still offering great restaurants and shops. Get lost in the many small cobbled streets and soak up the feel of a traditional Northern German architecture.
Only a 30 Minute drive away lies Friedrichstadt, often referred to as little Amsterdam, due to its 400 year-old history involving the settlement of many Dutch. To this day the Dutch influence is unmistakable with the many houses and bridges looking like transplants straight out of the Netherlands. Not to be missed is a ride on a boat (or better yet, on one of the canoes or paddle boats you can rent at the harbour!) to go off on your own and see the town from the water. Nice perk when oping for the guided boat tour – you’ll get lots of interesting stories about the place’s history.
If you love the sound of wide fields, homemade cheese and baby sheep, the Friesische Schafskäserei in Tetenbüll is for you. The cheese dairy is part of the home of Family Volquardsen who set up the business 10 years ago. The house, which looks a bit like an old castle from outside, also hosts a shop selling homemade cheeses and cute souvenirs. Each Tuesday and Friday at 3pm there are tours offering visitors insight into the cheese making process, starting from the sheep on the grass, all the way to the counter, usually ending with a delicious tasting of the different cheeses produced here.
If this has got your more interested in your own trip to this North Sea, have a look at this website for more info on all your many options. There are a lot of great destinations along the North Sea, including fantastic options like the islands Sylt and Föhr (already on my wishlist) which guarantee that everyone finds something that suits best for them.
Infinite thanks to Nordsee Tourismus and in particular Tanja Weinekötter for helping me organise such a wonderful get-away, that will forever be special to me as my final pre-baby trip. It couldn’t have been any more comfortable, entertaining or tastier.