Sylt – Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

A Former Whaling Island Becomes Germany’s Playground

This breezy little barrier island off the northern tip of Germany where Denmark begins is the status destination for the fashionable and chic of Hamburg, which is obvious from the presence of enticing boutiques, excellent restaurants, and a tiny casino. This skinny, sandy island otherwise cherishes its traditions and fragile beauty.

The largest island in the Friesian archipelago stretching from Denmark to the Netherlands, Sylt is just 1,800 feet wide at its narrowest point, its ever-shifting landscape of soft dunes and ’10 miles of sandy coastline in danger of eroding right off the face of the map someday.

It has a sizable gay and lesbian population, a famous nude beach (said to have begun the craze in the 1800s), and a relaxed lifestyle of just-caught seafood dinners in small fishing villages, summer days when yellow oilskin windbreakers are commonplace, invigorating air (often in the form of a bracing iodine-rich wind coming in off the North Sea) and restorative kick-back pastimes.

Much is made of the quality of light and the sky, which turns all shades of pastels and grays at the end of the day. Sloping straw roofs and dollhouse­like brick cottages prove that the islanders intend to keep the modem world on the main­land; biking, horseback riding, and walking are the preferred means of transportation. With just twelve villages on the 38-square-mile island, quaint Keitum is at its “green heart,” while the largest establishment is Westerland.

The latter is where you’ll find the elegant 19th-century Hotel Stadt Hamburg, evocative of a stately country estate. In addition to the Stadt Hamburg’s excellent restaurant, this small island is home to Restaurant Jorg Muller, one of the country’s finest, and a more formal alternative to the homey oyster and shrimp joints across the island where everyone knows your name.

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