The island of Mandø, 10km (6 1/4 miles) off the coast of Jutland southwest of Ribe, is one of the most tranquil island hideaways in Denmark. Surrounded by the Wadden Sea, it has remained almost untouched by tourism, partly because of the awkwardness involved in getting here. Other than privately owned watercraft, the only way to reach the island is via a bumpy stone-and-gravel drive (the Låningsvejen) that's completely submerged during high tide, usually twice a day.
Under normal conditions, and whenever seas aren't particularly rough, access is possible some 15 to 18 hours during every 24-hour period in summertime. The island itself is a low-lying marshland that's protected from erosion by a man-made dike that surrounds it. Massive sandbanks and dunes that are infertile, uninhabited, and completely surrounded by water during high tides, and that change their size and locations after storms, also protect the island.
To reach Mandø from Ribe, drive 10km (6 1/4 miles) southwest of town to the coastal hamlet of Vester Vedsted, which marks the beginning of the Låningsvejen. The distance from Vester Vedsted to Mandø is 11km (6 3/4 miles), of which 5.5km (3 1/2 miles) are submerged by the high tides of the Wadden Sea. If you respect the clearly posted safety notices and the schedule of tides, a conventional car can make the trip out to Mandø without incident. You can also get there as a passenger in the Mandø Bussen (Mandø Bus), a heavy-duty tractor-bus that's equipped with large-tread tires. It departs from the parking lot just to the west of Vester Vedsted at least twice a day May to September, charging DKK60 ($10/£6) per passenger. Except under optimum circumstances, it doesn't run at all from October to April. For information about departure times, call either the tourist office in Ribe or the Mandø Bussen at tel. 75-44-51-07.
The first recorded mention of Mandø appeared in 1231, when it was claimed in its entirety by the Danish monarch. In 1741, the inhabitants purchased the island from the king at auction. Then, and throughout the rest of the 18th and 19th centuries, the island's men were involved with shipping while the women took care of the farms. In 1890, the island's population was 262; today, the island has a year-round population of only 70.
A few meters from where the bus stops in Mandø village stands Mandøhuset (tel. 75-42-60-52), an old skipper's home, now a lackluster museum of local artifacts. Entrance is DKK15 ($2.60/£1.50) adults and DKK5 (85¢/50p) children, and visits are possible Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm.
To the south stands Mandø Kirke (tel. 75-44-51-80), dating from 1639. The entrance costs DKK30 ($5.10/£3), but you have to call ahead to have the church opened. An old mill, built in 1860, can be seen in the northern part of the village.
Birders flock here to see thousands of breeding pairs, including eider ducks, sandpipers, and oystercatchers.
The tidal flats on the island are neither land nor sea. One moment they are dry, but for 6 hours a day they are covered by vast quantities of water. These flats are spawning grounds for several species of edible fish, including plaice and cod. It is estimated that every year 10 to 12 million birds fly over these tidal flats. These flats are Denmark's largest nature reserve. For those who like bird-watching, the spring and autumn migration periods are the best times to visit.
If you look anywhere to the southwest of Mandø, you'll get a view of what's sometimes referred to as Denmark's largest desert, an uninhabited expanse of sand dunes surrounded like an island by tidal flats that are submerged during high tides and storms. With borders and prieler (channels) whose positions are constantly changing because of storm and wave actions, the dunes and sand deposits are known as Koresand. Although a visit in winter is not advisable, during calm seas in summer, the site attracts ecologists and bird-watchers as part of twice-per-week half-day tours that are arranged by the same entrepreneurs who manage the above-mentioned Mandø Bussen (tel. 75-44-51-07 for reservations and departure times).
Tours depart from and return to Mandø in open trailers drawn by tractors that resemble the Mandø Bussen. En route, you'll pass some of the largest seal colonies in the Baltic. (These are most active during Aug.) You'll also be able to see the island of Rømø to the south and the island of Fanø to the northwest. There's usually a chance to search for amber on the beaches of Koresand, depending on the waves and the weather. The whole experience covers about 25km (16 miles) and takes about 2 hours, and the cost of the excursion is DKK80 ($14/£8) adults and DKK60 ($10/£6) children 11 and under.