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Port of Call: North Frisian Flair

The rich and famous have long engaged in holiday merrymaking on Sylt, a narrow strip of land — just seven miles wide and 21 miles long — battered by the North Sea along Germany’s coast. Beyond the designer boutiques and pulsing nightclubs in Kampen and the throngs swarming the beaches and souvenir shops in Westerland, you’ll find a terrain of unspoiled beauty on this North Frisian island.

Here are three off-the-ship excursions on this surprising isle:

Capital Affairs

Rent a bicycle near Westerland’s train station and pedal along bike paths (Sylt is networked with 124 miles of them) to Keitum, the capital in the 1800s. Clustered here is the island’s best collection of Frisian houses, bearing their characteristic reed thatch roofs and pointed doorway gables.

Kleine Teestube provides an extensive tea menu and decadent strawberry cream cakes, as well as a courtyard blooming with Sylt roses, tulips, and hydrangeas. Past the whale jawbone entrance, the Sylt Local History Museum, set in a former sea captain’s home, exhibits antiques such as an oak-carved mangle board used to press cloth and a hanging crown compass.

The petite rooms in the Old Frisian House illustrate life during the 18th and 19th centuries with a five-foot-seven-inch bed, a double-sided fireplace/oven between the kitchen and living room, and an in-house horse stable. St. Severin Church houses a 4,000-pipe organ and is adorned with whale-shaped brass door handles, reflecting the community’s historic roots in the whaling industry.

Natural Wanderings

List, the island’s northernmost region, offers secluded, alabaster sands that rim the Ellenbogen, an elbow-shaped peninsula. The wild landscape is perfect for sunning, picnicking, or walking, but fierce currents prohibit swimming.

Walk along the nearby coast of Königshafen, a shallow bay with mudflats on the Wadden Sea that attracts redshanks, red knots, and other shorebirds. Heather planted on all but two of the dunes prevents them from moving. The remaining sandy mounds that shift are termed “walking dunes.”

The multimedia presentations at the Forces of Nature Centre dramatically illustrate how crabs, birds, and other creatures survive and thrive despite the turbulent North Sea. At Bistro Austernmeyer, an informal eatery, you can inspect the oyster beds and devour their specialty: oyster gratin with Pernod butter, chili powder, and curry.

Living in the Past

In Tinnum, a boardwalk veers over a marshy landscape to the Burg, a foliage-covered, doughnut-shaped rampart that was part of a 1,000-year-old Viking fortress.

Near Wenningstedt, navigate a short, steep ladder down into Denghoog, a 5,200-year-old megalithic burial chamber constructed of massive pink granite boulders, one of which weighs some 40,000 pounds.

Just nine miles away in Sylt’s most easterly community, Morsum, the gray- and rust-hued, 65-foot-high Morsum Cliff serves as a time capsule with diagonal rock layers from widely different geologic eras sandwiched together by glacial forces and erosion.

This piece, written by Jeanine Barone, appeared in the June/July 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. 

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