As soon as I land on the island of Fanø – just twelve minutes after the ferry sailed from Esbjerg – I can feel the strength of the local spirit. The people embarking or disembarking smile to each other, exchanging a friendly word as they pass. The same applies to Søs Josefsen, my fellow passenger from Esbjerg. Within the few minutes it takes from the ferry port to her home, we meet a stream of people she knows.
“Hello Manfred,” she waves to a passing man, who, she tells me, is one of the committee running the local cinema, before we turn right on the cobbled high street, and pass through her white-painted gate to the house where Søs lives with her husband Johannes Josefsen, their 3-year-old son Hjalte and their two cats.
A secure childhood
Søs is an Administration Assistant at Business Esbjerg, and grew up on Fanø. Nevertheless, it came as a bit of a shock to Johannes when she began to talk about moving back there in late 2015, after they had spent five years restoring a house just outside Esbjerg.
“There's a special feeling of closeness and helpfulness here. I had a very secure childhood, yet quickly learned to become independent, cycling to school and leisure pursuits. I'd like to be able to give the same to my son. ”
“I missed the horizon. Johannes thought I’d gone crazy,” she says with a smile when I ask her why she wanted to go back.
“There’s a special feeling of closeness and helpfulness here. I had a very secure childhood, yet quickly learned to become independent, cycling to school and leisure pursuits. I’d like to be able to give the same to my son,” she explains. Søs managed to persuade her better half that they ought to move over a period of two months.
Esbjerg is only 12 minutes away, giving Søs and Johannes the best of both worlds. The Fanø ferry sails 2-3 times an hour all day – from early morning until midnight.
An unparalleled social life
Initially, they reserved a site to build a house on the northern tip of the island. But they were then offered the chance to buy a totally-renovated two-storey house just a stone’s throw from the high street and the ferry port, where we now sit in the kitchen drinking coffee.
They moved in March 2016. “We are delighted with the house. We have never been so socially-involved as we have been since moving here. It’s so much easier to get to know people, because it’s a relatively small community.
Mini guide to Fanø
6 things to do and see at Fanø.Mini guide to Fanø
I mean, we were invited to come and eat with the other parents over at the school just after we moved in, for example. And there’s actually a lot of life here, with cafés, concerts, talks and even stand-up comedy – the same things you find in much bigger cities. But you still don’t need to walk for more than five minutes to find yourself in the woods or on the beach,” enthuses Johannes, who was pleasantly surprised by the ‘can-do’ attitude of people on the island.
“If you’ve got a good idea, it’s easy to realise it. Collective activities are big over here, with everything from handball and football, through winter bathing and gymnastics to unicycling, hockey, riding, sailing and music classes.
"If you've got a good idea, it's easy to realise it. Collective activities are big over here, with everything from handball and football, through winter bathing and gymnastics to unicycling, hockey, riding, sailing and music classes.
Their way of life as a family on Fanø is very similar to that they had in Esbjerg.
“We still get up at 6 am, send Hjalte to kindergarten at 7 and then take the ferry to work at 7.30, the same time as we used to leave home when we lived on the mainland. There is a social aspect to taking the same ferry as almost half of the island to get to work. It’s really nice,” says Søs, who usually picks Hjalte up on her return at 3.30 pm, while Johannes often takes the ferry a couple of hours later after leaving his job as easily get on my mountain bike and bike along the paths behind here, and in the summer we often bike out to the beach with our dinner. It only takes 8 minutes to get there,” explains Johannes.
They also like to bike around the 15 km long island at the weekend, with one place in particular as their favourite.
“The woodland playground on the way to Sønderho is a little oasis. It’s hard to find, because it’s hidden deep in the woods. There are huts, grills, shelters, swings and an activity course. We held Hjalte’s birthday party out there one year, taking our own food for a picnic,” says Søs, who also loves living with a view all the way to the horizon again:
“Going down the hill and watching the view of both sea and sky open up as far as the eye can see is simply the best feeling. That’s the essence of Fanø for me.”
Did you know?
...that a place at kindergarten on Fanø only costs around DKK 1600 per month? That's half price compared to many large towns and cities.Fanø Municipality
A mental journey
Apart from visiting family, the only thing that attracts the family to the mainland in their leisure time is the indoor swimming pool.
“We take our ‘Long John’ bike and get on the ferry, and bike up to the swimming pool complex,” says Johannes, who is not the least bothered about the ferry now being the family’s primary form of transport.
“Something or other happens in your mind when you get on the ferry. You can almost see how people relax when taking it home from work. It only takes 12 minutes, but it does have some form of effect. In the summer, the trip is also a good opportunity to enjoy what’s popularly known as a ‘ferry beer’ or ice cream with your mates.
Being dependent on a ferry will no doubt put some people off. But it sails 2 or 3 times an hour. If you can live with that, then, in our view, you get the best of