My first aware reminiscence occurred on the decrease touchdown of a staircase that spiraled up 4 flooring of the 14th-century, moat-encircled Gjorslev fort in Denmark. I used to be hugging the railing whereas my tweed-clad grandfather, Edward Tesdorpf, who owned the place, smiled at me as he walked down the corridor to care for his ever-expanding farm companies. I used to be 3 years outdated.

And now, 5 a long time later, I’m standing on the identical spot, this time with a statuesque Danish lady in fashionable Japanese informal put on. “That is roasted and steamed tea from Korea,” Mette Marie Kjaer tells me, providing a pleasing cup of miso-tinged brew.

Ms. Kjaer runs her Asian tea firm, Sing Tehus, from a rented wing of the fort, providing tea ceremonies and yoga retreats whereas sustaining Gjorslev’s standing because the oldest repeatedly inhabited constructing in Scandinavia. After half a century of benign neglect following my grandfather’s departure, the fort is internet hosting not simply yoga and tea occasions, however arts festivals, medieval festivals and even a summer time musical theater in its courtyard. Gjorslev, my grandparents’ dwelling, has opened to the world.

One can say the identical factor about Stevns, the world in japanese Denmark the place the fort is positioned. Throughout my childhood, Stevns was thought of so remoted that locals used to say that it was the place “the crows come to show round.” My children nonetheless take a look at me askance after I clarify how many people on this group of fishermen and farmers had been intimate with outhouses and coal-burning stoves and heaters effectively into the Nineteen Seventies. A few of my childhood neighbors had by no means even been to Copenhagen, an hour’s drive away.

Though at evening Copenhagen’s lights appeared like illuminated pinpricks throughout the darkish Baltic Sea, Stevns appeared an impossibly distant place, the place superstitions had been robust and conversations brief — “Sure, it’s not that,” spoken very slowly, was a very common starting, center and finish to many interactions. Fortresslike limestone chalk cliffs above the ocean hemmed the peninsula off whereas the Tryggevaelde stream — a 20-mile waterway etched into the flatlands, and, in keeping with native lore, an elf hide-out — turned it into an island.

However now Stevns is being found. Copenhagen commuters are trickling in, drawn to the world’s bucolic charms; Stevns’s epic cliffs, which had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage web site in 2014; a lately opened folklore museum in the principle city of Retailer Heddinge; and renovated inns and eating places which have turned Stevns into an interesting weekend vacation spot.

Driving from Copenhagen, throughout the Tryggevaelde stream, I seen the gradual transformation of the panorama because the lead-gray sea slowly receded beneath cliffs and dense beech forests. Industrial-size fields diminished to patches of farmlands, with Bronze Age grave mounds protruding like darkish citadels.

When mist rises from the bogs, some say it’s actually ghostly elf women dancing across the mounds. Certainly, Denmark’s nationwide play, “Elverhoj” (“Elves’ Hill”), takes its title from a neighborhood grave mound the place, in keeping with legend, dancing elves and their “chalk king” frolicked with Danish royalty.

The chalk! It’s in all places: within the consuming wells (reputed by locals to be the perfect coffee-brewing water in Denmark); within the historical church buildings, farmhouses and barns, all constructed with huge blocks reduce from the cliffs; and on my fingers and ft after a day of tramping round.

For nearly a millennium, chalk cutters have been mining the cliffs for constructing materials, which supplies Gjorslev fort and different buildings the looks of gleaming Lego blocks in opposition to the verdant panorama. These historical, thick, but crumbling partitions have been preserved by generations of house owners who as an alternative of portray their houses, “rechalked” them each few years with a layer of chalk sludge utilized with a brush.

That is how I got here to know each sq. inch of Gjorslev, having spent a major a part of my youth rechalking its alleys, nooks and, on one memorable event, suspended by ropes, its central 98-foot tower.

The roots of each my journey writing and mountaineering quests are right here, as Gjorslev’s towers and barns made for wonderful climbing whereas the occasional guests required me to take improvised stints as a tour information. Disappointingly, little occurred on this grand fortress over six centuries, so I improved issues with tales of jousting tournaments, executions and different pretend dramas to rapt audiences not but armed with web fact-checking units.

Throughout World Warfare II, when the Germans occupied Denmark, Gjorslev did make it into the historical past books when my country-bumpkin grandfather, goaded by my cosmopolitan grandmother, whom he had snatched from Copenhagen, turned the place into a middle for the Resistance. My grandfather and his crew smuggled out lots of of Jews, scientists and different folks needed by the Nazis by way of fishing boats to impartial Sweden. Gjorslev’s forests and enclosed fields turned secret spots for parachuting in weapons and different contraband by the British Royal Air Drive.

“The most important downside had been the parachutes,” my grandfather as soon as advised me. “Each lady was in need of silk for stockings and garments and so they stored bugging us for the silk parachutes. However folks would get suspicious in the event that they noticed somebody in new silks so we needed to burn them.”

His luck ran out within the final weeks of the conflict, when somebody blew his cowl and a caravan of German troopers got here rolling throughout the moat to arrest him. He jumped out the again of the fort and spent the top of the occupation pretending to be a affected person in a Copenhagen hospital room offered by the Resistance.

After the liberation, the nation bumpkin turned a conflict hero, joined the Danish Parliament and numerous company boards, and was visited on the fort by dignitaries reminiscent of Subject Marshal Montgomery and Eleanor Roosevelt.

On a latest go to, I had a meal at one among my grandfather’s favourite locations, Traktorstedet Gjorslev Bogeskov, a century-old eating pavilion overlooking the lapping Baltic subsequent to the fort’s forest. The restaurant has been totally modernized and hosts a wonderful buffet of native seafood, Danish pork and salads (lunch, 259 kroner, or about $38). “I’ve solely been right here for 20 years, so I’m not likely a Stevns individual but,” the pavilion’s hostess, Pia Johansen, advised me with a joking-yet-not-joking smile.

A ten-minute stroll into the forest on a path bordering the ocean introduced me to a worn indentation within the cliff the place a wood stairway as soon as descended into the ocean. This was the spot my grandfather selected for smuggling Jews and different refugees 20 miles throughout the Oresund strait to Sweden. On the opposite facet of the trail is the wood cabin the place they huddled at evening, ready for his or her journey to freedom.

The ocean was aquavit-clear right here and I took a dip within the chilly water, imagining my grandfather in his tweeds, and his mates loading households onto the ready fishing boats.

Eleven miles south, the Stevns Klint Expertise (entry, 140 kroner) lately opened above a former limestone quarry subsequent to the ocean. The middle consists of a dramatic concrete-and-glass strip of galleries, a cinema and cafe half buried within the hillside above the quarry.

“Right here’s the well-known fish clay,” stated Nana Katrine Legh-Smith, who’s the middle’s group outreach coordinator, pointing to a two-inch darkish layer that runs by means of a bus-size chunk of cliff, the museum’s centerpiece. The title is derived from the excessive focus of fossilized fish enamel and scales within the strata. Ms. Legh-Smith, like me, grew up right here, and we reminisced about enjoying across the cliffs, oblivious to the fish clay’s significance to science and the way it might remodel Stevns right into a world attraction.

“Walter Alvarez turned our cliffs into stars,” she stated, referring to the American geologist who visited in 1978 and made a exceptional discovery: The fish clay, with its lode of iridium — a uncommon metallic that’s related to outer house — supplies some proof that the extinction of the dinosaurs, together with half of Earth’s species, was attributable to an asteroid affect. Stevns is among the few locations on the planet the place this layer may be seen, incomes the cliffs their UNESCO standing.

One other two miles up the coast is the Thirteenth-century Hojerup Church, which appears to be like able to totter into the ocean 100 ft under. For eight centuries the church and the eroding cliff had been enjoying tag “one rooster step each Christmas,” in keeping with native lore, till March 16, 1928, when a big a part of the cemetery and the church’s chancel collapsed into the Baltic. Once I was a child, I might wander undisturbed to the open again and stare down the Hitchcockian drop. Now the place is bustling with vacationers. Any trepidation concerned with standing there may be calmed with the data that the cliff under has been fortified with concrete.

I descended the steep steps to the chalky seaside the place some Japanese guests had been photographing the jagged cliffs. After climbing again up and crossing the car parking zone, I used to be rewarded with a wonderful lunch of herring, meatballs and different native delicacies in cozy Hojeruplund (lunch for 2, 520 kroner).

However for me the perfect meal round right here is 4 miles down the coast at Rodvig, nicknamed “the Stevns Riviera,” for its sandy seaside, now common with windsurfers. The 18th-century Rodvig Kro & Badehotel was, in my youth, a “special day” spot for anniversaries and weddings, usually that includes boiled cod drowned in butter and remoulade — no luxuries again then for the hearty locals!

However over the past 5 years, the place has been enlivened by the chef Morten Vennike, a veteran of Copenhagen’s buzzy eating places who makes good use of native produce. I went for the coq au vin, garnished with wild mushrooms, and completed with caramel and apple sorbet (dinner for 2 with wine, 795 kroner). I left with a brand new appreciation, in any case these years, of the inn’s unique Danish midcentury-modern décor.

Later, within the harbor, I ran into one among Gjorslev’s former farming foremen whom I’d referred to as a baby. “What do you suppose makes Stevns so distinct?” I requested him, amid the clinking of halyards in opposition to sailboat masts.

He contemplated for some time. “That I couldn’t say.” We glanced throughout the bay towards the cliffs, which within the nightfall resembled Cubist etchings framed by the now teal Baltic. These similar waters nurtured the garrulous abilities of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Thomas Mann on close by shores, however Stevns’s distinctive magic and myths stay guarded by a tribe of taciturn folks.

There was a protracted pause as I waited for the outdated gentleman so as to add one thing. He didn’t. “Sure,” I lastly responded. “It’s not that.”

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