The thatched cottages came as a surprise, but Friesenhäuser as they are known are a common sight on Rügen. I had no idea what to expect from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, but thatched cottages definitely weren’t on the list. To be fair, there was much that was surprising about Rügen: a rugged coastline that extends for 574 km with close to 60 km of sandy beaches, 160m-high chalk cliffs, pretty fishing villages nestling in small bays, rolling farmland of ripening wheat, ancient beech forests, neolithic temples, 19th century palaces, Second World War bunkers … the list goes on.
If that wasn’t enough, almost everywhere we went on Rügen the landscape was awash with the brilliant reds and blues of wild flowers. It’s no wonder so many people choose to visit. The island’s popularity was sealed by the 19th century Romanticism movement. Writers and painters – in particular artist Caspar David Friedrich who came here in 1818 on his honeymoon – forged an ideal of Rügen that Germans took to heart. Wordsworth did much the same for the English Lake District, only in poetry.
The island has seen a lot of history. Germans, Danes, Swedes, French and (much later) Russians all staked a claim to Rügen. Its most fascinating historical association was only uncovered in 2018 though. Amatuer treasure hunters unearthed hundreds of 10th-century coins and jewelry belonging to legendary Danish king, Harald Bluetooth. As well as unifying the country and bringing Christianity to Denmark, Harald, one of the last Viking kings, inspired modern bluetooth technology. Strange but true.
The most northerly peninsular of the island, Wittow, where we were staying, certainly lived up to this billing. Our base was the small village of Wiek, which has a pretty harbour, a smattering of restaurants and bars with ridiculous opening hours, and very little else. That suited us just fine, we could spend the days exploring, returning in the late afternoon to relax in a local beer garden and have dinner overlooking the water.
On our final Rügen day, we headed to the village of Putgarten and walked to the lighthouse at Cape Arkona. From here you can follow the coast north or south, we first headed north to view the Siebenschneiderstein. This is supposed to be an important geological feature, and if you like larger than average rocks this is probably for you. To everyone else, it’s just a big rock. We turned south and headed to the fishing village of Vitt instead.
As well as having a couple of lighthouses, this area has two sets of bunkers, one from the Nazi era and the other from the GDR period. More interesting from an historical point of view are the Neolithic mounds and ramparts from the Jaromarsburg temple site that once belonged to the Slavic Rani tribe. Sadly, much of this ancient site has collapsed into the sea, what remains is out of bounds to tourists.
We reached Vitt after a walk along the clifftops, and found ourselves descending into a picturesque village of thatched houses that led to a small harbour and stoney beach with magnificent views over the water and along the chalk cliffs. We sat and looked out over the sea and listened to the waves. It’s easy to see why this is ranked as one of the most attractive spots on the island. Walking out of the village we passed the pretty sailors’ Church of Vitt.
Afterwards we we headed for the Dranske. A wild and rugged beach stretches for kilometres to the south where bits of amber wash up occasionally, as they do all along the Baltic Coast. We took our picnic down to the beach and sat looking over the water to the island of Hiddensee, behind us across a large lagoon we could see Wiek. The next day we left Rügen as rain lashed down, this was the perfect way to end our trip to this surprising island.