Letter from Europe

Ship Talk: From the Kattegat to the Crimea

Issue no. 2014/9


Many travellers through Denmark this summer will be sorry to discover that the long-standing direct ferry from Kalundborg (on Sjælland) to Aarhus (on Jutland) has been axed. This is just one of many routes to disappear in the latest round of cuts to Europe's ferry networks. Meanwhile we have also been watching a Russian ferry operator who promotes a new Black Sea ferry route from Ukraine to Georgia.

Dear fellow travellers

Many travellers through Denmark this summer will be sorry to discover that the long-standing direct ferry from Kalundborg (on Sjælland) to Aarhus (on Jutland) has been axed. This is just one of many routes to disappear in the latest round of cuts to Europe's ferry networks. Each route that goes diminishes a web that once served hundreds of ports around our coasts. Of course, it's not all bad news, and we do see a number of new ferry routes open each year. But sadly too few survive for more than merely a season or two.

By boat to Yalta

One company we've been watching of late is Paradise, a Russian ferry operator with bold plans for a new Black Sea ferry route from Odessa (Ukraine) to Batumi (Georgia). They are promoting the new route as the Crimea-Caucasian Ferry Line. When we met representatives of Paradise earlier this month, they assured us that everything is all set for their services to start just after Easter. But we are not betting too many of our Ukrainian hryvnia (never a wise investment, we know) on Paradise's smart ship ever leaving port.

The ship is interesting. She's called the MS Isabella I, but the name masks her origins as a car ferry operating in the 1980s on the Channel route from Sheerness (in the English county of Kent) to Vlissingen in the Netherlands. The company was called Olau Line and the ship in those days was called the Olau Hollandia.

We cannot quite see the new Ukrainian government being too happy when the MS Isabella I arrives in Odessa for the first time - that's scheduled for 3 May. Not least because the published schedule shows the ship stopping at Yalta in the Crimea and Sochi on the Russian Riviera on its regular trips from Odessa to Batumi. The Paradise rep we met ten days ago was impressively insouciant when it came to current events. "The schedule is ideal for Ukrainians from Odessa wanting to travel to the Crimea for a short break," she suggested.

So the movements of the MS Isabella I over the coming weeks will be worth watching. We hope that Paradise's new venture does eventually work out, for the idea is a good one. And the port calls are all long enough to allow passengers a few hours ashore, exploiting the same visa-free loophole from which cruise ship passengers have long benefited.

From Kalundborg Fjord to Aarhus Bay

Meanwhile, a few thoughts on that lost Danish ferry crossing. We've always had a soft spot for that route from Kalundborg and Aarhus. It really was the most delightful of Danish domestic ferry crossings. The three-hour voyage was sufficiently long to give a real sense of being at sea, yet oddly one was never out of sight of land. It started with a trip down Kalundborg Fjord, then the ferry slipped around the edge of the island of Samsø to reach Aarhus Bay.

For those travelling without a car, this route was perfect. There were excellent rail connections at both ends. In fact the journey by train from Copenhagen to Kalundborg is one of the most appealing in Denmark. It takes just under two hours, once beyond Roskilde following a branch railway that cuts through rural Sjælland landscapes missed by most tourists.

The ferry link across the Kattegat from Kalundborg has been in a state of flux this past couple of years. Historically the route had been run as part of the Danish State Railways core network, with through rail-sea fares of the kind that were once so common across Europe. The scrapping of those through fares was the first nail in the coffin of many ferry services. Danish operator Mols Linien then ran the route for many years, but in 2011 announced their withdrawal from the service. Mols Linien kept two other much shorter Kattegat crossings between Sjælland and Aarhus: one from Odden to Aarhus (70 minutes) and the other from Odden to Ebeltoft, just south of Mols Bjerge National Park (45 minutes).

These two surviving Mols routes are good in their own way, but the Sjælland departure port for both routes at Odden has no connection with the Danish rail network. Nor does Ebeltoft. So we were pleased when a new operator called Kattegatruten took over the service from Kalundborg to Aarhus. But after two years of operation, Kattegatruten folded in late 2013.

The Samsø connection

Truly dedicated slow travellers can still cross the Kattegat from Kalundborg by travelling first to Kolby Kås on the island of Samsø, then on from Sælvig (also on Samsø about eight kilometres north of Kolby Kås) to Hou on Jutland. There is a bus connection between the two ports (service 131), but do check the schedules carefully. On most days this spring and summer, it's possible to make the entire journey from Kalundborg to Hou in five hours - you'll catch the Kattegat breeze and see a little fragment of the island of Samsø along the way. We think this is a journey well worth making.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

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