The big slate-blue waves rolling in from the North Sea are visible through the large windows of the dining hall. The yellow curtains sway lightly next to the slightly open windows. iPads and smartphones are safely put away. Wi-fi is not installed at the hotel and getting any decent mobile phone signals is very doubtful way out here, among the sand dunes of Jammerbugt.
For almost 100 years, Svinkløv Badehotel has been the summer destination for Copenhagen residents. The grey wooden building, perfectly located next to the beach, surrounded by beachgrass was the very idyll of Danish summer. With mullioned windows, wooden panels and striped-blue pillow cases, it was a Danish version of Swede Carl Larsson’s romantic paintings of a long lost time, when woman’s light summer frocks reached their ankles and men wore leotard bathing suits.
An idyll that was torn to pieces on 26 September when news channels across Denmark broadcast dramatic images of the country’s most iconic beach hotel engulfed in flames. A fault in a tumble dryer had caused the blaze and by the time the fire services reached the remote Svinkløv Beach, ten kilometres from Fjerritslev, it was already too late. Terrible flames lit up the dark September night. In the grey light of dawn, the destruction was plain for all to see. Carbonised beds, tables and chairs strewn about with broken plates and other inventory.
It was as if all of Denmark experienced a collective feeling of loss. Guests, writers and artists who had been regular holiday guests at the beach hotel for years, still talk about that day as a day when Denmark lost a little piece of its history. A place where time stood still; a place where images from the iconic TV series Matador, of grandparents and plaice fried in butter and served with parsley sauce carried real power.
“Unreal. From one day to the next, our life entered a period of crisis,” says top chef and lease holder of Svinkløv Badehotel, Kenneth Toft-Hansen. “We were woken late at night by a technical alarm from the hotel. At first we thought we had left a pan on in the kitchen. But when we reached the hotel the guests had already left the building – and we could see the smoke. We actually couldn’t see many flames. But when the fire services arrived it was clear that the fire had spread into the structural cavities. I actually went inside the hotel with the firemen and saw the fire come up through the floor,”
Things developed rapidly after that and before the night was over, 91 years of history lay in ruins. "It was a terrible night for the guests - and not least for our talented staff who were now without a job."
Phoenix from the Fire
Now six months later, Svinkløv Badehotel has risen from the ashes like the Phoenix. Gone are the charred remains of the original wooden building. A new hotel has risen up, built on concrete foundations that extend far down into the sand dune. The grey wooden facades with the small white mullioned windows once again blend perfectly with the beach, the beachgrass and the white crests of the waves rolling in from the North Sea.
The area around the hotel still shows signs of the recent building activities; there is material around the hotel and the windows are covered over. Inside, tradesmen and craftsmen work intensely to finish the work, so that the hotel can once again welcome expectant summer guests who will love the special atmosphere and seclusion that Jammerbugt is famous for.
Still no Wi-Fi
The original Svinkløv Badehotel was built in 1925 by Danish American Carl Brix Kronborg. Even back then the powerful authorities of the day were less than impressed by the prospect of a building just 200 m from the beach in an unspoilt scenic area with only a small road leading to the hotel. The area was owned by Klitvæsenet (which eventually became Denmark’s national forestry agency) – and they had no desire to permit the project to go ahead. But persistent pressure – and perhaps because the planned beach hotel has been designed by the Royal building inspector Ejnar Packnes – a building permit was issued. Originally, the hotel could cater for 14 guests who could enjoy the summer from the first line of sand dunes in a time when bathing holidays along the Danish coastline was the first fitness wave that achieved national popularity.
Kronborgs’s American experience also made its mark on the building – the mullioned windows were made in the American tradition. They split the window in the middle and when they were opened, they opened up the way. Svinkløv Badehotel was popular from the very beginning and the building was extended in 1934. The hotel now had 36 rooms, electricity and running water and other mod cons of the day. But that was it. From here it became a time warp. A place where time stands still."
The new Svinkløv Badehotel
“We decided to rebuild the beach hotel with huge respect for its history, We still haven’t installed WiFi. Our guests would never dream of taking their smartphones into the restaurant,” says, Kenneth Toft-Hansen, who hopes that guests will return and re-experience the hotel as it once was. Even though the architect and craftsmen have battled to ensure the hotel resembles the original beach hotel, some improvements and necessary changes have been made as well.
“Our regular guests will notice that the Red Lounge has halved in size to create space for wider corridors. The Blue Lounge has been re-designed. And finally, the kitchen has been placed closer to the restaurant in the Yellow Lounge. But our guests will probably notice the biggest change of all, which is that there are now showers and toilets in the bedrooms,” says Kenneth Toft-Hansen.
Otherwise, Svinkløv Badehotel will look just the same when it opens in May. And just as importantly, the new wooden building will comply with all of the building standards and safety regulations that a modern building must comply with.
Guests created traditions
In other words, the beach hotel in Jammerbugt is about to re-open. A new era will have begun when it does. But Kenneth Toft-Hansen and his wife Louise are confident that the old traditions and atmosphere will not be lost in the new building.
“No. We don’t believe for a moment that Svinkløv’s special atmosphere will be lost. We have wonderful nature right at our front door. The kitchen has access to the freshest ingredients from the sea. We won’t have to wait 12 or 24 hours to have our ingredients delivered. Our vegetables are freshly grown and freshly picked. And we create gastronomic experiences for our guests, with a new menu every day. “And don’t forget that we are only able to do it so well, in the kitchen and in the service that we provide to our guests because of our talented personnel. But it is the guests themselves who create the traditions that have defined the hotel through the years. And we hope to have the opportunity to show the hotel to both new guests and to our many regular guests who have stayed with us through the years,” says Kenneth Toft Hansen.
Recent father. 2019 winner of the Bocuse d'Or . During the season he’s busy in the kitchen at Svinkløv Badehotel. And in the summer, Kenneth Toft-Hansen and his wife Louise will open the doors to Badehotel version 2.0.
While not quite up there with helping his wife give birth to his son, winning the Bocuse d’Or – known unofficially as the equivalent of cooking’s Olympic Games – the pinnacle of achievement for chefs, was a close second for Kenneth Toft- Hansen at the end of January. “It was a dream come true,“ he says emphatically. As if being the leaseholder of the famous Svinkløv Badehotel wasn’t enough to keep Kenneth Toft-Hansen and his wife Louise busy, they had to endure losing the hotel in a fire and then rebuild it from the ground up, which was a gruelling task. Despite all that, there was still time to prepare for the World Championships in Cooking which was held in France in January 2019.
If there was silver lining to be found in the fire, it was that the re-opening of Svinkløv Badehotel took longer than expected, allowing Kenneth Toft-Hansen and his team more time to prepare for the competition, which was held in Lyon on 29–30 January. A few days before the competition – actually during the test dinner at the Copenhagen Hospitality College – he had to drop pots, pans and abandon his colleagues to help his wife give birth to their son at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen.
The 36-year-old celebrity chef met his wife while recording the food programme ‘Cecilie og madklubben’ (Cecilie and the Dinner Club), where she worked as a programme planner. And despite strong bonds with Copenhagen, Louise moved with Kenneth to windy northwest Jutland where Kenneth managed the kitchen at Svinkløv Badehotel.
Kenneth Toft-Hansen had worked his way to the top of his profession in the Danish restaurant sector. His first position was as the chef for Restaurant Piaf in his home city Silkeborg, then he worked at Prins Ferdinand in Aarhus – and finally as chef at Svinkløv Badehotel.
But even though his career culminated in winning the prestigious Bocuse d’Or, that kind of haute cuisine is not what his guests expect when they stay at the reopened beach hotel in May. “Those kind of theatrical menus that we create at international cooking competitions are just not suitable for Svinkløv. We are surrounded by wonderful nature, It’s about fresh fish. Fresh vegetables. And a new menu every day. Our guests must have a great experience. And delicious food. But you shouldn’t expect experimental fusion cooking from us,” says Kenneth Toft-Hansen. Kenneth and Louise Toft-Hansen expect that Svinkløv Badehotel will reopen in May 2019.