Christened the Garden of Denmark by its most famous son, Hans Christian Andersen, Funen (Fyn) is the smaller of the country's two major islands. A patchwork of vegetable fields and flower gardens, the flat countryside is also sprinkled with beech glades and swan ponds. Manor houses and castles pop up from the countryside like magnificent mirages. Some of northern Europe's best-preserved castles are here: the 12th-century Nyborg Slot, travel pinup Egeskov Slot, and the lavish Valdemars Slot. The fairy-tale cliché often attributed to Denmark is due to Funen, where the only place with modern vigor or stress seems to be Odense, its capital. Trimmed with thatch-roof houses and green parks, the city makes the most of the Andersen legacy but surprises with a rich arts community at the Brandts Klædefabrik, a former textile factory turned museum compound.
Towns in Funen are best explored by car. It's even quick and easy to reach the smaller islands of Langeland and Tåsinge—both are connected to Funen by bridges. Slightly more isolated is Ærø, where the town of Ærøskøbing, with its colorfully painted half-timber houses and winding streets, seems caught in a time warp.