American tourists are scarce in Sylt (pronounced "zoolt"), a thin island off the coast of Germany in the North Sea. That's one reason we love it so much. Often referred to as Germany's St. Tropez, Sylt is where Hamburg's affluent class comes to see, be seen, unwind, sunbathe nude, shop conspicuously, and perhaps take a "cure" (a prescribed regimen of spa treatments and massages). But all travelers, including gays and lesbians (and yes, even Americans) are just as welcome. Arriving via train (three hours from Hamburg) on the causeway connecting the island to the mainland, Sylt's emblematic thatched-roof buildings and candy cane-striped lighthouses come into view. Meadows of blooming heather give way to 100-foot-tall sand dunes that shift in the wind (Germans call them Wanderdunen). Sylt's entire west coast consists of broad white-sand beaches, many dotted with the island's trademark shell-shaped beach chairs. For maximum solitude, flee the summer throngs at Westerland--Sylt's largest town, and home to a handful of lively gay bars--and head to the secluded beaches at the top of the island (the northernmost point in Germany). For maximum delight, spend the day at Buhne 16, a nude beach with a long tradition of tolerance. Rich and poor, young and old, gay and straight--all are accepted. And with so much of this island dedicated to beauty, rest, and rejuvenation, many are admired.
Located within walking distance of the beaches and gay nightlife of Westerland, Haus Hallig (Danziger Strasse 9, Westerland, 011-49-4651-24213) is a large gay-owned guesthouse with a relaxed atmosphere, large garden, and bike rental service. (Riding bikes on the flat island is easy--and one of the best ways to see the sights.) It offers rooms and apartments with shared or private bath. Breakfast is included. The elegant Stadt Hamburg (Strandstrasse 2, Westerland, 011-49-4651-8580), richly decorated with a tasteful blend of country furnishings and flowers, is a gay-friendly hotel with one of the best wellness programs available on the island. Its Qiara Spa, decorated in Asian colonial style, features antistress treatments, massage facilities, indoor pool, hammam, and sauna. Located amid the high-end boutiques of glamorous Kampen (located north of Westerland), Hotel Village (Alte Dorfstrasse 7, Kampen, 011-49-4651-46970) offers contemporary accommodations in one of Sylt's iconic red-roof structures. Make sure to order breakfast in bed--the food at the hotel's restaurant is excellent.
Tempting taste buds with some of the best Greek food in Westerland, the menu at Achilleon (Elisabethstrasse 4, 011-49-6512-9511) offers everything from scorched pig shoulder with plum to cream yogurt with honey. Jörg Müller (Süderstrasse 8, 011-49-4651-27788) pairs its extraordinary wine list with innovative takes on lobster, spring chicken, and roasted goose liver. In Kampen, Zum Österreicher (Alte Dorfstrasse 2, Kampen, 011-49-4651-446160) is an affordable and authentic Austrian pub. Try chef Manni Schmidt's delicious goulash. Westerland is home to a handful of small gay bars, but the most established by far is KC Gay Disco (Elisabethstrasse 1a, 011-49-4651-24228), located in the heart of the village. Hosts George and Melli have entertained guests for over 30 years with a reliable combination of strong (and cheap) drinks and a lively dance floor.
The fastest and most comfortable way to get to Sylt is by train. Westerland is the terminus of most national and international train services. From Hamburg, where local and regional trains leave several times a day, the trip takes about three hours. The Sylt Tourist Office (Stephanstrasse 6, Westerland, 011-49-4651-19433) provides additional information about traveling to and from the island. (Web site is in German only.)