As we approach the isle of Ærø the charming town of Ærøskøbing comes into view. This is the best-preserved 18th century town in Denmark. The government, recognizing its value, prohibits any modern building here. Those who visit find themselves dropping into the 1700s, when Ærøskøbing was the wealthy home port of a hundred windjammers — those mightiest sailing vessels of the pre-industrial age. The many Danes and Germans, who come here for the tranquility, call it the fairy-tale town.
Characteristic houses lean on each other like drunk, sleeping sailors. Appreciate the finely carved old doors. You won't find two the same. Hyggelig, that quintessential Danish word for "cozy," describes Ærøskøbing well.
 The harbor's a hive of relaxation. The surviving windjammers are now chartered by vacationers and the marina now caters to holiday yachts. A big part of the island's tourism is from boaters.
 Pension Vestergade — lovingly run by Susanna Greve — is my home away from home in Ærøskøbing. This salty, sagging, and venerable eight-room place was built in 1748 for a sea captain's daughter. From the elegant sitting room to the creaky attic, the place is filled with character. Susanna's generous breakfast is served in a charming room. Bedrooms come with slanted floors and fine views.
 Ærøskøbing is simply a pleasant place to wander — and Susanna's joining me.
I love this walk. It reminds me how our town has changed. These buildings were originally built by humble fishermen. They'd pull their boats right up to the home. Now, of course, they are quite expensive and the gardens are lovingly kept.
 Right on the harborfront, Arøskøbing Røgeri smokes its own fish. Racks of smoked mackerel, salmon, and other fish are sold out daily as locals and tourists clamor for a tasty meal. With a view of the harbor, it's just right for a budget seafood lunch.
 For me, the best way to explore Ærø is on two wheels. I'm meeting friend and local guide Jan Petersen for an island bike ride. Bike rental is easy...no deposits, no locks...this is Ærø. I've recommended this leisurely ride for years in my guidebook to show off the best of this island's charms.
 The island, is 22 miles long, has 7,000 residents, seven pastors, no crosswalks, and three policemen. Historically, Ærø has depended on shipping and farming — mostly wheat and dairy. U-shaped farms are typical throughout Denmark. The three sides block the wind while storing cows, hay, and people. It's the kind of place where local produce — whatever's in season — sits on the roadside — for sale on the honor system.
 Most of Ærø's villages are further inland, not visible from the sea. Church spires were stunted...designed not to be viewable from marauding pirate ships.
 This church — with a white-washed exterior dates from the 12th century. Its long nave leads to the altar. Gold leaf on carved oak, it's from 1528, just before the Reformation came to Denmark.
 In the back of the nave a list of pastors goes back to 1505 — all theologically related to Martin Luther with his hand on the bible as if on a theological rudder — and steering the church on a true course. The current pastor (Janet) is the first woman on the list in over 500 years.
 Ærø, like Denmark in general, is embracing clean energy. Home to communally-owned, state-subsidized windmills and one of the world's largest solar power plants, it's well on its way to its goal of energy self-sufficiency. This field of solar panels saves 1,500 homes a third on their heating costs.
 A short walk from the road takes us to a fascinating pre-historic sight. 6,000-years ago this was an early Neolithic burial place. Though Ærø once had more than 200 of these prehistoric tombs, only 13 survive. And Vikings also appreciated the holiness of this sight.
 Just a short stroll from Ærøskøbing, a narrow spit is lined by cozy beach huts and families savoring a balmy July evening. Denmark embraces the notion that small is beautiful and, here, the concept of sustainability is nothing new.
 These tiny beach escapes are privately owned on land rented from the town. Each is different, but all are weathered by merry memories of locals enjoying themselves Danish-style.
 To cap our visit, tonight we're joined by the major and his friends for a picnic dinner on the beach. A former music teacher, he's leading us in an appropriate song for Ærø — the ship went down but the sailors survived, making it back to their beloved homes and families.
Find out more about Ærø, Demark