New Yorkers weekend in the Hamptons. North Germans escape to SYLT. They’ve come en masse since the nation went crazy for seawater bathing in the mid-1800s, and today around 600,000 people a year swell a year-round population of 23,000, thankfully only 50,000 at a time. In recent decades Sylt has carefully cultivated its reputation as a playground of the moneyed elite. Every minor celebrity for decades has been caught in flagrante delicto by the paparazzi, fuelling the gossip press each summer and adding to the prestige of Kampen village.
Cross under grey North Sea skies to disembark in main resort, Westerland, and you might wonder what all the fuss is about. The answer is a broad beach of pale quartz sand that fringes the entire west side of an elongated island tethered to the mainland by its railway. The sheltered east coast looks over the mud-soup of the Wattenmeer, while the north arm around the port of List is a restless sea of sand dunes. Flashy restaurants and boutiques aside, Sylt is an island of simple holiday pleasures: dozing in one of 11,000 Strandkörbe, the cute wicker beach-seats for two; dawdling through lanes of postcard-pretty Keiten; nature walks among Germany’s largest sand-dunes at List; sea cruises from Hölm or any number of watersports. And, of course, people-watching at Kampen.