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This is not the Germany of cuckoo clocks and dirndls, forests and rolling farmland, sauerkraut and Rostbraten; it is Nordfriesland, a place of thatched roofs, fresh sea air, weather-beaten Monterey-style pines, heather-covered dunes, and, of course, seafood. (Friesland, a geographic, not political region, encompasses the area from the Zuider Zee to Denmark. Some of it has been reclaimed from the sea prompting its resolute inhabitants to note that: "God made the sea, Frieslanders made the shore.")

A largely elite clientèle of both old and new rich come to stroll and loll on beaches pounded by the North Atlantic, whack their Titleists around the Scottish links-style golf course, and explore an island that is essentially a 24-mile long sand spit, virtually every inch of which is accessible by bike or on foot via flat, mostly-paved trails. Adventure travel, it is not.

The quality in accommodations and cuisine that awaits them is remarkable. In all Germany, there is no greater concentration of stars, toques, and other various guidebook symbols that signify excellence. Michelin gives its "Red" designation to nine hotels, and awards its coveted stars for culinary achievement to four restaurants and its red Bib Gourmand (good food at moderate prices) to three others.

Prominent German families come to their favorite Sylt hotels year after year, expecting and getting the same room or suite, the same table in the dining room, and the same newspaper at breakfast. Harald Hentzschel, the personable owner of the elegant Stadt Hamburg, for decades an old-guard favorite, confesses to maintaining a meticulous, generations-old file on regular guests that catalogs likes and dislikes that range from chamber maids and waiters to food and drink to specially-requested bed linens.