The wonders of Sweden’s wild western way

Bohuslän archipelago comprises thousands of islands an hour’s drive from Gothenburg

 

From floating hotels and crayfish feasts to kayak expeditions and secluded island retreats, exploring Sweden’s Bohuslän archipelago is a pure connection to the rawness of Swedish nature.

Picture the rugged coastline of Mayo, west Galway and south Connemara, their clusters of islands, stacks and inlets splintered off from the Irish mainland, then multiply that by 100. Set similarly on the sea-battered western coast, Sweden’s Bohuslän archipelago comprises a cavernous collection of about 10,000 islands, skerries and inlets, only an hour’s drive from Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg.

Gothenburg, Sweden. Photograph: Per Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se
Gothenburg, Sweden. Photograph: Per Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

In winter, west Sweden’s thick forests of pine and spruce are snow-dappled and its coastline covered in ice sheets. Visual feast aside, temperatures barely reach above freezing, so summer is the season in which the archipelago truly emerges from the cocoon. June, its prime time during Midsommar celebrations, sees tourists sojourn among Stockholmers and Gothenburgers retreating to their “summer houses” – a reverse-hibernation ritual of city folk flocking to their second homes.

For a summer break with a difference, along this Scandinavian coastline you’ll find crystal-clear waters, temperatures in the mid-20s and nature in full bloom all summer long. The largest islands of Tjörn and Orust are the centre of activity in Västsverige. Exploring Bohuslän by car is one thing, but it’s a completely different experience taking it in from water level. Kajaktiv offers guided tours by kayak from its base by the island of Klädesholmen. Glide through glistening water, mastering the skill of balance as you go, and take in the natural beauty of the archipelago as you navigate around a number of the islands. A three-hour tour for groups of four to eight people with a guide and light lunch break is 895 Swedish krona (€85) per person.

Sweden's wild western coastline. Photograph: Per Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se
Sweden's wild western coastline. Photograph: Per Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

Commonly known as the sill (pickled herring) capital of Sweden, Klädesholmen is a historical fishing village having cast nets into the North Sea as far back as the 15th century. Today, this 300-inhabitant island produces just under half of Sweden’s entire pickled herring output. Picturesque with colourful clusters of houses slicked in signature Swedish “falu” red, it’s well worth exploring for an hour or two. The bridge-connected isle also boasts Sweden’s first boatel, a floating hotel called Salt & Sill. With rooms kitted out in desirable, designer Scandinavian style and the lapping water surround, it’s become a destination bolthole in the archipelago. Moored alongside is SS Silla, the hotel’s two-storey relaxation catamaran, complete with sauna, chill areas and a top-floor outdoor hot tub. The eponymous restaurant adjoining is one of the best in the area, internationally-regarded for sillplanken (herring plate) with a menu celebrating local, seasonal fish dishes for lunch or dinner.

Self-taught sourdough baker Lotta Kristensson has been baking professionally for a decade and moved her bakery, Lottas Surdegsbageri, to Bleket in 2015. Specialising in sourdough bread, handmade using traditional methods, her daily-changing bakes run the gamut from rye to levain, fruit and nut bread to carrot-filled and cumin-spiced loaves. There are also cookies, brioche buns, kardemummabullar, as well as freshly made sandwiches and coffee at the bakery, which is open Wednesday to Saturday weekly. Artisan bread enthusiasts can even partake in day-long sourdough courses.

For something a little quieter, quirkier and an authentic west Sweden experience, Lådfabriken in the village of Edshultshall is a designer B&B set within a former fish factory on the quiet island of Orust. Substantially renovated a couple of years ago, the guesthouse, run by partners Johan and Marcel, is an explosion of colour, bursting with art, fresh blooms and eclectic furnishings. Serving local produce for breakfast and dinner, the pair make sure you feel like their guesthouse is your home.

A 10-minute drive from Lådfabriken, hop on the ferry at Tuvesvik and take a brief 30-minute sail around the islands to reach Käringön. Though the archipelago is extensively connected by bridges and a substantial road network, Käringön is a little further out to sea in a collection of islands which are Sweden’s answer to the Aran Islands.

Kayaking around the Bohuslän archipelago. Photograph: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se
Kayaking around the Bohuslän archipelago. Photograph: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se

Käringön is a place the 20th century almost forgot, a historical, close-knit fishing community with its early 1900s houses prettily preserved and seaside views at every turn. Though fishing was its forte in a former life, the island is better known for three great restaurants today – Petersons Krog for the best crayfish and lobster, Simon’s Cafe (set in a former rectory) and Karingo, where you can enjoy a selection of oysters with champagne while sitting in a hot tub.

Speaking of which, you really can’t come to Scandinavia without partaking in sauna – a bathing ritual for Swedes. Stenungsbaden on Stenungsön island just off the E6 to Gothenburg is a prestigious boating country club and hotel which is ideal for a lavish lunch and a half-day package at their award-winning spa. Book a massage, lay in the infinity pool or while away an hour or two in the outdoor jacuzzi overlooking stunning seaside views.

Sweden’s not just snowy peaks, noir dramas and Ikea cosiness in the darker months, the west Sweden coastline truly comes into its own once summer hits. Come for the weather and breathtaking views, stay for the crayfish.

How to get there: Ryanair launches a new route between Dublin and Göteborg Landvetter Airport, with flights twice a week, from May. Alternatively, west Sweden can be accessed by flying into Stockholm, Oslo or Copenhagen airports on board Ryanair, SAS or Norwegian with a connection by road or rail.

Currency: Swedish krona (€1=10.50SEK)

vastsverige.com

visitsweden.com

Patrick Hanlon and Russell Alford write at GastroGays.com Follow them on Twitter: @GastroGays

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