Travel review: Sweden - Northern light

The west Sweden coastline.
The west Sweden coastline.
  • Seafood safaris, murder mystery tales and kingsize prawn sandwiches, Sarah Marshall takes an alternative Scandi seaside break.
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Finding inspiration to write a postcard home from a small Swedish fishing village Fjallbacka isn’t difficult. Anyone lost for ideas need only glance at the elaborate, adjective-laden travel scripts pinned outside globally-themed rooms in the boutique Stora Hotellet Bryggan hotel.

Each letter was supposedly written by fictional character Captain Klassen, regaling tales of his adventures around the world. Given the breadth of his voyages – from Indonesia to Africa and the Americas – it’s somehow ironic that his words should wind up in a sleepy seaside town barely acknowledged on a world map.

But when hotel manager Susanne Maxvall invented the character, she was clearly tapping into a sense of nautical adventure that drenches Fjallbacka like the spray from the refreshing North Sea. Set along a coastline of rough-hewn bluffs with an archipelago of 8,000 islands and skerries, Fjallbacka is the star attraction in the scenic Bohuslan region. An easy one-and-a-half hour drive from Sweden’s second city Gothenburg, it’s a favourite weekend haunt for nature-starved urbanites and also attracts tourists on a city and surf two-centre trip.

I’ve come here for an alternative seaside break, where fish ’n’ chip shops take the form of seafood safaris and the only sticks of rock I’ll encounter are towering cairns atop the town’s dominating Vetteberget mountain.

Passing rows of classic clapboard houses, and buildings decorated with intricate designs known as snickargladje (carpenter’s joy), I head to the harbour where a bust of Ingrid Bergman is surrounded by wild flowers.

The Swedish Hollywood actress first came here on holiday in 1958, then spent every summer, bar one, until her death in 1982 on nearby island Dannholmen. Her ashes were cast out at sea and it’s here that the magic of West Sweden really takes hold.

Along with seven other tourists, I join fisherman Ingemar Granquist on a boat trip to look for langoustines, a speciality in this region. Visitors can join seafood safaris throughout the year, although the delicacies on offer differ depending on the season. Langoustines can be fished from spring through to autumn, while the lobster season starts at the end of September.

Shellfish in this part of the world is exceptional. Ingemar, who ditched his office job to become a fisherman in 1990, has supplied langoustines to Saudi Arabian princes and some of his catch was even served at last year’s Nobel Prize Award Ceremony.

There are strict regulations governing fishing in the area, and Ingemar carefully casts back the few female langoustines we find in order to stick by sustainable practices. Along with the 10 professional fishermen who operate in this region, residents are also permitted 14 pots per household. Lobsters in particular are carefully monitored by marine police, although Ingemar hints that sometimes foul play is afoot.

It almost sounds like a case for bestselling crime novelist Camilla Lackberg, whose stories set in Fjallbacka have caused a surge of interest in the town. Every Friday and Saturday at 5pm, 45-minute walking tours (in English) guide tourists around the highlight locations featured in Camilla’s books.

A macabre highlight is the graveyard, which provides the opening scene for three of her novels - although the church warden has since asked Camilla to stop including the spot, as residents are now reluctant to be buried there.

In the slow summer twilight, there’s nothing remotely dark or murderous about Fjallbacka, but in winter when the population shrinks and charcoal-grey clouds grow thicker, I imagine it could easily provide fodder for a Scandi noir thriller.

I climb the natural stairwell that winds through the Kungsklyftan ravine, caused by an earthquake 250 million years ago, and stand on top of Vetteberget mountain looking out to Valo Island, where Camilla attended a summer school and which would later become one of her fictional crime scenes.

Anyone keen to explore the outer islands can pay 110 sek (£8) to join a post boat delivering mail to residents, which departs at 10.20am every weekday (call +46 708 42 14 74 before 6pm the day before).

But idyllic island life isn’t restricted to this part of the coastline – even back in Gothenburg, where I wind up my weekend break, it’s possible to get out on the water and ferry hop between islands in the Gothenburg archipelago.

I base myself at the Gothia Towers hotel, a slick glass high-rise overlooking the Liseberg amusement park, where the rooftop Heaven 23 restaurant serves a piled-high open kingsize prawn sandwich that even the hungriest diner would struggle to scale.

It’s easy enough to get out of the town centre, and a short tram and very pleasant ferry ride later (see for ferry timetables) I’m in Styrso, one of the larger inhabited islands where visiting Swedes wistfully imagine they might own a summerhouse one day.

With cars prohibited, residents get about in golf carts or motorised scooters with sidecars, to carry luggage, wood blocks or even family members.

I stop at a quiet jetty where a crouching child is fishing for crabs with a piece of string, and an old man is sitting on a bench, drinking beer and watching the silhouettes of cruise liners on the horizon. “I come here every evening,” he tells me. “I know it must be 8pm when the Stena Line ship goes past.”

I climb to the top of Stora Ros, a vantage point with a superb panorama of the archipelago.

I’ve no idea whether or not Captain Klassen has passed by here on his travels. But I somehow doubt he’d be lost for words.

• Sarah Marshall was a guest of the West Sweden and Visit Gothenburg tourist boards.

The Crayfish Safari with City Pulse package costs 3,200 sek (£244)pp and includes one night at Gothia Towers in Gothenburg and one night at Stora Hotellet Bryggan in Fjallbacka, both with breakfast. Also includes a seafood safari, one lunch and two dinners. Flights and car hire extra. Visit