An accident on vacation is every parent’s nightmare. A few summers ago, it happened to my husband, Peter, and me in Southern Sweden when eight-year-old Ross fell out of a tree and broke his arm. Luckily, we were at the home of my brother, Dick, who lives in Ystad, Sweden, with his wife, Nilla, and their children, so help was just a short drive away.
At the hospital in town, we were ushered into an examining room. Poor Ross was crying and holding his broken left forearm with his right hand, but the nurses, who spoke English quite well, calmed him down. The hospital staff took excellent care of our little boy, and after a few hours we emerged into the warm summer twilight, Ross sporting a white cast from his thumb to above his elbow and Peter and I joking about how mischievous little boys can be. Our nightmare was over, and thankfully we were able to enjoy the rest of our visit without further mishap.
This wasn’t our first trip to Skåne (rhymes with Jonah), the southernmost province of Sweden, and it won’t be our last. The fact that my brother lives there has a lot to do with the frequency of our visits, but it’s a destination well worth exploring on its own merit. Whether you want to see historic sites, explore nature, learn about Swedish culture, or just sit on the golden beaches and watch the sun settle into the sea, you can find all these opportunities and more in Skåne.
Flying to Copenhagen in nearby Denmark is the easiest way to get to Skåne from the U.S. While flying to Scandinavian countries is often more expensive than other European destinations, it’s possible to find reasonable fares if you keep your eye out for specials and book in advance. Icelandair, which flies out of D.C., offers good fares to Copenhagen (and you can enjoy a free stopover in Iceland if you have the time!).
Although the train system is efficient in Sweden, you’ll probably be better off renting a car to explore Skåne. I love public transportation, especially trains, but you can’t always get everywhere you want to go. To get to Sweden from Denmark, you’ll take the Öresund Bridge, a spectacular five-mile architectural marvel completed in 2000, which links Copenhagen with Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city. Once there head east through the gorgeous landscape that’s synonymous with Skåne: patchwork meadows in golds and greens, multi-colored wildflowers, quaint cottages and farms, and thick groves of emerald-green trees. If you’re lucky, a deep blue sky with pillowy white clouds will provide the perfect backdrop for your introduction to this beautiful region.
Now you’ll need to find a place to stay. Accommodations vary from simple youth hostels to castles fit for a queen. If you’re traveling with your children, consider renting a house. Near Ystad sits a cluster of holiday homes, many of which are a stone’s throw from the beach. These cozy cottages nestled into sand dunes offer a home away from home—Swedish style.
If you like the country life, you can opt to stay in a guesthouse or apartment on a farm and get to know the rural lifestyle in a friendly environment. Houses in Skåne have a unique architectural appearance. Many are half-timbered stucco homes with red-tiled roofs; some are painted in lively colors. Another characteristic of many houses in Skåne is they are often attached to a barn, forming a U-shaped structure that creates a lovely courtyard, as well as offers protection from the cold winds of winter.
For the outdoor-lovers, campgrounds are plentiful. In fact, if you enjoy camping in the wild, you’ll like Sweden’s Right of Public Access law, which says that you’re allowed to use private lands as long as you do not “disturb or destroy.” This means you may walk on private property and even have a picnic without worrying about getting permission. Of course, if the landowner is about, it’s always polite to ask anyway.
VISITS WITH VIKINGS
Now that you’re all settled in your accommodations, let’s explore the historic sites in Southern Sweden. Take a trip way back in time and visit the Viking Museum at Foteviken near Trelleborg. This outdoor museum features a Viking Reserve with reconstructed 11th-century Viking buildings, offering visitors the chance to get up close and personal with the Viking culture. In fact, the Vikings you meet at the museum are members of a Viking association dedicated to learning more about this important part of Scandinavian history. The re-enactors, dressed in authentic costumes, perform daily chores and tasks while sharing information about the Viking lifestyle—all to the delight of visitors and schoolchildren.
A mysterious remnant of the Viking era, a stone ship, is found about a half hour east of Ystad. Perched high up on a bluff overlooking the Baltic, Ale’s Stones is a stone formation reminiscent of Stonehenge in England. The fifty-eight boulders carefully placed in an elliptical shape point up toward the heavens. Supposedly enchanted, the stones hold a secret, legend says. In fact, no one quite knows how the stones were raised and arranged nor why, although research suggests Ale’s Stones mark an important Viking grave.
Before you visit Ale’s Stones, make sure you wear comfortable shoes because it’s a steep hike up from the parking area in the little fishing village of Kåseberga. Bring along sandwiches, a blanket, and a kite to fly since the tranquil setting of Ale’s Stones is perfect for an afternoon picnic. Before you ascend, pick up some luscious smoked fish at one of the smokehouses in Kåseberga to enjoy with your lunch. And don’t forget the napkins!
Not far away is Glimmingehus, a medieval fortress built in the mid-sixteenth century. If you’re visiting in August, try to attend the Middle Ages Festival, a great opportunity to watch crafters and re-enactors bring the Middle Ages to life. My children loved watching the jousters on galloping steeds striving to place the rings on their lances or knock the quintain, a revolving target, in the just the right spot.
If you come in early summer, you may get the chance to witness the Midsummer festivities, which take place the Friday closest to June 24. On this day friends and neighbors gather to decorate and raise a Midsummer pole.
One summer we joined my brother and his wife for the celebration in the town of Tomelilla. Under threatening skies, everyone took turns weaving brilliantly hued wildflowers, birch leaves, flags, and ribbons onto a huge, heavy twenty-foot log. After hoisting the pole, the town folk gathered in a circle for songs and dances accompanied by fiddle music played by a spry white-haired fellow with flowers in his hair. Afterwards we sat for a short picnic with coffee and cardamom rolls before the rains came and the festivities ended.
Held in August, the crayfish party is another summer tradition. On warm evenings, friends gather to eat boiled fresh-water crayfish, washed down with potent Swedish schnapps. It’s customary to eat outside on decorated tables with paper lanterns adding a festive atmosphere. I recall sitting in Dick and Nilla’s yard during a late summer visit at a table overflowing with tempting bowls of crayfish, green salads, mounds of buttery cheese, and “knicke” bread—not to mention cold beer and a shot or two of Skåne’s delicious herb-flavored schnapps.
A year-round tradition in Sweden is the smorgasbord, a gastronomic event everyone should experience at least once. Nilla’s father, Lars, once took us out for a smorgasbord at a seaside inn near Ystad. I nearly swooned at the many delicacies spread before us: every kind of fish and meat imaginable—smoked, pickled, and fried; a selection of delicious cheese and salads; and for dessert, a traditional cake called spettkaka, made of eggs and often baked over an open fire.
Skåne offers many opportunities for outdoor activities. In fact, roaming the countryside is one of the best ways to get to know the region, and biking is the ideal form of transport. In summer Sweden is blessed with daylight hours that stretch from 4 a.m. until 11 p.m., offering lots of time to enjoy the outdoors. We often go cycling after dinner on country roads around my brother’s house. We climb hills that are too hard to bike up, but the reward is sweet as we coast down the other side, feeling the breeze in our faces.
Hiking opportunities abound in Skåne, as well. In fact you can hike through Skåne in a loop on the Osterlen Trail, a 165-kilometer loop (about 110 miles) that begins in Ystad and follows the coastline for about eighty kilometers before turning west and then south back to Ystad. The trail is divided into thirteen day trips, each of which varies from six km. to nineteen km. and most ending at a campsite or shelter. The trail takes you through quaint fishing villages and lush nature preserves, past sparkling lakes and forests of beech and pine, offering encounters with nature not possible unless you’re traveling on foot.
Other outdoor activities in Skåne include golfing, boating, horseback riding, windsurfing, fishing, and (my favorite) going to the beach. One of the first times I visited Sweden way back in my backpacking, still-single days, I was fortunate to be there when Skåne enjoyed a string of hot, sunny days. My brother, his wife, and young son joined my backpacking buddies and me for relaxing afternoons on the south-facing beach near Ystad. As the sun traveled slowly across the sky, we soaked up its rays, swam in the chilly Baltic, ate sandwiches, and took walks along the sandy beach.
Unfortunately, our visits to Sweden in more recent years haven’t coincided with hot sunny weather, so trips to the beach have been infrequent. But during a recent June visit, the weather cooperated long enough for Peter, Ross, my nephew Anders, and I to take a hike along the shore. A cool breeze kept us company, but the sun joined us, too, and our hike was very pleasant.
As we walked, we could just barely make out Ale’s Stones on the horizon to the east of us. Behind us the picturesque town of Ystad with its lively shopping street and gorgeous half-timbered buildings waited for us to stroll its streets again. Just inland a ways the Ystad hospital sits, waiting to come to the aid of vacationing families who might, just might, need its services. But let’s hope not. Let’s hope your visit to Sweden isn’t interrupted by a visit to the emergency room. Instead, with luck and planning, your trip to Skåne can be a satisfying smorgasbord of Swedish history, culture, and natural beauty. One thing’s for sure, once you visit, you’ll want to come back again and again.
• Skåne’s tourist bureau - www.visitskane.com/en.
• Ystad - www.visitystadosterlen.se/en
• Hiking - en.skaneleden.se
• Viking Museum - www.foteviken.se
• Icelandair – www.icelandair.com