Having always wanted to visit Sweden, I had some preconceived ideas about what I was going to find when I arrived. I had always thought that Sweden would obviously be a clean country, with stunning views and friendly, but wow, it was so much more than that.
Putting that to one side, how many of you remember Abba, Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Ingrid Bergman, Ingvar Kamprad (founder of Ikea) and who knew of Alfred Nobel, who was not only a chemist but he also instituted the Nobel Prizes. These famous Swedish trail blazers and many others, helped to put Sweden on the map, but in an almost understated way, which I will try and convey to you in my travel story.
Upon landing at Gothenburg airport, it was plain to see that Sweden was going to be different from all the other countries I have visited. Travelling with Lavender & Lovage, we picked up our brand new Volvo V40 (only 1 mile on the clock) we made our way towards our first destination – Mussel Baren in the little town of Ljungskile, which we discovered was founded by a Scots man called Robert MacFie in 1877 – incredible to think that this even happened, as it must have been so remote 140 years’ ago.
The delightful team at Mussel Baren cooked us a real mussel treat. The technique of cooking mussels on a Muurikka, is very different to the usual steaming method. The mussels are cooked slowly on the Muurikka in onions, shallots, garlic, chilli, wine and stock, then they are covered allowing the mussels to infuse in all these wonderful ingredients until cooked to a caramelised state – then they are ready. I can honestly say that they were the best mussels I have ever tasted. Served with fresh bread, locally pressed apple juice called Alice and garlic aioli – they were divine.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from this delightful town, but we had to move on to our next destination; the pretty town of Smogen. Checking in at Smogens Hafvsbad hotel, we found staff very friendly and extremely helpful, our room was situated in the new part of the hotel, which is carved into the solid rocks located underneath the older structure – it was a truly inspirational architectural idea; blending nature with contemporary design.
Deciding to stretch our legs, we wandered down to the pretty harbour and came across lots of little fishing huts, all different shapes and sizes, perched along the water front. Smogen’s large sky made all the little red ochre painted huts stand out so prominently, each one different in their own way. Strolling along the 1km boardwalk, it was hard not to miss the beauty of this town.
Our evening meal was exquisite – three courses of pure delight, accompanied by superb wines to boot! The staff were excellent, explaining in detail about each course, you could tell how passionate they were and knowledgeable they were about each one. One of the staff mentioned, that whenever the restaurant introduced a new menu, all staff were encouraged to taste every dish, so they could talk about it confidently to their customers – a revelation I think!
With a new day ahead of us and feeling refreshed, we headed further north to the little fishing port of Fjallbacka, made famous by Ingrid Bergman and famous author Camilla Lackberg. We met up with Ingemar Granqvist, a local skipper on his boat Mira II. Ingemar took us on an amazing seafood safari, fishing for langoustine. After an hour of sailing out of the Fjallbacka archipelago we knew we were out in the open sea, it was very difficult to even stand up with the boat rocking this way and that! However, Ingemar just took it all in his stride and proceeded to haul up all 28 of his langoustine baskets, checking them one-by-one, filtering out the invading crabs and keeping the larger langoustine. Although by this time I was feeling a bit – well – let’s just say I was focusing on the horizon, it was still great to see Ingemar at work and to see how dedicated he was.
Making our way back to Fjallbacka, Ingemar fired up his burner, cooking fresh langoustine from his catch, they were amazing; delightfully sweet, meaty and with just a hint of the sea.
Entering somewhat, the quieter waters of the Archipelago, Ingemar took us closer to Ingrid Bergman’s house set high upon the rocks. It was a quaint building, very understated, but apparently, she fell in love with the remote island; how romantic to have such a hide-away.
Peeling off (literally) our all-in-one life jacket suits, we booked into the Stora Hotellet Bryggan. Nestling by the quayside, the hotel had a quirky feel about it, totally different to Smogen. Each bedroom had a different name and the lounge and breakfast room had an eclectic feel, with its furniture being sourced from all over the world.
Now, day three of our trip was going to be an exciting one for me, for years I have been interested in seaweed and its magical medicinal properties, so it was no surprise to me when I met Jonas from Catxalot, to learn that he is a pioneer in the seaweed industry. I couldn’t wait to hear all about it.
The seaweed safari got underway quickly, with a short walk towards the estuary, where Jonas started explaining to us all the different types of edible seaweed available to them in on the West Coast of Sweden. He was fascinating, his wealth of knowledge was outstanding and you could see just how enthusiastic he was and excited about his business. With his wet suit on and trusty seaweed harvesting knife in hand, he lowered himself into the water and started to harvest various types of seaweed for us to taste later. There was never a dull moment, he kept popping back to the shoreline with various samples, some of which we ate raw!
After the collection, we strolled back to the Catxalot Kitchen, where Jonas cooked us mussels cooked in sugar kelp seaweed, which is a real favourite of the top Swedish chefs. Jonas served this with a local beer and his homemade bread – absolutely delicious!
Heading on from there, we drove to Grebbestad to find our Bed and Breakfast at Everts Sjobod. The Bed and Breakfast is run by two brothers, Lars and Per Karlssons. The Bed and Breakfast is beautifully situated next to the sea and offers stunning views over the archipelago of Bohuslan.
Our room was simply decorated, very comfortable beds and our own balcony with views to die for.
Lars made us a seafood platter, with fresh bread, fruit and cheese and a lovely bottle of white wine, the perfect end to a perfect day, watching the sun setting over the archipelago in such beautiful, peaceful surroundings was just the best!
Oyster tasting was the order of the next day – having never tried an oyster, I was, well, a bit nervous and to be honest, it’s not my thing. But, I wasn’t going to let Lars down; him being Oyster Opening Champion 2017! You could see how proud he was of his oyster business, you could see it in his eyes, he absolutely loved what he did. He literally scooped the oysters out of the sea, next to his jetty and picked out some of the larger ones (five years older and above to avoid taking the younger ones) and put them onto the table and proceeded to open them, showing us how it was to be done correctly.
He squeezed a little fresh lemon juice onto the oyster and told us to just chew a few times and then swallow this little creature….mmmm well, yes, I did chew a few times and then swallowed. Then another and then another. The final one, which I opened myself with great difficulty and a little help from Lars, I ate too. Lars was happy, I was happy too as I didn’t have to have another one – but I am very lucky to have had the experience to try it and in such breathtaking surroundings.
It was Kayaking on our final day with Marcus and Ingela, the owners of Skargardsidyllen. In our double Kayak we headed out to the islands and skerries stopping off at one of the islands for a picnic lunch. It was lovely to watch Ingela lovingly fillet a freshly cooked mackerel for lunch, she took such care taking out the back bone of the fish and carefuly cutting up portions for us to taste. We had fresh homemade bread, mackerel, cheese and fruit – utterly delightful and so fresh.
Its surprising how we managed to get in and out of our kayaks, when it came to the end of our adventure, my travelling partner literally fell into the water whilst getting out of the kayak which was so funny. Luckily we both had a change of clothes! We said our good byes to Marcus and Ingela and made our way back to the old spa resort of Lyckorna, near Ljungskile for our final stay at Villa Sjotorp.
The Villa Sjotorp is an historical hotel a charming building dating from the turn of the century; it also won the Gourmet Award for 2017. Dating from 1901, the building has had an interesting history, but was finally purchased by its current owner, Ellika Mogenfelt, who has had the vision and drive to renovate this beautiful House by the Sea. She has carefully ensured that all the beautiful architecture and details remain, whilst ensuring that today’s discerning traveler receives all the luxury they desire.
Sitting by candlelight and with an amazing view over the sea, we had our final meal of the week. And what a meal it was, five courses, lovingly prepared and each course served with a perfect wine accompaniment – it was delectable and a real credit to the team at Villa Sjotorp.
This was the perfect end to a perfect week. I actually didn’t want to leave Sweden. It is a fascinating country, its people so friendly, helpful, eloquently spoken English and an easy charm that is hard to explain; Swedish people seem to have it sorted! The country is not pretentious, it’s the perfect medicine if you want to unwind, relax and get away from the hubbub of your busy life and experience a country that is just, Simply Sweden.