Story and photos by Bo Zaunders
SWEDISH WEST COAST DISCOVERIES
The contrast was striking. Yesterday, crossing an elevated walkway to reach our room at Salt & Sill, Sweden’s first floating hotel, we found ourselves in the midst of cutting edge 21st century stylishness. This evening, as we linger on the veranda of Villa Sjötorp, nothing appears to have changed since the place was built in the opulent era of the early 1900s.
What an experience this has turned out to be: three days exploring the west coast of Sweden. Gazing across the lake, as the sun is about to set, I begin putting the pieces together.
Gothenburg. Sweden’s gateway to the west and second largest city. Like all visitors not overly familiar with the city and eager to get a waterside perspective, we, Roxie and I, started out by taking a guided tour in one of the Paddan boats. In operation since the early 40s, the Paddan sightseeing tours are quite a Gothenburg institution. On 17thcentury canals, you glide beneath 20 bridges, one lower than the other. As you approach the lowest of the low, the “cheese-slicer” bridge, you must leave your seat and lie down on the floor so as not get your head chopped off. A moment of suspense, and then in front of you spreads the harbor. Here is a tall ship named Viking, now turned into a hotel, a skyscraper in dazzling white and red nicknamed the Lipstick building, and Götheborg, the reconstruction of a full-rigged wooded sailing ship from the mid-18th century.
In the afternoon I met with restaurateur Björn Persson, who runs the Michelin-starred restaurant Kock & Vin, and whose latest venture is Familjen (The Family), a new neighborhood hangout, where we were scheduled to have dinner that evening. Björn described it as a French-style brasserie in modern Swedish form, which is pretty much what it turned out to be. I recall a particularly impressive wine cellar. As for dinner, we ate a most satisfying veal entrecote that came with baked tomatoes, goat cheese, roasted potatoes, fried bone marrow, and a red wine sauce. Our dessert: strawberry cake, served, quaintly and unexpectedly, in an old-fashioned glass jar.
We were in a rental car, zigzagging our way up the archipelago. In Tjörn, one of the larger islands, about an hour’s drive from Gothenburg, we visited Pilane Sculpture Park, a rugged stretch of land on the site of an ancient graveyard, now dotted with the works of leading contemporary artists. The international flavor of the exhibit was unmistakable. Apart from Sweden, countries such as Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain and the United States were all represented. And so was China: a 400-year old temple installation of Zhang Huan had just been shipped over from Shanghai in1,000 parts and was still in the process of being reassembled. We kept walking, finding at a couple of tree-huggers by Jaume Plensa, then “Point of View, ”a swirling black bronze sculpture by Tony Cragg. The setting was perfect. From the top of a hill, we had a beautiful view of the sea and the archipelago.
The soul and driving force behind the park is Peter Lennby, a former city-dweller and TV journalist, turned sheepherder and nature protector. Meeting with him, I was struck by his dedication and passion. What an accomplishment, bringing all these artists together.
Mid-day we stopped at Sundsby Säteri, a graceful old manor with over 600 years of history, nestled in the forests of eastern Tjörn and with over 600 years of history. Its so called farm café, with plenty of outdoor seating, offered the perfect spot for a coffee break, or what in Sweden is that sacred daily ritual known as fika. So there we sat, amidst a plentitude of green trees, munching pastry baked in-house, and sipping coffee.
Salt & Sill
The name of our room at Salt & Sill was Gräslök (chives). It was written in large letters next to the door. As we walked past other rooms, I noticed names such as Bay Leaf, Currant, Mustard, Cumin, and Wormwood. As Salt & Sill had been a celebrated restaurant years before it turned into Sweden’s first floating hotel, this seemed appropriate and, generally, in keeping with the chic minimalism of the place.
Salt & Sill is located on Klädesholmen, a small island and fishing community just west of Tjörn. Klädesholmen has long been famous for its seafood factory, and is often referred to as the herring capital of Sweden. Befittingly, Salt & Sill is a haven for serious herring lovers.
Before digging into Salt & Sill delicacies, I roamed about a little, checking the place out. The hotel consists of six 2-story buildings built on floating pontoons. Our room was light and airy, and decorated in the stylish, functional fashion you have come to expect in Scandinavia. The roof turned out to have a large sun deck, and every room had a view of the archipelago. Docked nearby was a floating sauna, a small grey structure made of lightweight fiberglass, on a catamaran platform. I understand that sauna baths are just one of its functions. Sometimes it serves as a conference room, or even a wedding suite.
Things were now beginning to stir in the restaurant, which stands on solid land next to the hotel. As expected, the herring came in a wide variety of marinades. Black currant, mustard, red onion; dill, cranberry, you name it. Also offered was a cold buffet, consisting of smoked salmon, quiche, mussels, and other tidbits. And on the pier outside stood chef Tomas Andersson, grilling meat, sausages, and bell peppers.
A perfect dinner, then a stroll around the picturesque old village as the sun was about to set and the light was at its most magical.
Mollösund and Marstrand
Yesterday we made a quick visit to Mollösund, said to be the oldest fishing village in the entire province of Bohuslän. You could not but be impressed by how wonderfully preserved it looked: a 16th century harbor, fish and boathouses, and clusters of well-kept white-painted wooden houses with tile roofs. It also featured one of the most photogenic little lighthouses I have ever seen. Lunch next to the harbor, at Café Emma, consisted of smoked salmon and new potatoes. It was simple, unpretentious, and totally satisfying.
Today, as we wind our way to Villa Sjötorp, our next home away from home, we make a stop in Marstrand, another beautiful west coast town. Here the Swedish expression kärt barn har många namn (“a dear child has many names”) certainly seems to apply. Through its long history, beginning in the 12th century, Marstrand has been called variously Malstran, Måsestrandir, Måsestran, Mastrand, Masterland, and Mariestrand. Some of these were politically motivated changes. Originally, Marstrand belonged to Norway, then for a while it was a Danish possession. Finally in 1658, after the peace treaty in Roskilde between Denmark and Sweden, it became part of Sweden.
Marstrand is a sailing mecca, packed with sloops, schooners and yawls. One other thing you’re bound to notice is Carlstens fästning, a fortress built at the time the Swedes took over, and still a dominant feature of the town. It sits on top of the Marstrand Island, which is car free, and to which there’s a continuous ferry service.
For nearly two hundred years, Marstrand has also been a tourist mecca. I learn that back in the 19th century when bathing facilities and spas were all the rage with the aristocracy, King Oscar II of Sweden, came here every summer for a month’s vacation. This went on for decades.
We are now in the bygone era of gingerbread houses and national romanticism. Villa Sjötorp, which was built in 1901, even boasts a dragonhead on top of one of its many gables, all of which have elaborate woodcarvings. The wallpaper in our room, unsurprisingly, is an orgy of pretty red and yellow flowers, and the curtains and bedspread have delicate, old-fashioned patterns.
The view from the veranda is gorgeous: a grassy hill with a giant beech tree, and behind it, Havstensfjord, with a scattering of islands. It’s dinnertime and we have just finished the opener, carpaccio with baby watercress and lingonberries. In a nearby room, a multigenerational private party is underway, with everyone waiting for the host to rise from the table and make a formal toast.
Our shrimp cassolette has arrived. The host has risen, and the schnapps ceremony has begun. The soft evening light is getting more golden by the minute. A small boy is on a swing, pushed higher and higher by his obliging father.
This is our last night on the west coast. Sitting here on the veranda, we experience a sense of timelessness. Not much seems to have changed in the past hundred years.
Our West Coast Discoveries: Incidental Intelligence
In Gothenburg we stayed at Clarion Hotel Post, a stylish new hotel, located in the carefully restored old main post office building from the 1920s. To find out more about it, go to http://www.clarionpost.com/
For a glimpse of the moment of suspense as we glided under the cheese-slicer bridge, you may want to watch this: Extremely Low Bridge in Gothenburg - Paddan Boat - YouTube
A link to Björn Persson’s new restaurant Familjen, a brasserie, described as an extended living room where everyone will feel welcome: http://www.restaurangfamiljen.se/
For information about Zhang Huan’s temple installation in the Pilane sculpture Park, go to http://www.explorewestsweden.com/?p=1728
A little something about Sundsby manor and its beautiful setting, which includes a carp pond and a 900-year old oak tree: www.sundsbygardscafe.se/
The website to Salt & Sill, the haven for herring lovers and Sweden’s first floating hotel: www.saltosill.se
A link to the sailing mecca of Marstrand, famous for its picturesque wooden houses, numerous cafés and restaurants, as well as its interesting history: http://www.vastsverige.com/en/marstrand/
Finally some information about the romantic, century-old Villa Sjötorp: www.villasjotorp.se
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