The Swedes are clever. They’ve invented a word that pretty much excuses eating cake every day: fika. We have a similar word in Britain, it’s called Christmas, but you can only really get away with that from the end of November to December 31st…the disclaimer with fika is that you can’t do it alone – that’s just being a greedy fika. It’s the whole concept of meeting with friends to put the world to rights over a coffee and pastry – preferably a cinnamon or cardamom bun, but equally a chokladbollar (chocolate ball), prinsesstarta (a bright green-marzipan covered cake) or vaniljhärtan (vanilla heart) will do the trick. For this reason, Sweden is teaming with places to enjoy fika, and free mug top-ups at coffee shops is a regular perk. Over the course of four days, I found plenty of places (and times) to fik with friends at various locations through Skåne, the southern region of the Nordic country.
Out of an area spanning over 4,000 sq miles, we roamed specifically in and around Ystad and Malmo, via a mix of planes, trains and automobile, and a varying landscape of snow-white sandy beaches, bright yellow rape and canola fields; sheep-dotted cliff tops, sea-bordered cities, fishing villages and pretty little towns. It’s an invigorating scenery that comes to life in the summer, under the cloudless blue sky, and must feel like a welcome reward at the end of the country’s typically, long, harsh winters.
Ystad is the biscuit tin town of the two, where sugared almond-coloured little cottages mingle with intricately-detailed red brick townhouses, medieval half-timbered buildings, and grand, balcony-clad, double fronted former abodes of wealthy merchants. It’s home to Sweden’s oldest hotel, the Hotel Continental du Sud, which opened in 1829, where I slept soundly in a compact, but comfortable bedroom, and tucked in to some standout cuisine in the grand dining room. There’s Sweden’s oldest cinema and a town watchman whose job it is to blow a horn every 15 minutes, between 9:15pm and 1am, to inform the residents that there is no fire (you read that correctly), a position held since the 17th century. Among these cobbled streets, you’ll also find shops selling delicious pottery, the Ystad Brewery and a Franciscan monastery-turned-museum, with a pretty vegetable garden and orchard out the back.
But the thing that’s put Ystad on the map, and brings in a large proportion of international visitors every year, is the opportunity to eat, drink, sleep and walk the locations frequented by its famous fictional crime-solver, Wallander. The Henning Mankell-scribed Nordic Noir is the James Bond of Sweden, spanning 13 years, 44 films, and five actors in the lead role, including Kenneth Branagh. Although a ‘lovely place for a murder’, as the series strapline reads, with a troubling number of deaths captured on screen, the real life Ystad is a not at all bleak place to holiday. The Ystad Film Studios, with adjacent Cineteket museum, are a must visit for fans of both Wallander and The Bridge.
The surrounding Ystad-Österlen landscape is dominated by lush agricultural land, punctuated by poppies, with farms producing a rich bounty of seasonal treats such as pumpkins, sweetcorn, apples and wheat. For premium dried herbs and lavender, that will make you shun supermarket dust forever more, pay a visit to Österlenkryddor where you can smell, taste, and mix up culinary concoctions to take home, and take a tour of the fields. Further up the way, there’s Gunnarshögs Gård, a family-run farm growing and producing cold-pressed rapeseed oil, where you can take part in the harvest, or purchase some of the weird and wonderful products from the shop – the green asparagus crisps, being a personal highlight. There’s a sparkling wine producer, where you can drive past the vineyard or book for a taste and tour, though sadly not purchase, due to Swedish laws on the sale of alcohol. And then, because all that sightseeing works up quite an appetite, you can stop off at one of the areas best places for fika, Olof Viktors. This place was named the country’s best bakery, by Sweden’s White Guide, and recently boasted the accolade: best chocolate balls in Sweden. I’ve not researched the whole country’s contributions yet, but can certainly vouch for Olof’s being up there with the best. The pastries here are fantastic too, and of course, there are free top ups on the coffee.
When you’ve had your fill of Scandi buns, fresh air and coastal walks await. Ales Stones (or Ales Stenar), Sweden’s answer to Stonehenge is accessed via a short stroll along a footpath. Like most mythical stone circles – or ‘stone ship’, in this case, for its ship-shape formation – the exact age and details on the Ales Stones origin are unknown (circa 500-1000 AD). After an obligatory stroke of the stones, it’s a lovely spot to sit and breathe in the sea air and cliff top scenery, watch the waves break below, look out for the paragliders frequenting the area, or contemplate a crime, as Wallander often headed here to do…
Amble down the path to Kåseberga harbour and you’ll be rewarded with some of the finest, and certainly one of the biggest choices of, smoked fish, at Kåseberga Fisk smokery. We tucked into a platter of hot smoked salmon, mackerel, marlin and prawns, with traditional accompaniments of potato and green salad, slightly hoppy rye bread and glass of Kåseberga Färsköl ale, while looking out at the Baltic Sea at stand-up paddleboarders and seagulls the size of small dogs.
Further along the Ystad coast to Scania, is Sandhammaren, a long stretch of snow-white, powdery sand beach, which could easily pass for the Caribbean (aside from the Baltic, in more ways than one, sea). Referred to as the ‘Swedish Riviera’, this beach is considered the best in the country. It’s offset by lush woodland, and overseen by a lighthouse of the same name, and rescue centre, which since 1892 has been looking out for those caught up in the strong tidal currents. It’s now open to visitors, who can climb the 97 steps of the steel frame for 360 degree views of the area.
60km north of Ystad, lies Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city. Known to viewers of cult Scandi TV series The Bridge as a dark, dreary place, a short ride across said bridge – the 8km-long Öresund – from Copenhagen, Malmö, in reality, is clean, bright, a cinch to navigate and made for exploring on foot or bicycle. Its close proximity and reasonably-priced, regular train, makes it easy to tick off Sweden and Denmark in one, long weekend trip, too – which is something I’ll be plotting for next time. We took advantage of the late summer sun, by exploring the city by bike (there are city bikes for around £7 a day, and many hotels include complimentary bike hire). The excellent 490 km cycle network, and respectable drivers, make it a great way to work off one fika and work up an appetite for another, while taking in the sights.
There’s a growing foodie scene in Malmö, with the city’s first three Michelin stars awarded in 2016. One place that will surely be receiving accolades before long, is the excellently-priced, one-year-old, Västergatan, where the dishes are laugh out loud brilliant. The menu is a set four courses, changing as new seasons, produce and inspiration arise, and a steal at 400SEK (around £35). It’s a restaurant I would fly back to Malmö for alone. The most artfully plated beef tartare I’ve seen; incredible braised pork cheek with air-dried chop; and that lingoberry sorbet laid on the most delicious caramel and sprinkled with oats – a twist on the traditional Swedish breakfast – ohh, la, la. All so good.
Other culinary cleverness can be found at Mat & Chokladstudion, conveniently located just down the road from the Malmö chocolate factory. Here fans of dessert can learn the art of the craft, with a three-hour workshop with acclaimed pastry chef, Joel Vindquist – winner of Sweden’s Top Dessert Chef. Over the course of an afternoon, we tempered chocolate, whipped up a berry ganache to fill some glossy milk chocolates and decorated white chocolate-covered, blackberry mousses with artfully-placed lemon verbena leaves. We also made yuzu ice-cream, and shortly after, plated it all up and ate it. It’s a new addition to Malmö’s activities list, and one you’ll have to book ahead (around £67 per person).
Elsewhere, there’s nose-to-tail cooking and experimental cocktails in well-dressed coupes to be had at cool, bar and restaurant, Bastard, attended by chic-ly dressed women, and men with impeccable beards; open air watering holes around Lilla Torg; hidden gems, with sun-trap, cobbled courtyards, such as the vegan, organic, Kafé Agnez, and spots for a post cycle, light bite, such as the Slottsträdgårdens Kafé, next to the canal in Slottsträdgården. There’s also all manner of café to grab a sumptuous, sugary, spicy bun, with great coffee – Lilla Kafferosteriet, in the town centre, is particularly good, with a selection of house-roasted coffee beans to buy whole or have ground to take home.
For inspiration on how to live a sustainable existence in style, The Western Harbour with its well-designed, Bauhaus-esque, apartments and clever eco features, is an interesting place to snoop. It’s bordered by a promenade known as ‘the catwalk of Malmo’, which looks out the sea and bridge, and is overlooked by the 190m high Turning Torso, an eye-catching skyscraper that twists in the direction of the city centre. To see the area from another perspective, trainer-led kayaking sessions, led by Ram Silwal (around £125 for three hours and a fika stop), can be taken either on the park-lined canal or sea next the harbour, during the summer months.
For shopping, the area around Davidshall, Kärleksgatan (or ‘love street’), especially, is lined with antique, vintage and independent stores, and Davidshallgatan, where Scandinavian fashion brands aplenty can be found at Aplace and denim at Nudie Jeans. Engelbrektsgatan is a good route for interior design and home shops, with little streets leading off to cafes and coffee shops.
And to sleep, for all that adventuring necessitates a good night’s rest, there’s a selection of budget to higher bracket hotels to book. We stayed at Radisson Blu (around £125 a night), part housed within the oldest building in Malmö, a timber frame and red brick property, where the daily breakfast buffet is served, juxtaposed with modern design and furniture, with high back, glossy red armchairs straight out of Austin Powers. Bedrooms are huge with comfortable bed and lounge area and bathrooms decked out with The Works toiletries, but it scores most highly on the location front, being a five-minute walk to Central Station for trains to Denmark and other parts of Sweden, and a short stroll from everything else the city has to offer. The complimentary bike hire is a nice addition too.
And there you have it. Sweden in four days: just enough exploration to get a good taste of the sights, and a life-long addiction to cinnamon buns, whist leaving me wanting to return back for more (if only for another round at Västergatan). Now, I just need to find some available friends for fika…
Oresund Bridge – SilviaMan/imagebank.sweden.se
Gunnarshogs Gard: Miriam Preis/imagebank.sweden.se
Canola field: Måns Fornander/imagebank.sweden.se