Sweeping through the expansive southeastern countryside, driving up the rich western coast, and anchoring in Bohuslän on the shore of Gullmarsfjorden, Sweden exposed it's ancestral, modest nuances and holistic freshness. I have never been taken on a trip so tailored to my passion, interests, and pleasure as these 10 days, and I could not be more excited to share my adventure. Put your mind in pastel for the next few lines…
Spring Nights in Copenhagen
Driving through the narrow cobblestone passage which leads to Babette Guldsmeden Hotel, there way a sense you are pulling into a private oasis. Two modest tables sit outside the entrance where a couple of gentlemen spoke closely over coffee at golden hour. Applauded as the most romantic hotel in Copenhagen, this treasure is all brass buttons and plush blankets in the most luxurious, yet unpretentious ways. Babette captures earthly elements in natural, wooden furnishings yet, manages to draw in a dreamy ambiance with perfect lighting, pattern, and heavenly textures. Luxury is in the quality of the service, products (all eco-friendly), and fullness of the concept executed. Linen curtains bowed against a cool breeze and the room, a dense cloud of relaxation, exhaled. As we sipped chilled champagne on a small balcony at sunset, orange light glowed in corners of the courtyard below, and we merged with the ubiquitous bliss of the property.
For the amphibious explorer, pleasure is dependent on the details of the water closet. The matte black tub against vitreous tile and long panes of glass seduced me. Signature all-natural soaps added a delightful aromatic experience to the clean design of a deceptively compact bathroom.
Being my first visit to Scandinavia, I was both thrilled and shocked by the volume of bicycle traffic on the street and the vitality in everyone's faces- after hybernating for the winter, the first days of spring brought people out of their homes to speak and flirt and glow in the blooming Scandanavia spring. The wide greenscapes between rows of buildings and along the banks of the channel allow room to woo and breathe in the bustle of the city. Stumbling upon water or grass after a stroll down the coblestone roads is incredibly invigorating and magnificently romantic!
To round out the manifold sensations of Copenhagen, a mecca for unique dining options, a dance to dinner began as night closed in. I was beyond thrilled to dine in Copenhagen Guide Michellin one-star restaurant, Kokkeriet. An exquisite, creative take on Sandanavian food, our elaborate 9 course meal was inspired by traditional dishes of the season and complete with sophisticated wine pairings. The quail-black trumpet-rapeseed oil starter, an artful scallop-pumpkin-rose entre, complimented with a beautiful Alsace Muschelkalck Riesling, and the vibrant beetroot-hay cream-truffle broth were among my favorite delights. The meal was concluded with a “Skumtopp”- deep beetroot purple cake shelled in chocolate, a sorbet pop dipped in creamy white chocolate, and an espresso- to fuel our midnight stroll through the dew laden city.
A romance through in Copenhagen would not be complete without paying due respect to the famous Lille Haufrue- Little Mermaid. At witching-hour we humbly walked from the harbor through the giant maze of statues, admiring long standing but not nearly forgotten Nordic goddesses and gods before returning to a deep four poster bed in Bebette Guldsmeden.
Drive to Helsinger Ferry
A decision to fly into Copenhagen is highly recommended if only for an overnight in Bebette Guldsmeden Hotel; And besides the city itself, the drive out is certainly memorable. Two ways to cross the channel over to Sweden by car from Denmark are- via the longest bridge in the world, Öresund, from Copenhagen to Malmo, or by taking a ferry from Helsinger, DK to Helsingborg, SE. To slip a dip into the frigid waters of the North Sea and take in tranquil views of the Swedish shore, we opted to drive north up the coastal highway to take the ferry. If you have time for this slower alternative, there are several mini adventures waiting with coffee, castles, and beaches in the quaint towns of eastern Denmark to further enjoy the burgeoning spring.
Talldungen Hotel, tucked away in the unassuming town of Brösarp, is a renowned wine destination, micro bakery and beautiful retreat into the countryside. One step inside the foyer, I was taken aback by the grace and modesty with which the property accommodates guests. After being seated at a romantic, candle-lit table for two that evening, and looking over the impressive list of natural wines, it was clear why Talldungen was voted the “#1 Swedish Wine Destination” by the Sommelier Society. The regional area, Österleen, is known as the cider capital of the country, home to expansive picturesque orchards and rolling acres of farmland. The staff at Talldungen graciously welcomed us into a warm, intimate residence, as if we had been friends for years. This magical boutique hotel delightedly serves a 5-course dinner with earthy, organic wines. Local food exchange!! Brösarp mostly and out to osterleen.
From the hotel grounds a walking tour of Österleen is accessible. From Brösarp we walked through farms, orchards, and horse pastures to the east coast of Sweden, licked by the Baltic Sea. The trail was well worn but vacant save us. Oceans of flowers bloomed. The fragrant wind carried me barefoot over the hills and across streams shored by fairy moss and toad stools. Through every valley trickled a stream and a promise of expansive hilltops! Walking the ridges of these ancient mounds it felt as if the sky was reaching down, your fingertips touching space while your feet firmly grounded deep in the earth.
The trail spit us out at a hobbit hostel and café where we found maps of the enormous network of footpath trails up and down the East coast; this backpacker’s paradise is one of many along the route. The beach trail becomes a worn boardwalk, creaking under every step. This long path winds through lush northern maritime forest, over streams, bridges a river, and deposits the passenger gently upon a warm Baltic Sea sand beach. Covered in seaweed and stones, the beach stretches for miles, hosting small groups of people soaking in the first rays of spring.
Sweden land law, Allemansratten, translated to "everyman's right", states that private land is available to the public for trekking, camping, and picking mushrooms. The trail, while open to the public, was a pass through private farms and down gravel roads lined by the famous apple orchards of the region, which gave us not only spectacular views but also an imagination of people’s lives in the area. No one seemed to mind us passing through, but the horses chased us out of their field on our return trip!
After many hours in our tiny, speedy Fiat Abarth Competizione, winding down narrow paved roads and bumpy gravel drives, we found home above Gullmarsfjorden. From the house, perched on a valley ridge, we watched the fjord reflect long hours of light in crisp pastels. May in Sweden is an extended release pleasure, the sun wakes up around 4am slowly warming the stone, the days are bright and airy as trees green and fill the atmosphere with precious oxygen. The afternoons are exceedingly magical, especially on a rare glassy fjord. Golden hour seems eternal between 8pm and 11pm, inviting the romantics out for a row in the boat, a glass of wine on the deck, or a final dip in the sea.
In the mornings the fjord is perfect for a deep dive. The sun has not yet caused algae to bloom fully and the night’s stillness allowed plumes to drift away from crevices preferred for freediving. With the boat packed and ready for us in the wee hours of the morning- already containing our dive float, weights, and fins; I suit up on firm ground, grab the coffee and sandwiches, and hit the gravel drive down to our neighborhood dock. The small engine scooted us across the fjord, dragging lines for mackerel. Along the opposite bank of the fjord, a pink and gray cliff face stands tall above the water, scoured by hundreds of thousands of years of weathering and glacial carving. Here, we caught two mackerel, keeping one to be smoked for dinner. Before the sun was able to breach the cliff wall to warm us, we had tied the boat to either side of this rocky crevasse and proceeded to secure our dive buoy. Unable to convey the ultimate joy of finding a partner who doubles as my dive buddy, I will merely express gratitude for my fortune and stress the importance of safety in numbers while diving. Never dive alone. Ever.
The fjord is freezing! Especially early in the morning, but we slipped in happily nonetheless. After a 5 minute facial- snorkel in, no mask meditation- to relax the body and clear the mind, we began to discuss our dives. The line weight sunk to 28m and we began by doing 5-10m pull downs, hand over hand, slow and steady. At 15m we hit the first thermocline. At 22m we hit a second one. At 28m I could feel the third just below me and did not venture further. The water was so cold it felt as if my lungs had frozen, my chest tightened, and I hung there taking in the scene. Peering over the edge into darkness I wondered what lurked in 90m below, at the bottom. Green seaweed lined the cliff. Starfish clung to the side along with other muscles and crustaceans. It was a briny mermaid’s dream, the green sea.
Smögen + Gullmarsstrand +Norden's Ark
There are opportunities for day trips galore in Bohuslän's adorable fishing villages. The Swedish have built in harmony with the landscape which makes exploring by foot so enjoyable. You hardly notice you're in the middle of town as large boulders protrude beside the roads and sidewalks. Homes are built on and around exisiting natural structures, preserving the beauty and utilizing the functionality of the land. We ventured through Smögen one afternoon, seeking a quick bite and a healthy dose of Swedish culture. We certainly found what we were looking for, as we parked on the side of a cobblestone road and walked to the boardwalk on the seafront, a cold, salty wind took my breath. It was love. Sailboats trimmed the shore and sailors mingled among land-based locals at tiered restraunts and shops. The small fish shacks on the water have remained intack for 100s of years yet are marked for fishing only, interestingly these properties may not be purchased to live in. Homes and buisnesses are integrated into the landscpe making panoramic views of the shores rich and lively. Visit any of these quaint towns and enjoy a röksmörgås and a dip in the ocean, or a hike and a "fika"-the famous Swedish coffee and a cake break.
Seeking deep relaxation and a sense of calm we took the ferry from Lysekil accross the fjord to Gullmarsstrand Hotell & Konferens in Fiskebäckskil. After enjoying lunch on the patio, we spent the next 2 hours in a spa house on the fjord. Each pool house at Gullmarsstrand is outfitted with two saunas, an outdoor pool, and a ladder into the fridge sea. The Swedish are known for thier bathing riturals- migrating between the sauna and the icey fjord. This traditional, rejuvenating practice has been the trend for thousands of years and continues to be a widespread activity for most of the year among locals and visitors. The lounge chairs inside the house are stationed facing a wall of glass, tranquilly over the water, reclining in a plush robe, one could be captivated for hours by the sweeping vision of Lysekil accross the fjord. The rugged landscape, deep blues, and the contrast between sweltering hot saunas and frigid cold waters was revitalizing. These opposing sensations shock the body into a vital state from which the soul feels room to expand. The constant expansion of the cells followed by a stark contraction assist in breaking one out of stagnation and create fluctuations ideal for refreshment and a renewed sense of wellbeing.
Another mini-adventure we took was to Norden's Ark animal rescue and sanctuary. This rehabilitation center breeds species on the verge of extinction in environments that are large, wild, and biologically diverse. Thier conservation efforts are focused on preserving biodiversity by protecting endangered species through controlled breeding as well as conservations efforts in natrual environments. They specialize in Nortic endangered species as the environment is most suitable for these animals. Our experience here was one of a kind awesome. I have never been to a rescue center in which the animals looked to natural and happy, it was truely inspiring to see such a successful rescue misson.
One evening after a glorious dinner of fresh langoustine, västerboten cheese, Mackrel roe, and Old Dansih liquor, my Viking man rowed us out into a glassy fjord for a long Swedish sunset. Coolness swept across the water and I bundled up in a fleece blanket with cold, bare feet on the bottom of the boat, and a glass of wine in hand. So quiet was the sea, gracefully escorting our little boat on its way. With the ores inside we spun, viewing a panoramic of the setting sun on rugged glacially carved granite. When the scene reached a peak crispness, when all was still, a little seal nose broke the surface just 10 feet from the boat! Curious of us, and perhaps hunting beneath the boat, our seal friend would disappear for minutes at a time, popping up at interval distances until he could barely be seen hunting along the shore.