Skåne: Region is a smorgasbord of fun
June 15, 2006
Skåne is not a place familiar to most visitors to Sweden. But perhaps it should be. It’s a destination well worth exploring.
Whether you want to learn about Swedish culture, to see historic sites, to explore nature or to just sit on the golden beaches and watch the sun settle into the sea, you can do it in Skåne, the southernmost province of Sweden.
My family has been fortunate to visit Sweden in just about every season. Summer is best because you can usually count on good weather. If you visit in early summer, you may get the chance to witness the Midsummer festivities, which take place on the Friday closest to June 24, the official Midsummer Day. On this day, friends and neighbors gather to decorate and raise a Midsummer pole.
Last summer, we joined my brother and his wife, Gunilla, who live in the Skåne town of Ystad, for a celebration in nearby Tomelilla. Under threatening skies, everyone took turns weaving brilliantly hued wildflowers, birch leaves, flags and ribbons onto a huge, heavy 20-foot log.
After hoisting the pole, the townfolk gathered in a circle for songs and dances accompanied by fiddle music played by a spry white-haired fellow with flowers in his hair. Afterward we sat for a short picnic with coffee and cardamom rolls before the rain came and the festivities ended.
Another summer tradition, which takes place in August, is the crayfish party. 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 hanging about, adding a festive atmosphere.
I recall sitting in my brother’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 (or three or four) 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. Some years back, Gunilla’s father took the family out for a smorgasbord at a seaside inn near Ystad. I remember swooning at the many delicacies spread out on the huge table in the center of the dining room: 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.
After our meal, I learned the “chicken dance,” which originated in Europe and is now a staple at wedding receptions in the States. You flap your elbows and twist your hips as the tempo of the music speeds up, causing the dancers to lose track of what they are supposed to be doing. It’s a fun way to work off a few calories after a great meal.
Speaking of burning calories, Skåne offers many opportunities for outdoor activities. In fact, roaming the countryside on foot or bike is one of the best ways to get to know the region. In summer, Sweden is blessed with daylight hours 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 almost 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. You can walk through Skåne on the Osterlen Trail, a 110-mile loop that begins in Ystad and follows the coastline for about 50 miles before turning west and then south back to Ystad.
The trail is divided into 13 day trips, with 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 that are only possible when you’re 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, 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 last June the weather cooperated long enough for several of us 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 and about 30 minutes from Ystad. The stones, which form a ship, are a mysterious remnant of the Viking era.
Perched high up on a bluff overlooking the Baltic Sea, the stone formation is reminiscent of Stonehenge in England. The 58 boulders carefully placed in an elliptical shape point up toward the heavens. Supposedly enchanted, the stones hold a secret, legend says. Although research suggests the stones mark the grave of an important Viking chieftain, no one knows how they were raised or why they were arranged the way they were.
Before visiting Ale’s Stones, make sure you wear comfortable shoes because it’s a steep hike from the parking area in the little fishing village of Kåseberga. You might want to take along some sandwiches, a blanket and a kite to fly since the tranquil setting of Ale’s Stones is perfect for a peaceful afternoon picnic. Before you ascend, pick up some luscious smoked fish at one of the smokehouses in Kåseberga to enjoy with your lunch.
To learn more about the Vikings, visit the Viking Museum at Foteviken Trelleborg, west of Ystad. The outdoor museum features a Viking Reserve with reconstructed 11th-century 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 tasks while sharing information about the Viking lifestyle — all to the delight of visitors and schoolchildren.
Not far away is Glimmingehus, a medieval fortress built in the mid-16th century. If you’re visiting in August, try to attend the annual jousting tournament held at Glimmingehus. It’s part of a Middle Ages fest and a great opportunity to watch crafters and re-enactors bring the Middle Ages to life.
When we attended, my children loved watching the jousters mounted on galloping steeds striving to place the rings on their lances or knock the quintain, a revolving target, in the just the right spot.
Peggy Sijswerda lives in Virginia with her husband and three sons.
Getting thereThe easiest way to get to Skåne from Central Europe is to travel to Copenhagen, Denmark and then drive east acoss the Öresund Bridge, a spectacular five-mile architectural marvel completed in 2000.
It links Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, and offers a breathtaking approach to the gorgeous landscape that’s synonymous with Skåne: patchwork meadows in golds and greens, multicolored 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 Skåne.
Although the train system is efficient in Sweden, you’ll probably be better off renting a car to explore Skåne. On public transportation, you can’t always get where you want to go.
Staying thereAccommodations vary from simple youth hostels to castles fit for a queen. If you are traveling with children, consider renting a house. Near Ystad sits a cluster of holiday homes, many 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 guest house or apartment on a farm and get to know the rural lifestyle in a friendly environment. Houses in Skåne have an unusual architectural appearance. Many are half- timbered stucco homes with red- tiled roofs; some are painted in lively colors. Many are also attached to a barn, forming a U-shaped structure that creates a lovely courtyard while offering protection from the cold winds of winter.
There are about 30 youth hostels in Skåne. We visited one that lies right on the coast just east of Ystad. A large house painted in brilliant blue, the hostel features 104 beds, has a peaceful garden, and is open year-round.
Staying in a manor home or a castle is also possible, and surprisingly affordable.
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, have a picnic, even camp for one or two nights without worrying about getting permission. Of course, it is polite to ask if the landowner is about.
InformationSee the Web site for Skåne’s tourist bureau, www.skane.com/cmarter/cmarter.asp?doc=1367. It’s brimming with information in English. You also may request several informative booklets from the tourist office.
Other useful sites include: