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Gotland & Öland - Singular beauty at sea

Gotland & Öland - Singular beauty at sea

Published: 10 Jun 2011 15:07 GMT+02:00
Updated: 10 Jun 2011 15:07 GMT+02:00

Ancient walled cities, storm-tossed islands and a dose of Bergmanesque atmospherics. Gotland and Öland make for a spectacular summer visit.

Gotland and Öland, the two large islands outside Sweden´s east coast, are both exclusive destinations of unique scenic beauty and rare atmosphere, popular among Swedish holiday-makers but less known by international tourists. Both islands are among Sweden's oldest settlements, with some of the country´s oldest and most fascinating historical sights.

In Gotland, set in the middle of the Baltic Sea, the traveller arrives by boat (a two and a half hour trip with the fastest ferry) or by air at the uniquely picturesque Medieval town of Visby, with its city wall, winding cobblestone streets and alleys and its large number of ancient stone and wooden houses, churches and ruins.

The town´s singular appearance bears witness to its history as one of the Hanseatic League's main trading hubs during the Middle Ages. All of Visby and its city wall is included in Unesco´s World Heritage List as a unique historical site. During the summer season, Visby is a party town bustling with energy, while the autumn, winter and spring seasons offer peace, quiet and a unique poetic atmosphere.

From Visby, you can choose to travel by car or bicycle to a large number of interesting sites and attractions spread out across the island. Distances are short, and you can experience much in just a weekend or even a day. For natural scenery, all of Gotland is a treasure trove. Perhaps most spectacular is the southern cape, named Sudret, with its rocky coasts and barren, highly scenic landscape crisscrossed by ancient stone fences and dotted with windmills.

The landmark Hoburgen rock on the southern cape is spectacular bird watching spot attracting large numbers of ornothologists in spring and autumn. A somewhat similar, even more barren and storm-tormented landscape is found in the small island of Fårö, north of Gotland.

The meagre magnificence and magic light of this island will be familiar to all lovers of Ingmar Bergman films. The master director has long had his beloved home here, and has also shot legendary footage on the island. In 2006, a Bergman festival was held for the first time in Fårö, honoured by the presence of the subject himself, and by several international celebrity guests. The small-scale festival was a success, and is destined to become an annual event.

All along the Gotland coastline, there are many attractive beaches, rocky cliff areas and secluded spots for swimming and sunbathing in the summer, and for meditative walks in autumn, winter and spring. In many places along the waterfront, particularly in Sudret and on Fårö, you can admire the characteristic rauks, unique natural stone sculptures, some with very human expressions.

For nature lovers, the small islands of Stora Karlsö and Lilla Karlsö off Gotland´s western coast are day excursions of supreme beauty, especially in springtime, when the barren islands are blooming with rare orchids and sprawling with intense birdlife. You can also overnight in simple cabins on both islands, and on Stora karlsö there is also a restaurant.

Gotland is one of Sweden´s foremost farming districts, famous for its vegetables, potatoes and berries, and an interesting gastronomic destination, with several high-class restaurants with menues based on fine local ingredients and specialities. The asparagus season in spring and the even more exclusive truffle season in the autumn are two good occasions to visit the islands if you have a taste for these irresistable delecacies.

If you seek peace, quiet and splendid natural beauty combined with cutting-edge design, you can visit the secluded island of Furillen off Gotland´s east coast, where one of Northern Europe´s most exclusive design hotels is located.

Located south of Gotland, Öland is a long, narrow island with endless flat plains and long white beaches. It is reached from the town of Kalmar by the long Öland bridge.

In the summer time, Öland is busy with holiday-makers, so a visitor who wants to experience the rare atmosphere and beautiful light and landscapes typical of the island is recommended to visit in spring or autumn, when nature is at its most beautiful and peace, quiet and poetry rules. In the south of the island is the peerless Alvaret or limestone plateau, included on Unesco's World Heritage List for its unique nature values, with a large number of rare orchids, plants and species.

The Långe Erik lighthouse and the Ottenby bird station on the southern cape is a

favourite destination for ornothologists from all around Sweden and Europe.

In the cozy and picturesque town of Borgholm, and also in other places around the island, there are several attractive hotels and restaurants that are also open in the off-season.

Article sponsored by Visit Sweden

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Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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