A Swedish island idyll

A Swedish island idyll
Ask most Swedes of their idea of an idyllic summer, they won’t talk of the beaches of the south of France or villas in Capri. But then why would they want to leave Sweden when have a stunning coastline on their doorstep, speckled with tens of thousands of picture-perfect islands?

Article produced in association with Västervik – Sweden’s most beautiful archipelago

Archipelago life has been immortalized by countless Swedish writers, from August Strindberg to famous troubadour Evert Taube. But perhaps the most enduring image for Swedes is that created by children’s writer Astrid Lindgren in her book and TV series about summer adventures on the unspoilt Saltkråkan, or Seacrow Island.

The Västervik Archipelago , off the south-eastern coast of Sweden , retains the relaxed pace of life and natural environment that made Lindgren’s archipelago so alluring. Step on a ferry in Västervik and it will take you through a landscape that gradually shifts from the grassy meadows and deciduous trees of the coastal islands to craggy skerries further out in the Baltic Sea.

At the centre of the archipelago lies Hasselö, a verdant island dotted with typically Swedish red wooden cottages, where cows chew the cud on meadows that reach down to the shore. And unlike most small Swedish islands, which are often dominated by private holiday homes, Hasselö has a wealth of activities on offer for visitors.

“The archipelago has become a lot more accessible for visitors in recent years,” says businesswoman Lina Johansson – something that she herself can take much of the credit for. Johansson grew up on Hasselö, where she would travel the picturesque journey to school by boat. She trained as a journalist, but when an opportunity to work as a promoter of archipelago businesses came up, she jumped at the chance to come home.

“It felt really natural to return,” she says.

Shortly after arriving back, Johansson got involved in building up her family’s businesses on the island.

You can’t go far on Hasselö without encountering a member of Johansson’s enterprising family – her mother has run the island shop since 1998 and her partner is a captain of one of the family’s ferries, which link the archipelago to the mainland city of Västervik. Her father, meanwhile, catches and smokes the fish served daily in the restaurant.

Johansson’s efforts have made Hasselö a popular destination, but it still retains its essential character. The island, which was once home to 300 people, now only has 30 full-time residents. In the summer months visitors take the population back up to the levels of 80 years ago.

In the past, Hasselö residents were mainly fishermen and subsistence farmers. But even a century ago visitors were making their way across the water to enjoy the island’s scenery, Johansson explains:

“We recently found a newspaper advertisement from the late nineteenth century, which said ‘Take a boat trip out to Hasselö to benefit from the salty water and fresh air.’”

The water and fresh air are still a big part of Hasselö’s attraction, but today’s island has a few extra diversions, including bike tours and sea-kayaking.

For the energetic visitor, there are extra activities just a short boat trip from Hasselö, including regular sailing courses in Loftahammar and an exhibition about the archipelago on the neighbouring island of Rågö.

Back on Hässelö, evenings at the Sjökanten restaurant are an informal affair, but the three-course dinners are a foodie’s dream. Fish is of course the highlight of the menu (although there are meat options too). The locally-caught salmon and whitefish are served with shellfish sauces and fresh Swedish vegetables.

Before retiring to the comfortable hostel, restaurant guests can finish off the evening in the sauna or the hot-tub, while gazing out over the sailing boats criss-crossing the calm Baltic waters. If you want to find Sweden’s soul, Hasselö might be a good place to start looking.

Also in the Västervik Archipelago:

Idö: On the island of Idö, the Skärgårdskrog restaurant holds regular barbeque evenings during the summer. Alternatively, you can dine in their restaurant, which has spectacular views over the Baltic and serves Swedish specialities such as bleak roe and filet of venison. Visitors can spend the night – or indeed the whole week – in comfortable ‘boatman’s cottages’, just 15 metres from the shore. The cottages sleep up to 5 adults.

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