SUMMER IN SKÅNE
“Artists adore southern Sweden. Down here the light is softer, the foliage brighter and the shoreline more dazzling and white”. Such are the introductory words in the Lonely Planet guide describing this enchanting southern-most province of Sweden. Skåne – or Scania – was Danish property until 1658, and traces of this heritage are still evident today, in the heraldry, the dialect (Skånska), and several historical buildings and churches.
Skåne is the bread basket of Sweden. Shimmering fields of golden corn and barley, edged with colourful wild flowers and poppies, stretch as far as the eye can see. Neat farms feature red-roofed houses and barns, the odd magnificent manor house, and verdant green paddocks with sleek horses and plump cows and sheep. We also saw, on our drives through the countryside, an ordered patchwork of sugar beet and rhubarb, and vast plots of green vegetables. There are many fruit orchards, especially apples, some plums, pears, and other fruits such as strawberries. Tiny quaint villages lie nestled amongst rolling green hills, sometimes with an ancient stone church, or a dramatic fortress or castle dating from the Middle Ages. The numerous pottery and art studios are testimony to the creative spirit engendered in this beautiful, relaxed and inspiring part of the country.
Picturesque little fishing villages, some dating back to Viking times – and still active today, nestle in sheltered vikar (coves) along the shoreline. Here one can sometimes find a smokehouse, the acrid scent of wood smoke mingling with the tangy smells of harbour and rotting, washed-up seaweed. And there are the famous Skåne beaches, mile upon mile of soft white sand, lapped by the gentle waves of the Baltic Sea. This sea is appropriately named Östersjön in Swedish, for this “Eastern Lake” really is no more than an extensive lake, lying between Scandinavia and the Baltic States.
Our journey south from Stockholm took us through the provinces of Södermanland, Östergötland and Småland. Our first port of call was the small coastal town of Åhus, near Kristianstad. The name means “river mouth” or “estuary”, and refers to the town’s location at the mouth of the River Helge.
The history of Åhus dates back to 1252, but Viking settlements are known to have existed there from between the 8th and 10th centuries. Archaeological finds revealed that the people who lived there during the 11th to the 13th centuries were involved in a variety of trades and crafts, including the use of imported glass beads for making jewellry.
Documentary sources mention a leprosarium and a Dominican monastery, and the town is know to have been an active port which supplied this part of Skåne with fish. During the Danish occupation the town dwindled into relative insignificance, and it was only during the late1800’s, with the coming of the railway, that it enjoyed a new lease of life, with a reputation for its eels, snuff and schnapps.
Today the town is the centre of Absolut Vodka production, and guided tours of the distillery take place daily during the summer season.
We spent the first three nights of our Skåne adventure in the quaint Åhus Gästgivaregården (guest house), which dates from around 1737, and has been an inn taking in lodgers since the 1600’s. On our second morning there, we moved to a quieter room at the back of the building, our first night having been much disturbed by a noisy party taking place on a boat moored in the estuary below our window.
Much of our stay in Åhus was bedeviled by dull rainy weather, and I was told by the young lady in the town Museum that July is the rainiest month in Skåne! But we enjoyed our evening strolls along the Promenade, with its over-priced restaurants, Glass båte (ice-cream boat) and the marina of yachts and boats. The best option here was a place with a buffet arrangement where we could choose what we wanted from a variety of fish dishes, lamb ribs, chicken, vegetables, pulses and salads.
On the old town square, or market place, stands a quaint museum – formerly the town hall – which dates from the 1300’s, an 18th century bakery, and the 12th century St. Mary’s Church. On the other side of the square are the friary ruins, which date from 1243, and the ruins of St. Anna’s Chapel, which was originally built in 1524 as a hospice. Nearby lies a large stone sarcophagus, salvaged in 1958 from the wreck of a ship which was discovered in the early 1900’s in waters just 3 metres deep, south of Revhaken reef. The wreck can still be seen on the seabed at low tide. This sarcophagus, complete with a heavy stone lid, is massive, and weighs between 7 and 8 tons. Once ashore, it was cleaned and dried in the distillery’s purification plant, before being moved to its present position beside the ruins of St Anna’s Chapel. Needless to say, there are many stories relating to this sarcophagus. One tells of a Dutch princess who’s ship was attacked by pirates who killed her for her treasure. But that’s as much as I could ascertain, the truth having long been lost in the mists of time. The sarcophagus is thought to have been hers.
A kilometer-long walk through a pine forest, along a narrow pathway lined with typical wooden holiday houses and cottages, took us to a long white beach edged with boulders. Here we were surprised to find groups of ducks dabbling amongst the sea weeds. This is indicative of the very slightly saline quality of the Baltic Sea, as is the abundance of greens seaweeds, and dearth of shells.
On one of my morning excursions from Åhus, I set out to see the famous church at Kristianstad. On the way, I passed through the little settlement of Trolle-Ljungby. There, I had been told by one of the young ladies working at our guest house, I could see a fine stone manor house, or small palace. This slott (castle, or palace) is enclosed by a moat, and is one of most magnificent Renaissance buildings in Sweden. A front gable displays a date, 1629, in large metal numbers. Today this little palace is occupied by the Swedish Count, Hans-Gabriel Trolle-Wachtmeister (86), one of the wealthiest landlords in Sweden. (In 2007 he was estimated to be worth over $600 million). He and his wife Countess Alice have no children of their own, so the estate will devolve to the Count’s grand-nephew. The Countess was apparently amongst the first to see Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel’s new baby, Estelle, who was born on the 23rd February this year.
A quaint church stands nearby, in the door of which are bullet holes! (I can’t find an explanation for this on the www.) I loved the quiet, ornate interior, details of which were explained to us visitors by two young girls, thus employed for their summer holiday job. Beautifully painted wooden panels above the nave depicted the first few phrases of the Nicene Creed, whilst another displayed the usual family portrait of an erstwhile pastor and his family.
My next destination was Kristianstad – “the most Danish town in Sweden” (Lonely Planet). Its construction was ordered by King Christian IV of Denmark in 1614, and it remained Danish for only 44 years, until the Swedes banished the Danes in 1658. But signs of Danish influence are still very much in evidence there, such as the yellow “C4” cipher on a blue ground for the municipal coat of arms. The purpose of the town was to defend the Danish provinces in present-day Sweden against attack by the Swedes!
The Trefaldighetskyrkan – Holy Trinity Church – is one of the finest Renaissance churches in Scandinavia, and was built between1618 and 1628 when Skåne was still under Danish control. It was designed by the Flemish-Danish architect, Lorenz van Steenwinckel, and illustrates Christian IV’s Renaissance ideas. There are still many of the original fittings inside this vast church, which has been little altered since its construction, including wonderfully carved oak pew-ends. The extensive nave can accommodate a congregation of up to 1,400 people. Like many Danish churches of the time, it is built in red brick, but decorated with numerous sandstone statues and ornaments, including several monograms of Christian IV, which testifies to his involvement.
The well-preserved interior is decorated with star-shaped cross vaults, supported by pillars of granite. The main addition is its 59-meter-tall tower, which was constructed in 1865. The church is well illuminated, due to 26 tall windows which flood light into the white interior.
The entrance through the western tower opens into a six-bay nave, with wide aisles, and terminates in an eastern sanctuary. The grandiose exterior has seven large ornamental spiraled gables – rather like Cape Dutch gables – on the north and south sides. The pulpit, which is sculpted from Belgian and Italian marble and alabaster, depicts Christ, and the four Evangelists with their iconographic symbols: Matthew with an angel, Mark with a winged lion, Luke with a bull, and John with an eagle. The impressive canopy hanging above the pulpit weighs almost a ton.
The magnificent Baroque organ-case is ebony, decorated with white and gold ornamentation, and was carved by German-born sculptor Johan Lorentz. The instrument is still equipped with its original pipes, but the mechanism has subsequently been replaced with a newer one. It is used both for concerts and church services. In fact I was often struck, during our peregrinations around Skåne – indeed through much of Sweden – how the ancient monuments, be they castles, churches or cathedrals, are still very much “working” buildings. Concerts, of both Classical and popular music, are performed in castle grounds, as well as jousting tournaments, and live outdoor theatre, while churches and cathedrals regularly host musical events of every kind: choral, chamber, sacred and orchestral music.
Following the advice in the guide book, I had a Spanish frittata (chicken, tomato and onion, sprinkled with dried herbs) and a “summer salad”, which included strawberries, in the Café Miro in the Art Museum nearby. And then it was time to hasten back to the car, where the inscrutable parking meter, which I had found impossible to load with a two-hour period, was ticking away mercilessly.
En route back to Åhus, I stopped at Bäckaskog Slott, (literally translated as Brook Forest Castle), today a hotel offering different tiers of accommodation, with an excellent restaurant. The building began as a monastery during the 13th century, where the monks subsisted on fishing, farming and gardening.
An orderly herb garden with neat calligraphied labels in Latin and Swedish for each of the herbs, and their medicinal properties, can be seen there today.
During the so-called “reformation” (Danish occupation) of 1537, the monastery was seized by the Danish Crown and given to a Danish aristocratic family. (Resonances of Zimbabwe?) It was then that the building was converted into a fortified castle, and assumed its current design with the enclosed courtyard.
During the 17th century the castle became the property of the Swedish Crown, and was used as a military headquarters. From 1818 it was used as a royal summer residence, first by Crown Prince Oscar I, and then by his son Karl XV and his daughter Queen Louise of Denmark. During this time the property evolved into a working farm.
During the 20th century it became a tourist attraction, conference venue and hotel, and a maintenance programme for the upkeep of the facilities has since been established with the aim of preserving the historical and cultural value of the building and grounds. I loved wandering through the herb and rose gardens, with their clear, aromatic scents, until driven back to the car by a ferocious, Johannesburg-style thunder storm.
Like all thunder storms, this one soon drifted elsewhere, and I was able once again to enjoy the marvelous landscape of golden waving cornfields shimmering in the summer sun, edged with green grass and scarlet poppies, and large white wind generators etched against a horizon of lowering purple thunder clouds. In one field I saw a potato combine harvester, manned by two – one driving the enormous contraption, the other inside, furiously sorting the potatoes.
Our fourth day was spent traveling south through the Skåne countryside, and along the eastern coastline. There we encountered a number of picturesque fishing villages, as per the guidance of the tourist literature I had procured in Stockholm beforehand. We also drove through a beautiful area near the village of Brösarp, with its famous emerald-green rolling hills which are covered in primroses during the spring.
In Kivik (pronounced Shivik) we headed for the fish smokery and deli; there we bought smoked mackerel and salmon, and delicious mini quiches made from Sweden’s hallmark Västerbotten cheese. Assailed by the seductive scents of fish, baking and cheeses, my resolve crumbled, and I succumbed to the heavenly succulence of a freshly baked apple pastry, still warm from the oven.
This area is famous for its numerous apple orchards and products made from apples. These we found in great abundance at the Kiviks Musteri – a touristy emporium selling everything from apple jelly, mustard, marmelade (jam) and chutney, to apple juice and cider, and apple-scented candles and soaps. This Musteri (meaning “cider”, www.kiviksmusteri.se) began when one Henric Åkesson first planted a few apple trees in his back garden here in 1888.
This orchard gradually grew, and eventually became Sweden’s first commercial fruit farm. It is now run by the fourth generation of Åkessons as a major industry – all organic and green and good, in line with Sweden’s resolute “green” philosophy – and complete with beautiful gardens, a nursery, guided tours, cider tasting, and the “Dormouse Grove” – where this shy little creature can allegedly be spotted amongst the bushes. Here, apart from several apple-based products, we also bought a carton of delicately flavoured elderberry juice (the base of which is grape juice).
Äpplets Hus (the Apple House) is a museum devoted to the myths, history and cultivation of apples, and where the apple juice-making process is demonstrated by means of various modern machines.
Just outside the town lies a curious ancient sight: a large mound of stones, 75 m in diameter, that constitute a burial cist. Also known as The King’s Grave, it is Sweden’s largest Bronze Age grave, and dates from around 1000 BC. Human sacrifices are thought to have taken place here! Replicas of eight engraved burial slabs can now be seen inside the tomb, which was apparently looted during the 18th century.
Nearby is Stenshuvuds Nationalpark, a beautiful nature reserve with lush woodland, marshes and sandy beaches. There are several walks in the area, including a hike up to a 6th century ruined hill fort. Views of the sea can be seen from the flowering meadows and deciduous forest that spreads inland.
Simrishamn, a colourful, working fishing town further south, which lies at the heart of Österlen. It was full of summer tourists that sunny morning, leisurely licking ice-creams and strolling through the cobbled streets of the old town, and along the quay. We had lunch here, in a converted boat called Den Glada Räkor (The Happy Shrimp)! Here Peter ordered a small cardboard box of grilled shrimps, and I the delicious deep fried plaice, with a salad instead of chips. Alongside the boat we watched the ferries, some with great white sails, taking holiday-makers across to the Danish island of Bornholm.
After our delightful meal, we strolled up the main cobbled street to theSankt Nikolai Kyrka which is dedicated to the patron saint of fishermen, St. Nicholas. Built with local stone, this charming church has medieval origins; the chancel dates from the 12th century and the nave from the 13th. The church was originally a chapel for fishermen, and as the town expanded, it was added onto through the ages. The finely carved pulpit dates from 1626 and is believed to be the work of Claus Clausen Billedsnider. It is a magnificently ornate affair, marvelously wrought from wood, and painted bright colours, predominantly light blue, with gold finishings. The sides depict the four Apostles with their symbolic trappings, and a matching heavy wooden canopy is suspended above. Other decorations in this beautiful church include marvelous model wooden ships suspended from the ceiling, and the usual shining brass chandeliers (the candles replaced with light bulbs), and ornate family escutcheons.
Our last stop before seeking out our next lodgings was another little fishing village, Skillinge (pronounced “Whillinge”). Here we visited another smokery, and after a tentative tasting, bought a length of smoked eel. I felt that I could hardly travel along a coastline famous for its most representative delicacy without at least eating some of it. And, once the slimy tough skin and central bony spine are removed, and with a good squeeze of lemon juice to neurtralise the fatty richness, it is simply delicious.
This little village has a number of restaurants, and a small supermarket where I was able to stock up on a few groceries to add to our smoked delicacies for our self-catered suppers.
There were again, as we had seen elsewhere in Skåne, quaint pastel-hued cottages in front of which stood tall red, pink and white hollyhocks. I wondered how these magnificent plants survive the harsh Nordic winters; they presumably die back in autumn, and rise again in all their glory like the proverbial Phoenix each spring.
At sundown we finally arrived at our next accommodation: Österlens Gästhärbärge (guest house), which I had found on the booking.com website. Österlen is the name for this attractive south-eastern part of Skåne. We were welcomed by a charming Dickensian character with a frail appearance and thinning hair called Henry Johnsson. He and his two daughters, Linda and Isabelle, a young German, Axel, and an older German lady appear to run the place, ironing and cleaning, and preparing the ample buffet breakfasts. Supper is self-catered by the guests in a well equipped kitchen. I was greatly relieved to be able to steam our own vegetables and prepare fresh salads once more, both always sadly lacking in Swedish restaurants and hotels (apart from the copious boiled potatoes), especially in the country.
There was a strong German element there altogether, with the other guests appearing to speak no other language, and our host and his assistants spoke German amongst themselves, though they are Swedish-born. They also spoke excellent English/”Swenglish”. I enjoyed practicing my fledgling Swedish with another guest, as she and I prepared our respective meals in the kitchen together, comparing notes as to where we had been, and what we had seen each day.
The next day was spent seeking out Sandhammaren – listed in the guide books as Skåne’s “best beach in 2010” (and probably still is), and reached by driving through the heady, brush-scented Hagestads naturreservat. This beach is mile upon mile of pristine white sand, and we gleefully tossed off our sandals and reveled in the delicious feel of its warm softness on our bare feet. It was well populated with holiday-makers that sunny day, and we saw a pair of young girls who had spontaneously cast off their clothes, and begun splashing about in the sea, laughing with gay abandon, in nothing but their panties.
Löderups strandbad further along the coast was beautiful, but almost deserted, due to heaps of stinking rotting black sea weed that had washed up onto the beach as well as the long wooden peer. However, Peter did have some fun catching baby shrimps in cupped hands in the muddy rock pools.
Our principal destination that day was the famous Swedish stone henge in the shape of a long boat, Ales Stene (Ale’s Stones). Situated high up on a grassy cliff, this impressive ship barrow, consisting of 59 upright menhirs, is thought to have been constructed around 600 AD, “for reasons unknown” (Lonely Planet). Excavations around the site have revealed no skeletons, so it is possible that this was a ritual site rather than a burial site, which functioned as a solar calendar. The “stem” and “stern” stones point towards the midsummer sunset and midwinter sunrise respectively. To reach this spectacular site, we walked up a long winding gravel path, past small herds of white fluffy sheep and dozy cream-coloured cows. I was grateful for sturdy walking shoes and a large sun hat.
The cliff-top was quite crowded with tourists that day, presenting some difficulties in acquiring our own people-free photos. But the weather was glorious, and many holiday-makers had lugged their picnic baskets up to the top of the grassy hill, from which we could all enjoy a superb view of the Baltic Sea, a few ships on the horizon, and the beaches further along the coast, whilst gulls soared overhead. After recent rains, the fields were ablaze with wild flowers and the air redolent with their delicate sweet scent.
A young girl ran across the hilltop
with a brightly coloured kite,
her father calling advice to her,
and eventually it took off
and sailed up into the blue.
Based on the recommendation of our friend Elizabeth Hammarskjöld, whom we had inadvertently met on Sandhammaren beach, we had lunch at Vendel’s open-air restaurant at the fishing hamlet Kåseberga at the foot of the cliff. It was wonderful sitting under a large umbrella, enjoying the light sea breeze and gorging on smoked shrimps washed down with light cider. (Anything stronger than 2.2% alcohol content can only be sold through the state-run chain of liquor stores, System Bolaget.)
Kåseberga, which dates from the 16th century, only has 150 inhabitants, but offers much to the tourist industry. A smokery on the quayside sells fresh and smoked fish, and there is a Sea Rescue Museum with maritime art and a history of the Life Boat Association. The first lifeboat stations were created along this narrow exposed coastline in the 1940’s. Here with wind rapidly whips up a storm, and on the seabed nearby there is still a large marine cemetery, containing more than 300 wrecked ships.
After lunch we sought out the country holiday home of Dag Hammarskjöld – Backåkra, set in a nature reserve of sand dunes, heath and wild flowers, and today preserved as a memorial museum. Sadly this summer refuge, occupied by the former Secretary-General of the UN since 1957, is closed these days, due to lack of funding. But I was able to peep through the windows, and discern covered furniture, living quarters, souvenirs, belongings, and many bookcases filled with books.
Our last destination that day was the medieval market town of Ystad.The old town has many medieval half-timbered houses, magnificent 19th century palaces, and rambling cobbled streets. As always, my principal destination was a magnificent church – Sankta Maria Kyrka, which dates from the early13th century.
I am drawn to these ancient buildings as they are living monuments to the societies in which they were created, and tell me so much about those societies, and the subsequent congregations that worshipped there. Through their structure, ornamentation, and unique histories, I find myself following a wonderful historical and spiritual journey through time. Sometimes these journeys cover some 800 years of political, religious, economic and social history. The works of art therein are always magnificent, always to the glory of God, and indicative of the respective talents of the various artists who laboured there through the ages: stone masons, stained glass window makers, sculptors, carvers, painters, composers and metal workers.
Each church and cathedral has a fascinating story, unique to itself. And if I am lucky, I can hear the organist practicing therein, or some other musician. I have heard Bach in Notre Dame (Paris) and Kalmar, a singer in Vadstena, a clarinetist rehearsing for a funeral in Växjö, and in St. Mary’s Church in Ystad a young girl was singing, whilst accompanying herself on the piano – light romantic material, in English, most likely for a forthcoming wedding.
This Ystad church was originally built in the Romanesque (basilica) style with three aisles, and later, in around 1275, early Gothic arches were constructed, the decorated remains of which can be seen today. During the 14th century the Holy Chancel Chapel was added, and during the 17th century, the transept. The magnificent Baroque altar piece dates from 1718-33, and depicts the Holy Communion, surrounded by red marbled columns and the four Evangelists. The picture above the altar represents the Baptism of Christ, and is surrounded by two reclining figures symbolising Faith and Hope. Both were executed by the Swedish master, Carl Mört. The Holy Communion comprises 14 characters: Christ, the 12 Apostles, and the artists himself – in lieu of his signature!
There have been several other additions and alterations through the centuries, such as when, during a storm in 1648, the late Medieval tower and spire collapsed. The list of subsequent alterations is too lengthy to innumerate, but suffice to say that in1925, after further considerable restoration work, the “new” church was completed and consecrated. All this is indicative of the community’s determination to preserve their ancient monuments, and of their passion for their heritage.
Ever since 1250, a night watchman has blown his horn through the little window in the church clock tower, every 15 minutes throughout the night, to signal that all is well. Legend has it that the watchman was traditionally beheaded if he dozed off!
The Latinskolan next to the church is a late 15th century brick building, and is today the oldest preserved school in Scandinavia. It is still in use.
Ystad is the setting for the best-selling Inspector Wallender series, created by Swedish author Henning Mankell (1948-). His nail-biting stories have been translated into 36 languages, and are familiar to English speakers through the riveting BBC TV series starring Kenneth Branagh (1960-) as the eponymous inspector Kurt Wallender. Guided tours of the film studios take place daily, as well as to the locations mentioned in the novels, including Fridolf’s Bakery. I hadn’t realised that this was the very bakery in which I had bought a Spettekaka orspettkaka (Swedish for “Cake baked on a spit)”) – a local confection typical of southern Sweden, chiefly Skåne. A mixture consisting mainly of eggs, potato flour and sugar is rolled slowly onto a skewer which is rotated over an open fire or other heat source. The cake thus produced is then decorated with swirls of pink icing, and sealed in a plastic bag to preserve its freshness. It was traditionally served at weddings and Christenings, but is now universally available – and delicious! We enjoyed this cake, along with Tosca tartlets (with almond paste and toasted almonds), fresh raspberries and raspberry sorbet, and chocolate biscuits, at Elizabeth’s summer house near Sandhammaren beach. There we also met her daughter Elinor, currently the Swedish Ambassador to Israel, and based in Tel Aviv.
Ystad is very active culturally, and I was impressed to see, in a brochure from the tourist office, a line-up of the summer opera season. This included Mozart’s Idomeneo, Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and Mascagni’sCavalleria Rusticana.
The next day, while Peter relaxed at the guest house, I set out on a fascinating day-trip in search of some of the many castles that enrich this historical part of Sweden.
Glimmingehus has been scarcely altered since its construction in1499, and is thus one of the best-preserved Medieval castles in Scandinavia. It was built by the Danish nobleman and knight, Jens Holgersen Ulfdtand, and served as a splendid residence and defence fortress for his family. It has an all-encompassing moat, and – allegedly – eleven resident ghosts that haunt the passages and stairwells! Not that I saw any of those on my self-guided tour through the now empty, dusty rooms. It is a tall structure, with narrow embrasures through which one can peer at the surrounding countryside, holes in some side walls, which served as privies, and holes in the floor above the entrance hall, through which boiling oil could be poured upon would-be attackers. The staircase is still intact, with all its death-traps, as well as the skillfully-made ducts designed to transfer heat from the kitchen to the many rooms of the castle.
From the 19th century it was used as a granary, and in1924 it was donated to the Swedish State to be administered by theRijksantikvarieämbetet (the National Heritage Board.)
As with most similar monuments in Sweden, this one also hosts a programme of summer events such as jousting, archery, dressing up in Medieval garb and suits of armour for the children, black-smithing, story-telling, and musical concerts.
Christinehof Castle, set in an Ecopark, and called “the Golden Castle”, was built between 1737 and 1740 in the German Baroque style. It is more of a manor house, in English terminology, or a small chateau. The original owner, Christina Piper (1673 – 1752), was one of the most powerful women in Skåne. There I had a quiche and salad lunch, out on the verandah at the back of the chateau, overlooking superb parkland with magnificent trees.
Kronovall Vinslott is another 18th century chateau, also offering accommodation, and where wine is made from imported grapes. Thousands of litres of sparkling wine are stored there in a cellar 8 m below the ground. It is the most picturesque, fairy-tale chateau that I saw in Skåne. I was unable to take good frontal photographs thereof as a massive, black-curtained stage was being erected in front, for a forthcoming pop concert.
On our last morning in Skåne, we bid our gracious hosts at Glimmingebro a sad farewell, comforting them with the words that if we did not return to their guest house, it not that we didn’t want to, but because we have so many other places in this beautiful country that we would still like to see.
Marsvinsholm Slott – Axel’s favourite slott – was next on our agenda, and we stopped there for a short while on our way north. This castle dates from the 12th century, and by the middle of the 14th century it was owned by members of the Ulfeld family. In 1630 it was bought by one Otto Marsvin, who renovated it and renamed it after himself – a name which is derived from an Old Norse word for porpoise. The castle was originally built upon poles in a small lake. It is square in shape, consisting of 4 floors, and the northeast and southwest corners each have five-storied towers. Mr. Tomas Lacobaeus is the current owner of Marsvinsholm. While we were there, a large concert stage was being set up, for yet another summer pop music concert in the open air, as well as a production of a Molière play, in Swedish.
Our very last stop in Skåne, before heading north, was to Smygehuk – the southern-most point of Sweden. Lying at 55 degrees north, it is popular with tourists – also for the 19th century lime kiln, and converted warehouse in which the guide book had promised we would find “fantastic handcrafts”. Sadly this was not the case, but it was a gloriously sunny day, and we enjoyed mingling with tourists from many different countries, as we, too, photographed ourselves in this significant spot.
On the way north we drove through the seaport Trelleborg – the main ferry gateway between Sweden and Germany – and the explanation for the high presence of German-speaking tourists that we encountered throughout our Skåne travels. The distance between Malmö and Kiel is only about 250 km.
Our last night was intended to be a treat – at one of the Countryside Hotels in a catalogue similar to the well-healed and expensive Portfolio of Country Places Hotels in South Africa. Sadly Villa Gransholm was disappointing after the glowing but not altogether honest information on their website. This pretty little green-roofed, turreted country villa, built by a paper mill magnate in 1902, was much smaller in reality than the photographs had led me to believe. The shower cubicle in our room was small, dark and smelly, equipped with strange cotton towels not unlike dishtowels, the curtains hopelessly thin against the late summer sun, and we were plagued by whining mosquitoes which entered the wide-flung windows with gleeful persistence. Our frantic antics, lobbing pillows at the ceiling in a desperate attempt to rid our night’s rest of these uninvited pests, was reminiscent of summer nights at our erstwhile home in Johannesburg.
However, the excellent three-course meal, produced shyly, and terribly slowly by the young chef Rickard, more than made up for the inadequacies of a villa clearly in need of funds and refurbishment, owned and run by a family of three gracious ladies from three generations.
The starter consisted of a plate of simple cheese paj (quiche), served with slices of prosciutto, on a bed of ruccola with a mustard dressing. Cherry tomatoes and a slice of red pepper completed the attractive garnish.
The main course was delicately butter-fried röding (“red-belly” fish) , topped with grated fresh horseradish, and served with boiled new potatoes, snow peas and carrots.
The dessert comprised a small bowl of homemade strawberry ice-cream and a slice of lemon (without-the-meringue) pie, garnished with a few fresh strawberries and a round ginger snap perched in each dollop of ice-cream.
We were slightly amused when Rickard emerged from the kitchen afterwards and unashamedly asked us to give him a rating out of 5 for his meal. We gave him an unequivocal 9½ out of 10!
The next morning we continued our homeward journey to Stockholm, stopping, as we drove north through Småland, at a few glass brukke. A picnic lunch at the side of the road saw us through until our arrival home in the early evening. Progress was as slow as it is in South Africa on weekends, bedeviled with cumbersome motor homes and the painfully slow speed limits designed for a snow-bound winter climate.
We look forward to continuing our exploration of this beautiful, southern-most province of Sweden – Skåne – next year: the west and northwest coast, and to seeing something of the central area, which includes the Skåne Zoo – the biggest zoo in Europe.
In the meantime, I shall cherish my memories of magnificent long white beaches, delicious fishy fare, apple orchards and medieval slotts.
This article was first published in Showcook.com.