KOSTA – Småland, Sweden
Kosta is a day’s leisurely drive south from Stockholm, along roads that pass through many picturesque towns and settlements.
One of these, Säby, lies roughly halfway between Linköping and Jönkoping, near Tranås, and boasts a fine church with medieval origins. Standing on the shores of Säbysjön (Säby Lake), this church was begun during the 12th century. The interior is beautifully decorated with quaint frescoes, brass chandeliers, and a carved image of the Pietà. The pulpit is adorned with 14 sculptures which date from the 17th century.
Nearby stands an old Sockenstuga (Rectory) and school house.
It was below the ancient churchyard, in which many gravestones have bouquets of fresh flowers, and others stand neglected and mossy, and leaning precariously, that we found a beautiful glade of silver birches. Wooden tables and benches nestle in the shady clearing beneath, and this provided a perfect spot for our picnic lunch.
Not far from this settlement, we followed a roadside advertisement for a farm stall. The stall was unfortunately closed, but we did find a pretty pink farmhouse at the end of an avenue of oaks. This style prevails in the Swedish countryside: farmsteads approached down a long avenue of ancient trees. In front of this immaculate manor were a circular gravel driveway and colourful flower beds. It had the air of an abandoned dolls’ house, the residents mysteriously absent. But then it was a Sunday afternoon.
Our next stop was the historic town of Eksjö (translated as “Oak Lake”), just inside the province of Småland. The Gamla Stan (Old Town) is one of the best-preserved wooden towns in Sweden; the northern section dates from the 16th century, and the southern end was lovingly restored after a devastating fire in 1856. In the main courtyard stand a bookbinder’s shop, a bicycle museum, and a copper wright, while in the nearby village of Bruzaholm there is a 17th century iron works, still in production. This ore, extracted from many such mines throughout the country, contributed to the prosperity and development of Sweden.
But the real reason for tarrying in this quaint place was a vivid memory from a previous trip some years before, when, on the recommendation of Lonely Planet, we dropped into one of the most highly recommended bakeries in Småland: Lennarts Konditori.
The Masarin – a delicate shortcrust pastry with an almond filling and topped with glacé icing – is a signature favourite in Sweden, and those at Lennarts have to be the best of its kind. Traditionally accompanied with coffee and conversation, this is the very essence of the Swedish fika. Fika signifies taking a break from whatever you are doing, and enjoying a hot drink and a little “something” – preferably sweet – and talking about anything except work. This pleasant Swedish custom is hard to resist, and there are abundant places in which to indulge in it, both in the cities and towns, or on the road while traveling around the country.
Each armed with one of these succulent little cakes fresh from the oven, we happily munched and strolled our way down the centre of Old Eksjö, admiring the pastel-coloured wooden buildings on either side.
The next big town – or rather city, on account of its unique cathedral – en route to Kosta, is Växjö. Regarded as the gateway to Glasriket – the Glass Kingdom – Växjö’s distinctive Domkyrka has a long history.
The booklet tells visitors that a wooden church was built on the site during the 11th century, when the region was converted from paganism to Christianity. A stone church followed a century later, which, when damaged by fire during the 15th century, was replaced by a larger version with two spires. The Danes burnt this down in 1570, and again in 1611, during the centuries-long conflict between Denmark and Sweden for control over southern Scandinavia. Further renovations and additions to the cathedral took place during the 19th century, and today’s proud edifice was restored between 1957 and 1960. The twin-towered west façade is an unusual sight, with its needle-slim green copper spires, and ochre-painted walls decorated with white patterns.
The “Glass Kingdom” occupies only part of Småland, and lies roughly between the cities of Växjö in the centre, and Kalmar on the Baltic coast. It comprises several settlements with glass works, located among the dense forests. These include Kosta, Målerås, Nybro, Transjö, Skruf, Bergdal, Pukeberg, Matts Jonasson, Carlos R. Pebaque and Mickejohan. The abundant wood in the area was used to fuel the furnaces, prompting the relocation from Stockholm where fire was a constant hazard. There were as many as 45 glass works when production was at its peak, each with their own speciality creations. A road trip between the various glass works is a popular pastime for visitors, who can enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings, the excellent exhibitions, and the shopping – of both art glass and everyday glassware.
Kosta, the first of these world-famous glassworks, was founded in 1742 by Anders Kostkull and Georg Bogislaus Staël von Holstein – hence the name: Kos-sta. Beautiful hand-made glass objects draw visitors from around the world, as does the opportunity of watching the master craftsmen and women at work in their hytta (blowing room.)
In Kosta there are large warehouse-styled “outlets” for the purchase of exquisite creations from the Kosta and Orefors glass works.
There is also an exhibition hall which displays both old and new designs,
and the excellent Kosta Café serving lunches, and fresh bakes which include the local speciality, Småland ostkaka. This Småland cheesecake is made from milk, flour, cheese rennet, bitter almond, eggs, cream and sugar, and while not particularly sweet on its own, is delicious served warm, with a berry jam and whipped cream.
Another focal point in Kosta, apart from the glassworks and outlets, is the Kosta Boda Art Hotel with its magnificent Spa.
Here visitors can enjoy heated pools and Jacuzzis, both indoors and out, a small well-equipped gym, a studio for classes such as chi-gong, Pilates and yoga, and a full range of massages and body treatments. The pool area is softly illuminated with candles, and relaxing music plays in the background. There are a sauna and a steam room, and a lounge with a subtle gas fireplace in which to relax.
Upstairs in the main hotel are a large glass-roofed lounge, the Restaurant Linnea, and the Brasserie by EDz which has an open fireplace in the centre. Delicate glass air balloons, created by Kjell Engman, are suspended from the ceiling.
The entire hotel is decorated with exquisite works of glass art; being there is like being within a work of art.
The dénouement is the celebrated Glass Bar, a fantastical space made entirely of cobalt blue glass, decorated with sea-themed glass ornamentation. Inside one has the sensation of being under water.
An endearing tradition in Småland is the Hytsill evening, literally translated as “glassworks herring”. This dates back to the days when the warm glassworks became a place for the local community to gather after hours – workers, farmers, hunters, and wandering tramps. When work ceased trestle tables were erected and laden with trays of crispy pork, isterband sausages and baked potatoes. Salted herrings were fried in the cooling pipe where, earlier in the day, the finished glassware had been set to cool gradually. Chilled beer and snapps were brought up from the basement, and glasses filled. The feast was rounded off with the traditional Småland cheesecake topped with jam and cream. The atmosphere soon became jovial, and singing would commence, adding to the warm atmosphere of the furnaces. Today visitors can book for these delightful evenings, and watch the last of the glassblowing demonstrations for the day.
My favourite glass works is one of the smaller ones, Transjö Hytta: https://www.transjohytta.com/ . The name translates as “Crane Lake”.
Transjö Hytta is a small workshop in the forests of the “Glass Kingdom” of southern Sweden. It was started in 1982 by two Master Glassmakers from the Kosta Boda factory which is famous for its modern designs. At Kosta, also the oldest factory in Sweden (1742), Jan-Erik Ritzman and Sven-Åke Carlsson worked with world renowned designers and collaborated in the invention of what is now called “Mid-Century Modernism”.
This is a truly magical spot, with glassworks suspended in the garden, and fantastic glass creations on exhibition, and for sale, within.Eventually Jan-Erik and Sven-Åke decided to strike out on their own and set up a “laboratory” for glass. It would be a place to make their own work, but with room to continue to collaborate with visiting artists, as well as a home for an international apprenticeship program.
This is a truly magical spot, with glassworks suspended in the garden casting iridescent patterns in the sunlight, and fantastic glass creations on exhibition, and for sale, inside the building.
We prefer to self-cater, and rented a quiet cosy stuga (cottage) on the edge of the woods, five minutes’ walk from the glassworks and outlets: Snöbackavägen 4, courtesy of Liselotte Korner, email: [email protected] .
Småland Ostkaka (Cheesecake) (serves 6)
Ostkaka was traditionally produced by adding rennet to milk and allowing the casein to coagulate. Since the process of curdling milk is somewhat laborious, cottage cheese is used today to simulate the texture of the original dessert.
50 g almonds, blanched and finely chopped
50 ml sugar
50 ml flour
400 g “chunky” cottage cheese
250 ml whipping cream
A touch of almond essence
Beat the eggs and sugar well, and add the cottage cheese.
Whip the cream and add this to the batter, and then the flour, almonds and almond essence.
Pour the batter into a square or round greased oven dish, and bake at 200˚ C until set. If it browns too quickly, cover it with a piece of aluminium foil.
Serve lukewarm with a red berry jam and lightly whipped cream.