A Few Days in Fjällbacka

Cathy Cooper, 05 April, 2018
In the third of her Swedish photo blogs, photographer Cathy Cooper tells us of her adventures in Fjällbacka, where she bargained with seagulls, visited Ingrid Bergman's favourite bakery and discovered some unexpectedly exciting rock carvings!

Wedged right between my two idyllic island experiences in west Sweden with Inntravel was a short stay in the pretty coastal town of Fjällbacka, from where I visited one of the most interesting historical sites in Europe.

The first thing I noticed about Fjällbacka was the town's whopping great cliff. Looming overhead, it almost touches the roofs of the heritage wooden houses.

A couple of hours earlier, my travelling companion and I had left South Koster on the ferry to Strömstad. We got the train to Tanum, were met by a taxi and brought to our hotel in Fjällbacka.

Every room was named after an explorer. We had Christopher Columbus, a two-storey suite with a bed downstairs and a king-size upstairs that was so high you needed a step to get onto it. The décor was quirky and unusual. The bathroom had a sunken bath decorated with Inca-style tiles.

The main bedroom led to a roof terrace which overlooked the harbour and the islands beyond.

We had planned a very special trip after lunch so just had time to have a quick look at the nearby shops up the hill before heading back to our sunny terrace to eat a snack we had prepared earlier.

We were immediately joined by a very inquisitive and hungry gull who perched on the balcony and demanded that we shared our apples with him. We came to an arrangement. I would feed him if he posed for photographs. That seemed to work well.

I was very excited about our afternoon excursion to see what must be one of Sweden’s greatest treasures. Tanum is a cycle ride away from Fjällbacka but we took a taxi instead. We were met by a guide at the Vitlycke Museum of Rock Art. Not rock as in music but rock carving or petroglyphs from the Bronze Age. There are sites like this all over Scandinavia but this one at Tanum has a particularly high concentration. It was a real pleasure to be able to visit it.

Huge stone slabs were dotted around the forest with raised boardwalks to view them from.

The lines of the carved motifs had been coloured red to make them visible. Not a technique favoured by many archaeologists, but necessary to bring in tourists to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was fascinating seeing all these depictions of life back then. There were scenes of hunting, fighting, boats, humans and animals.

Even man’s best friend was carved into the rock.

One of the activities for children was to make a copy of a motif onto paper, a bit like brass rubbing.

Wendy was busy rubbing away at her picture to reveal… Whoops! I better stop there. I can only say that Swedish men were very excited back then.

My Viking ship was tame in comparison.

We wandered around a reconstruction of a Bronze Age farm complete with longhouses and pigpens. This also served as a family activity centre. There was a lot to see at Vitlycke plus a good shop and café but for me the carvings made the day.

The petroglyphs were not just confined to the Museum grounds but were in several locations around the countryside. You could hire bikes and maps to find them in their natural state without the red paint. If you carried a bottle of water, splashing some on would help reveal the picture.

When we got back to Fjällbacka there was just enough time to investigate the huge rock known as King’s Cliff. It was accessible by steep wooden steps and the view from the top put everything into perspective. However, the rain was now coming in, so we clambered back down and went for dinner.

Restaurant Bryggan was just across the road from the hotel. Here we had our evening meal of cod, asparagus and salad, followed by a chocolate and cream dessert. As we had come to expect, the food was healthy and beautifully presented. Breakfast the following morning was served here, too.

The next day brought relentless rain so, not wanting to waste time, we caught a bus up the coast to Grebbestad which is the main town for shopping. We spent an hour in a boutique trying on swimming costumes. There was a sale on so we both managed to get beautifully designed Swedish swimwear for a realistic price.

Back in Fjällbacka, we visited the bakery that Ingrid Bergman used to buy her cinnamon buns from. How she stayed so slim I don’t know.

Ingrid was a constant visitor here and called it her paradise on earth. There is a statue of her plus a memorial garden in the town. Even the town square is named after her.

The rain was easing up a bit, so we took a boat to the nearby island of Valo, which just has a small hotel and a hostel on it. There was a circular walk which involved crossing a rocky outcrop through rainforest and using ladders which went up and down almost vertically.

The steep climb was worth it. The view from the top was wonderful and a nice place to stop for a picnic.

I particularly liked the pink granite boulders covered in bright green lichen, another common feature I experienced in coastal west Sweden.

We finished our exploration of Valo just in time to catch the 5pm boat back to the mainland. We saw no other people on the island except for this dog who was also waiting on the small jetty. The weather was clearing up. Hopefully tomorrow would be a better day.

The next day, our last in Fjällbacka, was indeed glorious. We packed up, left our bags at reception then went off to explore more of this lovely town and its marina.

Lobster/crayfish nets on the harbourside. Fjällbacka was once a centre of the herring industry. A canning factory owner invented the spiced sprat which became known as the anchovy.

This painted post box is a work of art.

Entrance to King’s Cliff. This strange geological feature was once called Raven’s Cliff until King Oscar visited and gave it his royal title as a name instead.

Picking your steps carefully over mossy wet stones while three huge boulders sit wedged in the rock above your head is not for the faint-hearted.

Fjällbacka is also the home of Scandi crime author Camilla Lackberg. Many of her murder mysteries are based here. It’s hard to believe that anything untoward would happen in such a pretty little town.

The brightly painted wooden houses with their neat gardens sloping gently up the hill were my last impression of Fjällbacka before I set off on my next adventure.

I left with good memories and a fabulous Swedish swimming costume.
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