West Sweden continued...

Cathy Cooper, 16 March, 2018
Tucked high up on Sweden's West Coast, the traffic-free Koster Islands are a dreamy spot for a stroll, a cycle and a dish or two of freshly caught seafood. Cathy Cooper relives her time there in this wonderful photo blog...

When I visited West Sweden with Inntravel a few years ago, I really didn’t expect such variety. It was like three holidays rolled into one. Each location was so different in atmosphere. The one aspect though that didn’t change was the quality of the food. Every dish was fresh, healthy and amazing to look at.

To describe the whole trip in one blog is difficult so I have broken it up into segments.

The Weather Islands, already mentioned, came at the end of the trip. The Koster Islands were at the very beginning and my introduction to this very special part of Sweden.

The train was practically empty when it arrived at Stromstad. A handful of passengers disembarked. It felt like the end of the line.

Three hours earlier after pulling out of Gothenburg, there had been a lively discussion in our carriage which started when my travelling companion and I asked the woman sitting opposite if she could help us with our Swedish pronunciation. English is widely spoken here, but I think it is polite to at least have a go at the local language. One of the main words that is used all the time in Sweden is Hej ('Hey') which means hello, goodbye or thanks.

Soon everyone got involved and a debate followed that got quite heated. It was all about whether you say Hej Hej or just the single Hej. There seemed to be two camps, one thought the double Hej sounded off-hand or superficial, and the other camp thought it more heartfelt and strident. By the time I left the train, I decided to stick to English.

We wheeled our cases the short distance from Stromstad station to the ferry terminal and waited in a nearby café for it to arrive. Ferries are very much a part of life here and the only way for both locals and tourists to get around the many outlying islands.

The Koster Islands are tucked high up the north-west coast of Sweden near the border with Norway. The main island and the one we were headed for – South Koster – is only 8 kilometers square but packed with lots to see and do. Both islands are in Sweden’s first Marine National Park, Kosterhavet.

Home for the next few days was the Hotel Ekenas, a short walk from the landing stage. We had a large light apartment in the block behind, with a balcony overlooking the harbour.

After a quick snack, we headed out to explore the immediate area. The coastline was stunning, big skies and boulders and the typical red wooden cabins, each with its own jetty. We wandered around at our own pace without seeing another person. Our journey to get here by plane, train and boat was now behind us. We could relax into island life.

The next morning after breakfast, we hired bicycles from just outside the hotel and together with Stefan, the local guide, spent the morning exploring. Cycling is the best way to get around South Koster. The lanes are quiet, and you can off-road on tracks across meadows. It took me a while to get used to pedal brakes but once I did I felt a true sense of freedom. The bikes had large panniers to put backpacks in and these were also very useful for carrying shopping from the local supermarket.

Not far down the coast was the charming little fishing village of Hamn Brevik. It was completely deserted during our visit except for a large hare that jumped out of the rocks on the causeway and a bloom of jellyfish in the harbour.

The island seemed to be quite flat but there were some surprisingly high granite outcrops. Valfjäll, accessed by steep wooden steps gave a great panoramic view including the shingle church down below and the ocean in the distance.

Afterwards we visited the church. It was simply decorated in a nautical theme. On the wall was a memorial to all those that had died at sea, dating back to 1730.

As we were on our way to lunch, we met Stefan again. He told us to hurry ahead as he was bringing a party of thirty-five Norwegians to the same venue. We got on our bikes and sped away.

Lunch was at the Tradgardar Restaurant and Farm Shop, famous for its organic food. Everything on the plate was grown in the garden. The open sandwiches were works of art.

It was blissfully hot and there was no need to rush. We had a cool beer then wandered around the lake and browsed in the little shop which sold homemade jams, cheeses and local crafts.

It seemed a shame to waste this glorious weather, so we left the bikes in a layby, and walked through woods to a deserted beach. We found a large flat rock and changed into our swimming costumes. The water was so clear and so inviting.

Inviting… and freezing cold! I wandered out for a bit trying to be brave then quickly ducked out. It was not the sort of water that got warmer the longer you stayed in. I went back to the rock shivering and dried off.

In the shallows were brightly coloured jellyfish.

After a couple of hours relaxing on the beach, it was time to head back. We stopped at the shop in Torget on the way, to buy groceries and beer. I have never seen so many different types of crispbreads, but this eye-catching brand had the famous Dala horse design on the front. The packet was about the size of six stacked dinner plates.

With our bicycle panniers now heavily laden, I noticed that there was an easier way to get around the island using no effort whatsoever.

As we cycled back along the quiet road to our hotel, we passed rows of mailboxes outside the houses. Some had paintings on them depicting island life.

After a long day in the saddle, it was nice to relax on the balcony with a bottle of the local beer and gaze at the view.

The following morning, we got ready for a day out on the North Island. This needed a bit of careful planning and timetable checking. On this point I failed miserably. We boarded the ferry and got off a couple of stops later thinking we were on North Koster. After watching it sail away, we checked our map and realised we were still on the South Island and had taken the boat in the wrong direction. The only way to get to North Koster now was a hefty walk straight up the middle of the island to the other end to catch the chain ferry at Langegarde. I really hoped it was running.

Fortunately, it was. Hannah, a young student with a horse tattooed on her leg, operated it for the three-minute crossing.

The North island had a different feel, much wilder and desolate with white sandy beaches and a profusion of deep pink rock roses growing everywhere.

The walking was easy over great granite boulders, the cracks bursting with tiny flowers. Cotton grass was in abundance, a clear indication of boggy ground. We avoided this by always keeping to the rocks. In the distance we could see Norway.

We came across a pair of lighthouses built in 1849 and still in use today.

It was exhausting wandering around slowly taking in our picturesque surroundings.

We found a pretty, little bay and spent the rest of the afternoon sharing our sandwiches with a cheeky gull and enjoying the sunshine.

We just made the last ferry back. Our day on North Koster had been a real treat and a pleasure to walk around. We saw hardly any other people. It was like having the island to ourselves.

Back in the Ekenas Hotel, we had supper in the bar with the locals who were all watching football on the TV. The meal was ‘absolutely delicious’. That is what I wrote in my diary at the time. The dessert so elegant that I had to take a photo of it before diving in with my spoon.

This was our last night on the Kosters. It seemed a fitting end to sit on the rocks and watch the sun go down over West Sweden.

The next day a new adventure would begin but my time on the Koster Islands will always be special to me.

I found this inscription on a rock -
Love is Magic.

But Life is too.

So, don’t waste it.
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