Yvonne Gordon visits West Sweden to explore the car-free island of Styrsö, in the Gothenburg Archipelago, by bike and discovers pretty harbours, nature reserves and some wonderful spots for swimming
“You’ll find a Bronze Age grave up there,” says Ola, pointing to Stora Rös in the centre of the island map. On the same map, he has also marked the best swimming spots, the most scenic harbours and the nicest cafés.
We’re on Styrsö Island in the Gothenburg Archipelago, at Ola’s guesthouse, Pensionat Styrsö Skaret. I’ve just arrived off the ferry, a two-minute walk away, and I’m already torn between curling up beside the open fire, candles and books in the cosy B&B, or going exploring on one of the free bikes. The bike wins of course, and I am soon off up the stony path, armed with the map full of notes.
The gravel path turns into an uphill forest trail and as I park the bike and walk up, I notice how quiet and calm it is – there’s just distant birdsong and the swish of a gentle breeze in the trees. I see why the Stora Rös viewing point is a good place to get your bearings before exploring the island.
As the clearing opens up at the summit, I can see nearly the whole island, as well as all the tiny islands, islets and skerries surrounding Styrsö. There are wooden houses with red roofs, and below, a harbour. There’s a lone yacht moored in the sound, and in the distance a ferry slowly moving along. There’s an ancient cairn here too.
Back on the road, it’s still very quiet. That’s because islands are car-free and locals get around the narrow island roads by golf cart – or bicycle. At just 1.58 square kilometres in size, it makes Styrsö a great place for walks, cycling and swimming – the water can be up to 26°C in summer. As I cycle past the tiny Halsvik harbour, a man is tying a small boat to the jetty. Behind, there’s a neat row of red wooden fishing sheds. Along the roads, there are pretty wooden houses with colourful window boxes and immaculate gardens, some containing upturned boats, others with bicycles painted in bright colours. The slow pace of island life makes it a relaxing place to explore.
I reached the Gothenburg Archipelago by ferry – around a 20-minute journey from Saltholmen and it’s free to bring a bike on board. To get to Salholmen from Gothenburg city, you can take a tram (around 40 minutes) or cycle – there’s a scenic bike route, or a more direct commuter bike path along the 12km route.
There’s a regular ferry between all the islands of the archipelago so the next day, I take a bike on the 15-minute journey to Vrångö, the southernmost island in the archipelago. Vrångö has a large nature reserve, a population of around 400 and a long tradition of fishing, especially for crayfish.
There are actually two nature reserves on Vrångö, one north and one south, and the area is an important breeding ground for seabirds and seals. I walk through the southern nature reserve, taking the 4km trail. Here, there’s a Stone Age Cairn, and quiet paths wind past honeysuckle and orchids, with the calls of different songbirds in the warm breeze and views of anchored ships far off out to sea.
There’s just enough time for tea and cinnamon cake in the garden of the harbour café, Skargardens Café, before hopping on the ferry back to the guesthouse on Styrsö in time for a crayfish dinner, a browse of the books beside the fire and a sound night’s sleep.
Yvonne stayed at Pensionat Styrsö Skäret, where doubles start at £130 per night. Bicycles are provided free to guests and can be taken free on the ferry.
On Vrångö, the self-catering noathouse apartments at Kajkanten start from £60 per night per person. From Gothenburg, bike rental costs from £15 per day with Cykel Kungen.
Words and photos by Yvonne Gordon