As we launch our guide to Green Holidays in West Sweden, Rhiannon Batten goes camping in Dalsland, visits a fabulous new treehouse at Falköping, enjoys sumptuous local food, swims the Weather Islands off the west coast of Sweden and canoes around the island of Bassholmen.
After a long train journey from London to West Sweden, we were looking for a way to unwind. We found it at Dalslands Activities, an outdoor centre around two hours’ drive northeast of Gothenburg. Our base for the night was a vast tipi perched beneath pine trees at the edge of a cool, clear lake and, though there were three other tipis around it, none were occupied the night we visited. After laying out our sleeping bags on the tipi’s reindeer skins, there was just time for a pre-dinner swim in the lake, giving us a chance to revel in the warm early evening sunshine, and the site’s peaceful solitude.
If we assumed that this would be a rare moment of calm, we were wrong. This was our first stop on a week-long tour of some of the best of West Sweden’s green tourism experiences and we soon discovered that comfortable accommodation set close to nature, and inspired by it, is all but the region’s party trick.
Take Villa Sjotorp, a cosy 10-room hotel and restaurant in Ljungskile, around an hour north of Gothenburg. Not only can guests look out over neighbouring “Freckles Fjord” from its genteel terrace but, in summer, you can scurry down to the bottom of the garden and swim from a small pebble beach. The food, too, is inspired by the surroundings, with sophisticated local, organic menus that include dishes such as potted crayfish from nearby Bohuslän with local vegetables and white fish casserole.
It was a similar story at two new places to stay around Falköping, around an hour’s drive east of Ljungskile. Nästegårdens B&B opened earlier this year, having been refurbished sympathetically to the building’s mid 19th-century heritage (its two bedrooms feature delicate handmade wallpapers, ancient wooden floors and antique bedlinen) and is already attracting flocks of birdwatchers thanks to its location beside Hornborga Lake, famous for the tens of thousands of “dancing” cranes that migrate here each spring. For a bed that’s even closer to nature, we headed on to nearby Hotel Andrum, where owners Bo and Ann-Charlotte Ottoson have recently added a new treehouse suite, Seventh Heaven, to their business. “We love to sleep outside under the stars,” explained Ann-Charlotte, “but the weather isn’t always so good here in Sweden so this was our solution”.
Just north of here is the Vänerkulle biosphere reserve, founded in September 2010, where new cycle routes and walking trails are being developed and linked in to various local sustainable tourism businesses, from cafes and restaurants to hostels and B&Bs (vanerkulle.org).
It seems wrong to visit West Sweden without embracing its coastline, however. So, on our final few days we took to the water, first stop the windblown Weather Islands. Or rather, one of them, a clutch of little red cottages that clung tightly to the rocks about half an hour’s boat ride from Fjällbacka, 90 minutes’ drive north of Gothenburg. There is only one permanent resident on the island, a handyman, but it’s busier than you might expect thanks to the guesthouse and restaurant that have opened up in one of the island’s old pilot houses.
There’s not much to do here besides taking blustery walks among the rocks or a swim in the jellyfish-speckled waters, holing up in the guesthouse’s hot tub or sauna or tucking into a beer and a plate of fresh shrimp. Which is exactly what draws so many peace-seeking regulars.
Proving that you don’t have to dive into the water to get up close to nature in West Sweden, on our last day we met Joakim Hermanson from Upplevelsebolaget (“The Experience Company”) for a kayak tour around the island of Bassholmen.
With the odd heron for company, we paddled out into velvety, clear water on the company’s impressively modern boats. Slipping between smooth granite boulders, forested islands, sheltered bays and remote fishing villages, it was a brilliantly unobtrusive way to see the local wildlife – and to get a welcome glimpse into the local culture, later that day, as we pulled up the kayaks and sat drinking coffee and eating cinnamon buns on a deserted jetty.
>> Words by travelled by Rhiannon Batten who train from London to West Sweden.