The Corona pandemic made traveling abroad in the spring of 2021 if not impossible, then in the best case very tedious. We have therefore continued our exploration of Sweden, under Corona-safe forms. After two visits to Dalarna and one to Skåne last year, we made a road trip though Bohuslän in April 2021. If I am allowed a somewhat simplified geographic description, we can say that Bohuslän corresponds to the Swedish west coast from the city of Gothenburg in the south to the border with Norway in the north. In this article I list the highlights of our trip, which can be used as an inspiration if you are planning your own visit to Bohuslän.
For me Bohuslän is all about small picturesque coastal villages and towns. With its 600 000 residents, Gothenburg is anything but small, but in my opinion, one of the best aspects of road trips is the possibility to combine contrasting experiences. And it would be a shame to miss this wonderful city. There are countless guides to Gothenburg, so I will not even make an attempt into creating another one. I will instead make a case for an area of Gothenburg that I discovered on this trip, and that typically is not part of a tourist itinerary (which can be argued to be part of its allure), namely Eriksberg. Eriksberg is a former port being developed into a residential area. I admit to being biased to these kinds of converted industrial areas, living in one myself (Hornsberg in Stockholm). Similar areas that I think are highly visit-worthy are Hammarby Sjöstad and Norra Djurgårdsstaden in Stockholm, Västra hamnen in Malmö and Öster Mälarstrand in Västerås. But I digress, back to Eriksberg. Just take a stroll there on a nice day and soak up the views and the atmosphere. Do not miss the impressive crane that has cleverly been left there as a testimony to the history of the area.
Making our way north from Gothenburg, our first stop was Marstrand. Upon leaving the ferry, we headed straight for the most prominent sight in Marstrand, Carlsten fortress. Behind the fortress there are wonderful hiking opportunities, with vast views over the blue sea and the barren rocks typical for the Swedish west coast. Do not miss the narrow passage called Nålsögat. Hiking turned out to be a theme of this trip for us. After the short hike, we made our way down to the village, ate a light lunch at Bergs konditori and took a walk among the pretty houses of Marstrand.
Marstrand was also the site of the strangest experience of this trip. We were followed by a small girl, I would say she was around four years old. We quickly realized that she was sad and alone. So we asked her if she was lost and started a quest to find her parents. We found them in a nearby restaurant, not at all worried. I don’t think they even realized that she had been gone. I will never forget the looks I got from them – they were not looks of worry or gratitude, but they signaled “Who are you and why are you interrupting our lunch?” I am aware that this paragraph is out of place in an article like this, but I had to include it because I am hoping that it finds its way to the parents of this poor little girl. If you see this, please contact me, I am dying to know what you were thinking. I regret that I did not confront you there and then, I was simply too shocked by your behavior. Your daughter could have been kidnapped, fallen in the sea, climbed the ferry…
Klädesholmen was our next stop. It is a typical Bohuslän village with its white houses. It also happens to be the location of Sweden’s first floating hotel, Salt & sill where we spent the night. During our drive there from Marstrand, the weather turned from sunny to cloudy and very, very windy. Not at all strange for Bohuslän in April, I guess. This give us a boat like experience, as our room was swaying on the waves during the whole night.
Another prominent feature of Klädesholmen is the hotel restaurant, where we had our Easter dinner. If you are wondering what a typical Easter meal in Sweden is, let me just say that it is very similar to a typical Christmas meal (julbord in Swedish). One of the mandatory foods is pickled herring, which is only fitting because Klädesholmen has been the Swedish center for herring during several hundreds of years. And it shows, they were exquisite. My favorite was the one pickled in gin and elderflower. I have a soft spot for elderflower ever since my early childhood in Croatia thanks to my grandma making elderflower juice. The rest of the meal was characterized more by confused staff than by good food. Which got me thinking of the logistic nightmare it must be to run a restaurant in places with such an expressed seasonality. If a restaurant is successful during one summer and changes all of its staff for the next season, can it even be considered to be the same restaurant? Do not get me wrong, it was still an enjoyable dinner, but it was obvious that the staff was still warming up. The breakfast was amazing though, not only because of the food, but also because of the view from the restaurant.
The annoyingly cold and strong wind did not wane in time for us leaving Klädesholmen, so we unfortunately missed a walk through the village and tried to experience it from the car instead. It is not the same thing, but it was obvious that on a nice sunny day, Klädesholmen must be wonderful. I also liked that Carlsten fortress was visible from the village.
Some 20 kilometers from Klädesholmen, the sculpture exhibition park in Pilane is not to be missed. Since it was of season, there was only one sculpture on display, Anna by Jaume Plensa, but already that made the visit worthwhile. We enjoyed both the sight of the impressive sculpture from below the hill it resides on, and the view of the landscape from the foothill of the sculpture.
Our next stop was Grundsund, a village adjacent to the more widely known Fiskebäckskil. What brought us to Grundsund was an open lunch restaurant, Smultron & tång. Being of season, much of our itinerary was decided by which good restaurants were open, as most were still closed. Smultron & tång offered a good value seafood lunch, while Grundsund offered the typical Bohuslän charm with white houses, fishing sheds lining up the waterline and a short hike on barren cliffs, with the customary great views.
Lysekil is a town, so the village charm that Klädesholmen and Grundsund had may not be as striking, but it does offer a substitute through its old town, Gamlestan. Even here a stunning hiking experience can be had a stones throw from the town’s center, at Stångehuvud nature reserve.
Smögen is the most known tourist destination in Bohuslän. As with Grundsund, Smögen boasts white houses, fishing sheds (a bit more colorful than the ones in Grundsund) and barren cliffs with great views of the village, the sea and the sunset. But that does not mean that the experience is repetitive in any way, as each new village and new hike offered something different. During our visit, Smögen was quite sleepy with most shops and restaurants being closed, which I guess is not the impression Smögen’s summer visitors have.
Fjällbacka was our base for three days. Again the quintessential Bohuslän checklist was ticked off here – white houses, fishing sheds and barren cliffs. But the cliffs came with a twist – it was like a giant boulder was placed in the middle of the village – meet the Vetteberget hill. The climb was not very demanding and the view was well worth it. We were up there both during sunset and early next morning. Fjällbacka was also the high point of our trip in the culinary sense – the Mamsell restaurant’s seafood stew was a work of art, both visually and taste-wise. The same restaurant was also the venue of our breakfasts, and we had it all to ourselves, so we took our time enjoying the view of the sea and the food. From the friendly hotel staff we learned that this tranquility is not something one can find there during the summer, and that the summer of 2020 was especially crazy – due to the pandemic most Swedes refrained from travelling aboard and turned inwards instead.
I already touched upon the aspect of the strong seasonality of Bohuslän. This worked both for and against us. On the one hand, we needed to plan ahead as a lot of establishments were still closed. But on the other hand we had most of the places to ourselves. But I could not help to wonder how Bohuslän looks like in the summer. I will wait out the pandemic before trying to find out though, as I believe that the summer of 2021 will be too crowded for comfort. I am not a big fan of crowds, with or without Corona.
The Swedish west coast is not exactly known for its good weather. Rather, it is notorious for being windy and wet. We were quite lucky because most of the time we could enjoy clear skies, but the wind was strong, some days even merciless. But all in all, coming there with low weather-wise expectations, in the end we were quite satisfied.
Based on this trip, for us Bohuslän is all about visinting quaint villages, eating fresh seafood, and hiking barren cliffs while enjoying great views over the Kattegatt.