This is the third in a series of posts covering a Shellfish Journey to West Sweden on which I was very kindly invited by the West Sweden Tourist Board and Visit Sweden, together with five other food bloggers. Part 1 covered Villa Sjotorp and a mussel safari from Lysekil; and Part 2 covered a seafood buffet at Cafe Ferdinand in Lyskil. Further posts will follow over the next couple of weeks. An album containing all my shellfish journey photos is available on Flickr.
There is no better way to start your day in west Sweden with a leisurely breakfast, a great cup of coffee, and maybe a lovely cinnamon bun; followed by a brisk walk in the crisp morning air to gaze at the view across the water near Lysekil. What a pity, then, that my day started 45 minutes later than planned with a shocked realisation that I had set my alarm clock incorrectly; that most of the contents of my suitcase were still on the floor; and that the bus taking us to the ferry was departing in less than 30 minutes. Ah well. By the time I hauled myself onto the bus I was very awake.
Our bus journey took us yet further and further north, through countryside covered in trees just beginning to turn golden and dotted with ox-blood coloured clapboard barns and houses with neat white trim. Our destination was the very pretty coastal town of Strömstad where we were due to catch a ferry to the Koster Islands. Seeing as we arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule, and being good dilligent food writers, Su-Lin and I took the opportunity to dive immediately into the small supermarket near the dock (purely for research purposes, of course…!). Unsurprising were the barrel-sized plastic tups of gingerbread on sale. More surprising was the entire chiller cabinet dedicated to… ummm… food in tubes.
Having had our perspective broadened as to what foods can usefully be served in a tube, we boarded our comfy ferry for the 45 minute ride to South Koster Island. The Koster Islands are Sweden's most westerly inhabited islands, about 10km off the coast and consisting of North and South Koster plus an archipelago of tiny islands, a stone's throw from the Norwegian border. South Koster at 8 square km is the larger of the two, while North Koster is only 4 square km. There is a lively permanent community of about 340 people but this swells in the summer as a large portion of the islands' 90,000 annual visitors descend en masse. (No, that is not a typo – 90 thousand!). Farming and fishing are both important established industries, as is tourism. Rooms can be rented from the Ekenäs Hotel (as we did) or from private homes or cabins; plus there is a campsite on North Koster (a regular electric ferry links the two islands). The Koster Islands are also part of the Kosterhavet National Park, Sweden's first marine national park. There are 300 animal species living here that are unique in Swedish waters, as well as basking sharks, harbor seals, and Sweden’s only cold-water coral reef.
We were met as the ferry docked by Helena Van Bothmer and just had time to dump our bags at the Ekenäs Hotel before re-joining Helena on the lawn outside to hear all about the island, its history and its vegetation which includes the rare Bohuslinden tree and an abundance of orchids in the summer. As the island is car-free (apart from the nifty electric tricycles called flakmoppe used to transport goods), the plan for the morning was to rent bicycles the bike shop behind the hotel and explore. Now you know that old expression "it's just like riding a bike", referring to something that you learn once and never forget? Don't believe a word of it. Yes, I could ride a bike as a child but I stopped when I turned about twelve – probably about the same time that I learnt to spell "compound fracture of the tibia and fibula"…! Approximately ten seconds of panic-stricken wobble on a rented bike convinced me that this expression is dangerously untrue and that I was going to be a screaming, terror-stricken liability to the group if I attempted to cycle – so I politely chose to do a walk instead. C'est la vie. The rest of the group set off on two wheels and I set off on two feet, revelling in the silence and the chance to take a photo or ten. The island is a visual feast for photographers, especially at this time of the year. Traditional white clapboard houses stand out against blue skies and amber trees; golden fields of grass sway gently in the breeze; and all sorts of berries add accents to the spectrum of Fall colours. All I had to do was stroll, click the shutter – and dodge the flakmoppe! A couple of hours later, I met up with the cyclists by the church so that Helena could show us the view from "their mountain" – a 45m outcrop of rock that represents the highest point on South Koster Island.
For lunch, we walked a few hundred metres past the church to Kosters Trädgårdar (Koster Gardens), an organic garden, garden centre, farm shop and cafe/restaurant run by Helena and Stefan van Bothmer. A number of years ago, this inspirational couple decided that they wanted a complete lifestyle change and had a vision of a place where they could live in relative harmony with nature, grow and raise much of their own food, and teach others about the concept of permaculture. The result of these dreams is this collection of peaceful gardens and greenhouses, tended by volunteers who have signed up to work there in exchange for free board and lodging and the experience of living on South Koster, as part of the Willing Workers on Organic Farms scheme. We made ourselves at home in the light, airy restaurant and realised we were starving from the morning's exertions! We started with a huge bowl of mixed leaf salad with peppers and toasted pumpkin seeds, all grown on the premises. The seed-studded still-warm wholewheat bread also disappeared at an indecent rate! The main event consisted of steaming bowls of a hearty tomato-based fish stew (local, of course!) with the farm's golden beetroot and kale, and a decadent dollop of aioli. The silence as we ate bore testimony to just how hungry we were! And afterwards we were let loose on the cake and dessert buffet, where we managed to find space for traditional kanelbulle (addictive Swedish cinnamon rolls). After lunch we had a chance to explore the gardens and beautiful greenhouses where much of their gorgeous garden produce was on display – and for sale. In the summer, the greenhouses are apparently also used for art exhibitions and musical performances. We left energised and happy, feeling as if we had had a relaxing min-break, not just a meal.
After our lunch, I was quite looking froward to the brisk walk back to the hotel, arriving back there with a couple of hours to spare before dinner. I grabbed the opportunity to take a quick nose round the very picturesque harbour with its neat boathouses and sparkly late-afternoon sun views. And then it was back to the hotel to get changed for our next adventure: a lobster safari!
All posts in my West Sweden series:
- Villa Sjotorp and a mussel safari in Lysekil, West Sweden
- Café Ferdinand seafood buffet and Strandflickorna Hotel, West Sweden
- South Koster island and lunch at Koster garden
- Lobster safari and lobster lobster dinner at Sydkoster Hotel Ekenäs
- An oyster experience with Everts Sjöbod in Grebbestad
DISCLOSURE: We travelled to Sweden and enjoyed our Shellfish Journey as guests of the West Sweden Tourism Board and Visit Sweden
Flights from Heathrow to Gothenburg fares incl taxes and charges on SAS (http://www.sas.se) start from £63 one way or £103 return
Please also visit West Sweden Tourism’s:
- Website: www.westsweden.com
- Information about the Shellfish Journey: www.westsweden.com/shellfishjourney
- Facebook page: www.facebook.com/westsweden
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/westswedentb
- Blog: www.explorewestsweden.com
Please also visit Visit Sweden’s:
- Website: www.visitsweden.com
- Facebook page: www.facebook.com/visitsweden
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/Sweden