West Coast

Västkusten

West coast of Sweden

The west coast of Sweden is one of my favourite summertime destinations. Here are a few of my favourite photos from the west coast which I hope might inspire you to visit.

The quality of the light is superb and, with an average of 9½ hours of sunshine per day in the summer, the weather is often good, although not usually quite as warm or as sunny as on the east coast.

The Bohuslän Coast

The Bohuslän coast is the section from Gothenburg up to the border with Norway. It is is dotted with rocky islands and those that are inhabited tend to have clusters of brightly-painted wooden houses along the shoreline. Most of the villages were originally fishing communities, but today tourism is the main sourece of income and the population of many of the villages more than doubles in the summer.

Island hopping

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Driving is the best way of exploring the west coast, although there is a train service all the way along the coast. The islands are linked by a thread of bridges and short ferry crossings. The ferry crossings are nearly all free and part of the charm of getting around. Sometimes they are just simple line and pulley ferries to take you across a short stretch of sea, although for a Brit, it is usually hard to believe it really is seawater as it is so calm.

Summer houses

The west coast is very picturesque and so it attracts lots of holiday-makers from all over Scandinavia and also quite a lot from Germany. Despite the popularity, it is still easy to to find a private spot, so it seldom feels too crowded.

Many Swedes have summer houses on the islands, which have been in their families for generations and are now jointly owned with their extended family.

Pretty villages

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There are lots of pretty villages on the west coast. One of my favourites is Fiskebäckskil, on the island of Skaftö. It is a quiet hidden-away village, but many consider it paradise. The locals once eked out a living making herring-oil lamps, until electric light ended their trade. Now the village is dominated by holiday homes. Most of the idyllic wooden cottages retain a glimpse of the sea, although the wealthiest owners have large, airy houses with splendid views. Large or small, they are crammed together on small plots, so parking is often a problem. All the gardens are immaculate and tasteful. There is always someone painting, as everything seems to be made from painted wood.

Sailing

Lots of Swedes come to the west coast for the sailing, which is delightful as the water is calm and virtually tide free. With so many islands clustered together it is easy to sail from one village to another and moor up for lunch or an overnight stop.

Every little inlet seems to have a small harbour or a quayside. Most seem to have showering facilities for sailors who want to moor-up and stay the night. Usually there is a restaurant within a short distance but ICA (the west coast's only real supermarket) is often a bit of a trek.

Walking and cycling

If you've not got a boat, many areas on the west coast can be easily and enjoyably explored on foot or by bike.  If you fancy a swim you will find several tempting quiet spots to take a dip. Alternatively you can sit back and watch well-tanned elderly Swedes turning up in their robes for their daily swim. Jetties often have seats, hooks for hanging robes and steps down into the water.  There is no messing around: it is serious swimming exercise.

Short season

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The season on the coast all over Sweden is very short, much shorter than in the UK. Things don't really get going until late June and they start winding down by mid August. Outside of these times many restaurants can be closed during the week.  It's a real pity because I've enjoyed some superb sunny weather in late May and early June, but felt somewhat disappointed by the lack of atmosphere.

At weekends many holiday-home owners from Gothernburg and Stockholm descend on the west coast, so if you want to eat out, especially on Friday night, you may need to reserve a table. This is easy to do because, of course, everyone speaks perfect English and enjoys doing so.

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Swedes love to be outside in the summer. Restaurants will often have tables outside and, if so, they will always provide blankets so you can enjoy the fresh air even when it gets a bit nippy.

Marstrand

The most popular destination on the Bohuslän coast is the island town of Marstrand. There is a real buzz about the town, which had its roots in the herring boom of the mid-16th century. The link with herring is maintained today with a herring festival during the first weekend in June.

There is undoubtably a good atmosphere down on the quayside, but for me it is too much of a honeypot. Although it is known as an eating Mecca, the prices are too high for my budget. I prefer to walk round the island, as there is a really nice path all the way round it. There are some stunning views over the archipelago, some peaceful sunbathing places on the weather-smoothed rocks and several pleasant, if sometimes crowded, beaches for swimming.

The main attraction in the town itself is the impressive Carlstens Fästning, a fortress built in the 17th century, which was once a notorious prison. Tours provide a glimpse into the life and times of the fortress and its inmates. Plays are staged in there and feasts are held during the summer.

Marstrand is a magnet for sailors. It hosts the prestigious Match Cup Sweden event, which is part of the World Match Racing Tour. The event draws the world's best sailing teams to Marstrand. Yacht racing is an ideal sport for spectators in Marstand. The races take place approximately 15m from the shore, providing excellent heart of the action views for the audience. Even if you miss the Match Cup, there is always a good selection of boats to watch and often a race.

Fjällbacka

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Fjällbacka is a picturesque village in an unusually dramatic setting, as a 70 m (230 ft) high granite rock called Vetteberget creates an impressive backdrop to the village and the harbour. The steep narrow streets, lined with low-rise wooden houses and shops, all drop down to the harbour. Actress Ingrid Berhman spent many summers in Fjällbacka and so after her death a bust was erected in her memory. If you do visit Fjällbacka, try and find time to go up Vetteberget as the views over the archipelago from the top are delightful.

Fish n chips in Smögen

Smögen has a reputation as a culinary draw with a daily fish auction. There are lots of open-fronted fishmongers' shops selling mounds of shrimp, langoustine, crab and all manner of smoked seafood.  The boardwalk along the quayside is especially lively.

As a Brit I just had to try fish n chips Swedish style and see how it compared with what many think is Britain's best fish n chip shop at Aldeburgh in Suffolk. The fish was as good and matched up to Aldeburgh's standard, even if the portions are smaller than Brits expect. The batter, being Swedish style, uses more herbs and spices and is in my view better for that, although not as thick and crisp as Aldeburgh's. The chips are of similar quality. Instead of tomato sauce, Swedes serve their fish n chips with remoulad, a sauce made rapeseed oil and eggs mixed with pickles and curry powder. I like both but, as is often the case with Swedish food, there is too much sauce to suit British taste. There was a bit of salad garnish to add colour to the plate, but little taste. Verdict: Smögen 7, Aldeburgh 9!

The Koster Islands

Sailing across to one of the more distant islands, some of which are car-free, is worth the extra time. The ferry journeys can take up to 40 minutes and give a fresh perspective on the archipelago. I particularly like the Koster Islands, Åstol and Gullholmen.

Crayfishing

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The Kosters, which are near Norway, are Sweden's two most westerly inhabited islands. They enjoy more sunshine hours than almost anywhere else in the country. No cars are allowed on either island, so it is bird-watchers' paradise. The islands are made for walking and cycling with easy marked paths through wild-flower meadows and along the sea's edge.

We enjoyed going out on a boat with a fisherman and pulled up some crayfish pots, only to find all the pots were empty. These were then re-baited with salted herring, and again lowered into the sea. If you are lucky to enough to pull up some crayfish, the journey usually continues to a boathouse on Koster where the crayfish are cooked. In our case, we went on to haul up some crab pots instead. We had more success with this, pulling up a total of 48 crabs, four of which we took back to our rented house to cook. They were the best crabs we have ever tasted, but my wife was not totally at ease with the crabs crawling around in the pink bucket on the ferry on the way back.

Åstol

Åstol is a charming little island, so crammed with pretty houses it is known for having no industry, no fishing and no soil! Nonetheless we enjoyed the boat trip there, returning for a picturesque sunset.

The west coast of Sweden has many similarities with Scotland. It was only as I was reflecting on this on Åstol that I discovered that the band playing was Scottish. If you like Scotland, you will like the west coast of Sweden. Give it a try.

John Duxbury

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