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Sweden: West is Best Close to Nature

Wellbeing travel is a growing trend, and no country does that healthy, stress-busting lifestyle thing better than Sweden, a country which is also cheaper than it has been for years. In summers here, lives are lived outdoors and close to nature: by lakes, on towpaths, in canoes. That’s particularly true of our favourite corner, foodie West Sweden…

Watery Wonderland

The lowdown

  • Best for

    Scandi-Noir, digital disconnect, the great outdoors and succulent seafood.

  • When to go

    May to September but shellfish are at their tastiest in Spring and Autumn.

  • Combine with

    Copenhagen for the ultimate foodie trip, or continue into Norway for a more extensive Scandi adventure.

  • Cost

    From £1,195 per person for a 7 night fly-drive including car hire and flights.

Sweden’s southwestern coast is dominated by the Bohuslän Archipelago, a 175-mile, 8,000-island fiesta of relentless natural beauty. In the Bohuslän it’s a cinch to go island-hopping or road-tripping on multi-day trips. Or you could undertake a gruesome pilgrimage: the little town of Fjällbacka is where hometowner Camilla Läckberg sets her crime novels, and we can arrange tours of grisly murder sites. From red herrings to oysters: a little further north is Grebbestad, producer of some 90% of Sweden’s oysters and home to many a seafood platter-serving restaurant. True seafood connoisseurs can join local fishermen on shellfish safaris, helping to collect, cook and eat crayfish, lobster and crab on a lonely islet.

Inland you’ll find Sweden’s archetypal freshwater lakes, forest-flanked and silently, solemnly beautiful. Among the standouts are Lake Hornborga, where over 2,500 migratory cranes perform a ritual mating dance every spring, and vast Lake Vänern, flanked by baroque Läckö Castle. The gardens here are uniquely re-designed each year.

    From seafood to cinnamon buns

    More needs to be said about West Sweden’s gastronomy. For starters – pun entirely intended – there’s actually a seafood ‘Big 5’, similar to the safari version but this time purely for eating. Joining those oysters and mussels are shrimp, crayfish and lobsters. All can be found ethically sourced in West Swedish restaurants, fresh off the boat and quirkily prepared with staple local ingredients like lingonberries, chives or dill. Not that all epicurean pleasures here are salty. Gamey West Swedish classics include elk meat, served with chanterelles from the forests, or venison cooked alongside asparagus, rutabaga (or ‘swede’) and ramsons (wild garlic). Then there are the farm-crafted cheeses and a booming micro-brewery beer scene. No single Swedish culinary item is surely more famous than the yummy cinnamon bun, however. It’s a key part of the local fika – coffee and cake tradition – and that tradition has its capital in West Sweden. Step forward Alingsås, a small bakers’ town with over 30 cafes. Bonus points if you try them all.

    Go to Gothenburg

    Guided foodie walks are also possible in Gothenburg, West Sweden’s chief gateway and served by direct London flights, which include visits to the fish market and dining in little-known, local-loved bistros; just one way to dive into this happy seaside town. Short breaks or trip sections here can also encompass strolls around Gothenburg Botanical Garden, one of the world’s largest, or a walk about the old town of Haga, where cobblestones and timber houses lend austere character.

    Shoppers will delight at Scandi design stores and vintage boutiques aplenty, while more active types may like a kayaking tour which takes you through the old moat, under bridges and along 17th-century canals to the harbour. Alternatively, pack your trunks and make for a nearby sandy beach. Within easy day-trip distance are enchanting seascapes and quaint fishing villages. Look out for the Salt & Sill hotel’s sauna boat. We can also arrange cycling excursions through woods and along lakes – they’re a doddle.

    Lace your boots

    North of Gothenburg is Dalsland, West Sweden’s Lake District. Some 11% of the province is reckoned to be water. Making use of the remaining 89% is Dalsland’s Pilgrim Trail, a lovely, lonely path through genuine waterside wilderness. Stay at cherry-coloured Upperud 9:9, a silo turned low-key hotel filled with live music, good food and a welcoming atmosphere. More well-marked trails await around the Bohuslän’s nature reserves, not least on the happily car-free Koster Islands, known for their shingle fields and lighthouses. Or there’s Marstrand, a harbour town characterised by colourful houses and many a sailing club.

    Lodge with Locals

    West Sweden offers an ample array of excellent hotels, from slickly-designed boutiques such as the Avalon in Gothenburg and its rooftop pool to cosy country retreats like Upperud 9:9 or homely bed-and-breakfasts. A more unusual option, though, is offered by the new ‘Meet the Locals’ scheme, in which curious travellers can share the houses of West Swedish residents for an unusual night. Rather a hotel? Shorter experiences – learning to bake cinnamon rolls, or partaking in the tradition of eating homemade tacos on Friday night – offer another way to get an authentic dose of daily, healthy West Swedish life.