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Sweden - Kullabygden District, a Rarified Escape to the Land of Kullen
The ancient promontory of Kullaberg and the rippling fields, troll forests and seaside villages of the Kullabygden district offer a classic retreat. Fringed by the lace of nine little harbors and peppered with cozy inns, this quiet corner of the earth also seethes softly as fertile ground for art, local cuisine and outdoor adventure. Laurel Williams unearths the gems of a place where potters, talented chefs, organic farmers, rock climbers and even winemakers flourish and where visitors inevitably will too.
At the old-fashioned Kullamust cider press
The springing of the year
Head a few kilometers north of Helsingborg, along the coast, to discover the Kullabygden district. Spring is a vibrant season here. Milky white blankets of wood anemones bewitch the lofty beech and oak forests and local artists fling wide their doors to welcome visitors. The rich clay deposits in the local soil, the pastoral lifestyle and the windswept views of the headland have made an artist's enclave and a tour along the serpentine roads will send you stumbling upon hand-painted signs announcing artist's workshops around every corner.
The eco-gastronomic mentality is also strong here, with Sweden's largest and most active Slow Food chapter based nearby in Helsingborg, and more signs proclaim fresh eggs, newly gathered honey on the comb and farms selling vegetables and other local products. Try the traditional apple cider from the Kullamust cider press in Mjöhult and in the autumn take your own apples with you to the factory to be turned into cider. Vikentomater, near the village of Viken, cultivates a wonderful variety of organic heirloom tomatoes to perfect ripeness in greenhouses and the potato specialists at nearby Larsviken Farm grow about 450 different kinds of potatoes in their patch and offer potato tastings in their well-assorted farm shop.
The apples at Kullamust
Follow Linné to Viken
Start in Viken and follow the coast, as Carl von Linné did in 1749 on his grand tour of the region. This is especially fitting this year as the entire country commemorates the 300th anniversary of the birth of this celebrated "father of modern taxonomy". Viken is a well-to-do seaside village where narrow lanes lined with half-timbered, thatch-roofed and otherwise venerable dwellings labyrinth around the lively marina. Sunny spring days in this idyll beg for leisurely rambles and impromptu visits to one of the flower shops, art galleries or patisseries along the way.
The magnificently preserved Sophiamöllan windmill in the center of the village is hard to miss. The 170-year-old mill was recently presented with a new set of wings and grinds flour in summertime. Another pleasant diversion is the nineteenth century home of sea captain Paul Jönsson and his restored period garden of ornate boxwood hedges, roses, clematis, herbs, berry bushes and a vegetable patch.
Celebrity chef Niklas Ekstedt, a Viken native son, is openly smitten with his hometown and in June he opens his summer quarters here. Niklas Viken is a beautiful but unpretentious restaurant perched on the seafront with a sun-warmed wooden deck overlooking over the harbor. Here is fresh, uncomplicated and seasonal dining at its best. Just beyond, the glittering water beckons and the first hot days hear the sounds of Viken residents of all ages capering gleefully in the surf.
In his journal, Linné bemoaned the long uninteresting stretch of heather and fairy flax north of Viken, but in the 1800's golf enthusiasts discovered it. The nine-hole seaside golf course there today was designed in 1924 and is one of Sweden's most historic.
Höganäs is made of clay
A cycling path connects Viken to Höganäs, the largest community in the Kullabygden district, where Linné was impressed by the fine harbor and successful fishing trade that distinguished the village. But in the late 1700's the face of Höganäs changed drastically with the discovery of rich coal and clay deposits in the area. Coalfields, brick works and the pottery factories for which Höganäs is now famous, soon dominated the town and in some way they still do. The industrial area looms north of the harbor, brick buildings line the streets and the main tourist attractions are the pottery factories and outlets.
Upon closer inspection Höganäs will also entertain with the sizable collection of public art in brick, steel, bronze and stone that is scattered about town. Among the favorites are a family of pigs out on an adventure on Storgatan, a dog that levitates on Köpmansgatan and a pair of bronze mermaids that watches over swimmers at the Kvickbadet beach.
Browse the shelves at Höganäs Saltglaserat where they have been making the signature Höganäs salt glazed pottery since 1835. The iconic Höganäskrus, a little brown jug that resembles Winnie-the-Pooh's honey pots, is the most classic figure in their home and garden collections and makes a perfect souvenir. Groups can book tours of the factory, try their own hand at the potter's wheel and even dine in one of the old coal ovens. At the Höganäs Keramik-Boda Nova factory store nearby, there is a wide selection of Swedish pottery, glassware and crystal to be had at good prices.
Seeing stars at Krapperup
The walls of the bright brick-red manor of the Krapperup estate are startlingly inlaid with dozens of white seven-pointed stars, representing the coat of arms of the Gyllenstierna family who lived here for hundreds of years. Beneath the walls a pretty moat winks in the sunlight. Exquisite romantic gardens fan out beyond where enormous rhododendron bushes bloom in spring and ponds wriggle with goldfish.
Arriving at this same verdant scene in 1749, Linné scribbled in his journal with barely contained ecstasy: 300 kinds of fruit trees, lavender, lilies, thyme, onions for the herring and heaps of potatoes! Today's visitors to Krapperup will be overjoyed to find this wonderfully green space to be freely accessible to the public year round. On weekends and everyday in summertime, a quaint gift shop sells scented soaps, linens and candles and a snug cafe serves homemade bread, pots of tea and generous slices of cake. The former stable buildings now house an art gallery featuring local artists and a museum that details the history of the estate and the Kullabygden district.
Sinful Mölle by the sea
Mölle is an enchanting white wedding cake of a village leaning luxuriously in the crook of the strong arm of the Kullaberg promontory. In 1870 Mölle was already an immensely popular destination and was classed as one of the top seaside retreats in Sweden. The 1880s saw steamships ply the waters from Copenhagen to Mölle carrying the upper classes of Germany, Denmark and Sweden to enjoy the wild natural landscape and the rare decadence of mixed bathing. This sinful sensation catapulted the town to fame. At the peak of Mölle's popularity, direct trains were rolling in from Berlin and no less than thirteen hotels welcomed adventurous holidaymakers.
The Grand Hotel Mölle was built in 1909 and instantly reigned over the town like a white queen. Glittering all-night parties and liberated ideas flourished here until the First World War led, understandably, to a rapid decline in tourism. Though now slightly creaky and threadbare, the white queen is still standing tall and boasts the most spectacular views in town of the Kattegat and the craggy bluff of Kullaberg. The local surfing crowd knows this and regularly calls the hotel desk to ask if the famous long, clean, right-breaking Mölle wave is cresting.
Lunch in the Grand Hotel's acclaimed Maritime restaurant is relaxed and delicious with local specialties like golden roe on toast and with 'R' de Ruinart champagne by the glass. In the formal dining room, the luminous light, pink seashells, hovering fish and olive colored seaweed of the painted ceiling set you imagining that you are dining underwater, perhaps in fabled Atlantis. On cooler evenings a fire crackles in the lounge and the affectionate hotel cat Findus will not hesitate to occupy you for a catnap and will appreciate the small shrimp you saved for him from your lunch. One wonders if newest Bond bad boy Mads Mikkelsen has been nuzzled by Findus. Rumor has it that the dangerous-looking Danish actor is fond of Mölle and frequents the Grand Hotel.
Dine on the deck or the patio overlooking the steep precipice down to the harbor and revel in the sunset over the Kattegat and a horizon so wide that you can just perceive the curve of the earth.
If you come down out of the clouds to discover the rest of Mölle you will find a popular, though rather choppy marina, a harbor-side ice cream shop, a soothing spa in the Turisthotellet and a few superb art studios. One of the most captivating is that of ceramics artist Kerstin Tillberg who makes wonderfully absurd gold-studded pots, whimsical bowls and the loveliest golden-eared teacups.
At Mölle Krukmakeri, Lisa Wohlfart's pottery at the heart of the village, the beauty of the cream-colored pots and mugs is in their simplicity. The pottery, which celebrates ten years of throwing pots this year, also hosts a cafe that serves homemade treats and lunches in the little garden.
A short path leads out along the sea cliffs from Mölle to Ransvik, a picture perfect cove where families swim from the rocks in the summer and popular Ellen's cafe serves sandwiches, salads, lemon pie, carrot cake and waffles. Further on, and all the way around the peninsula, are more hidden coves to explore.
Ancients & adventurers
The grand protruding headland of Kullaberg is a three star nature reserve where sheer cliffs of ancient Archean rock plunge into the Kattegat creating secret swimming holes, tide pools and prehistoric caves. Some of the caves were already inhabited nearly 10,000 years ago. Trails crisscross the peninsula through beech forests and fields of rare wildflowers, and lead down to many of the caves. Some of the most remote, however, can only be reached from the water so rent a kayak to get privileged access to these isolated spots.
Two local adventure companies organize courses and supply equipment for kayaking, climbing, diving and otherwise enjoying this unique outdoor playground. Climbers, especially Danish ones, are drawn to these primordial rock faces and there are over 800 routes in place here with curious names such as Napoleon's Hat and The Kulla Man's Door.
For over 1000 years, sailors have depended upon a light signal at the tip of Kullaberg to guide them safely past the murderous rocks of the peninsula. Scandinavia's brightest lighthouse continues the vigil today. Visit on a foggy night for a private show of the swirling beams at their most haunting. Linné relates that when a peculiar mist hung about the bluff that locals would whisper to each other that the mythical old crone known as Kullkäringen was brewing something up. It is easy to understand their superstitions after a hike in the luminous woods where gnarled juniper and hawthorn bushes cast supernatural shadows and low stone fences unfurl like elfin ramparts.
Occupying the prime position on the undulating crest of the peninsula and encircled by the 18 holes of the renowned Mölle Golf Club, is the petite, vine clad hotel and restaurant Kullagårdens Wärdshus. Linné was utterly charmed by the location and hospitality of the place when he stayed here in 1749. The inn has the spirit of a hunting lodge and an alarmingly large wild boar, frozen mid-squeal, presides in the lounge. Your host will assure that no such creatures patrol these forests but a herd of stags may dash across the fairways as you tee up. The golf course was officially opened in 1945 and is known for having some of Sweden's best and fastest greens. If you care to make it interesting, play the course on par and they will refund your green fee.
Low stone walls unfurl like elfin ramparts in the troll forest
A hike to the world's fastest growing micro nation
If you only take one hike on Kullaberg let it be to Nimis. This mind-boggling driftwood structure is an unruly maze of towers and tunnels that meanders from the forested cliff-side to the water's edge on the north side of the peninsula. Nimis' creator Lars Vilks nailed the first pieces of driftwood together 27 years ago (Nimis is not yet finished) and the work is officially owned by Christo and Jeanne-Claude of landmark-wrapping fame.
The Swedish authorities sued Vilks in 1982 for building Nimis on the nature reserve and in 1996 Vilks declared the one square kilometer surrounding Nimis to be an independent nation. Ladonia, as he christened it, is now the world's fastest growing micro nation with 13,000 citizens and counting. It is free to become a citizen but if you have higher aspirations then pick yourself a title, pay twelve dollars and join the Ladonian nobility.
The location is obscure and the hike down to Nimis is tricky but approximately 30,000 brave souls visit the site annually nonetheless. In fact, the Discovery Channel recently managed to get a film crew down to film Nimis for their Lonely Planet travel program. To get there, follow the signs to the idyllic Himmelstorp Farmstead and then follow the yellow N's.
The Himmelstorp Farmstead is also the perfect place to stop for a picnic. The farm's four half-timbered thatch-roofed buildings from the 1700's enclose a grassy courtyard and house a homey little cafe that opens in mid-May. Gentle cows graze in a pasture nearby, juicy blackberries shine in the hedgerows and you are likely to glimpse a hawk or peregrine falcon skimming the meadow. At the crown of a hill just a hundred steps away is one of Sweden's finest stone circles. In the early Iron Age ring, where Linné also visited and doubtless knelt to pluck a wildflower, traditional midsummers were celebrated well into the 1900s. Now the midsummer festivities are held down at the farmstead.
The ancient stone circle where traditional Midsummer celebrations were held
Mölle's prim, pretty sister
Boats used to ferry the most discreet mixed bathers to Mölle from Arild, a decidedly more respectable address in those days. It still feels rather prim, like a little jewel box of hollyhocks and honeysuckle. As if to confirm this, of all the medieval fishermen's chapels that once bristled along Skåne's coastline, only the tiny white chapel in Arild is still standing. It has guarded the sheltered harbor since the 1100s and is surrounded by pale yellow cottages trimmed with gingerbread, so preciously called snickareglädje (carpenter's happiness) in Swedish. A sojourn in Arild will have you congratulating newly wedded couples almost daily as they emerge from the perfect little chapel.
On higher ground an old armory inn called Rusthållargården now provides genteel lodgings for tourists and wedding parties rather than the King's cavalry. The restaurant's cozy dining rooms are often full and often exclusively with couples who whisper in the candlelight at tables for two. Like clockwork, the staff expertly serves refined versions of Scanian specialties and precisely chilled wines. This is one of the rare places in Sweden where the cook emerges in his immaculate toque to chat for a spell with each guest.
Have your coffee and cognac in the library or slip off to the spa in the Captain's Villa, which also houses the best rooms to be had on the whole peninsula. You can easily while away an evening in the huge sunken Jacuzzi and saunas of the spa as a contrived galaxy of little stars twinkles in the ceiling overhead.
Arise refreshed in the morning and review your options: play tennis, head out sailing, get married, or go for a round of golf at St. Arild's 18-hole course nearby. Wide fairways, fast greens and lots of water have seen to it that the St. Arild course is ranked 4th in Skåne and the driving range here is called Sweden's best by those who know it.
The seven daughters of Skäret
The most blissful haven of the entire Kullabygden district must be a certain 260-year-old summer cottage in the tiny village of Skäret. The Lundgren family, with their seven daughters (Greta, Ebba, Marta, Rut, Anna, Britt-Marie and Ella) turned the cottage into a coffee house in 1938.
"Flickorna Lundgren på Skäret", as the cafe is called, opens on the first of May every year and serves coffee in shiny copper kettles, freshly pressed juice and homemade cakes and pastries in the garden. Take a seat among the flowers, marvel at the view of the bay and soak up the sounds of children frolicking with skittish chickens, wee piglets and frisky goats.
A coastal road winds from Arild to Skäret, past crooked cottages with fanciful names like Breidablik (vast view), Torpminne (cottage memory) and Rönnebo (rowan's nest). It leads eventually to Jonstorp where the Tunneberga inn has tempted hungry travelers with a genuine Scanian smorgasbord for 300 years. You can also enjoy barbeques in the garden during summer or swing by to pick up a basket full of goodies to take on your picnic.
Good wine needs no bush
The light sandy soil and benevolent microclimates of the Kullabygden district nurtures fledgling wineries of which the Kullabygdens Vingård is the most promising. Owners Murat Sofrakis and Bert-Åke Andersson and Winemaker Lena Jörgensen bought their first stocks from Danish grower Jens Michael Gundersen of the Dansk VinCenter outside Copenhagen. They planted the stocks in the tiny plot in Häljaröd, 150 meters from the seashore in the most northeastern extremity of the Kullabygden.
After a few years of careful experimentation, the winery became the first in Sweden to produce red wine from Swedish grapes in commercial quantities. They are now producing quality red, white and rose wines supplemented by a larger sister domain outside of Malmö called the Nangijala Vingård. Stainless steel tanks and oak aging barrels equip the small production room in Häljaröd and a tasting room and wine cellar are under construction. The winery expects to be able to welcome guests for tastings in 2009 and until then curious wine-lovers should ask for the wines in the local restaurants or order them via the Systembolaget.
This spring's releases include their L'atitude 55°32, a red wine from Rondo grapes, and the crisp, fruity and minerally fresh Ran, a white wine from Solaris grapes which boasts varieties such as Merzling, Muscat Ottonel, Reisling and Pinot Gris in its cultivar family tree. And if you were expecting Swedish wines to be barely drinkable novelties then expect to be astonished. The key is their commitment to restricting grape yields to an exceptionally low level, only 10 to 20 hl/ha, which is diligent and results in fine, concentrated wines.
To raise a glass of this special wine is a fitting way to savor your memories from an adventure in the Kullabygden and to seal your promise to return to this rare retreat. Come to eat, come to play, come to live but most of all come to let the natural beauty of the Kullabygden inspire your soul and soothe your senses.
Ängelholm's airport is just a short drive from the Kullabygden district and has direct flights to and from Stockholm. Kastrup in Copenhagen and Sturup in Malmö serve international travelers.
Drivers can follow the E6 north from Malmö (1 hour) or south from Gothenburg (2 hours) and the E4 from Stockholm (7 hours). Trains pass the peninsula by but run several times a day from Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm to Helsingborg where busses head to the Kullabygden district and makes stops in Viken, Höganäs, Krapperup, Mölle, Arild and Jonstorp.
If you have your own boat then this is the perfect way to arrive and to explore the villages from their pretty harbors.
Where to stay
Grand Hotel in Mölle: www.grand-molle.se
Hotel Kullaberg: www.hotelkullaberg.se
Kullagårdens Wärdshus: www.kullagardenswardshus.se
Strand Hotel: www.strand-arild.se
Jonstorp Hostel: www.jonstorp.com
Höganäs Tourism: www.hoganas.se
Mark your calendar
April 6th to 15th, The Konstrundan
April 30th, Walpurgis celebrations
June 1st to 3rd, The Trädgårdsrundan
June 1st, Flora Amalia
June 6th, National Day celebrations
June 21st, Midsummer's Eve
Get more information from the Wikitravel Sweden Travel Guide.
www.niklas.se: Seaside Restaurant Niklas in Viken
www.vikentomater.se: Organic tomato paradise in Viken
www.larsvikenslantbruk.se: Organic potato paradise and farm shop in Viken
www.saltglaserat.se: Salt glazed ceramics center in Hvgands
www.hoganaskeramik.se: More Hvgands ceramics
www.bodanova.se: Swedish glass and crystal design outlet in Hvgands
www.krapperup.se: The beautiful Krapperup Estate
www.kerstintillberg.com: Potter Kerstin Tillberg in Mvlle
www.mollekrukmakeri.se: Potter Lisa Wohlfart in Mvlle
www.ransvik.se: Ellen's seaside cafi in Ransvik
www.kullabergsnatur.se: The Kullaberg Nature Reserve
www.specialsport.se: Special Sport Experiences and Equipment
www.kullaaventyr.com: Adventure Experiences and Equipment
www.mollegk.se: The Mvlle Golf Club
www.ladonia.com: The world's fastest growing micronation - Ladonia
www.starild.se: The St. Arild Golf Club
www.fl-lundgren.se: Garden Cafi Flickorna Lundgren in Skdret
www.tunneberga.se: The restaurant at Tunneberga Inn in Jonstorp
©Laurel Williams, 2007
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