Travels with V
A small Swedish island full of surprises
Top five on Öland:
- To see: The “Alvaret”, Borgholm castle, ancient castles, “Långe Jan” lighthouse etc.
- Stay and Eat: Queen Victoria’s rest home. Peace and quiet in a classic setting. Borgholm and the castle is near. Good restaurants in Borgholm are “Trädgårdsgatan 26” (excellent gourmet kitchen in tiny diner!), Hotel Borgholm och “Stora Hamnkontoret” (in the harbour, by the sea).
- Hikes: The magical “Alvaret”. Or an easier walk in the “Trolls wood”.
- Beach: a couple of good ones on Öland, biggest and most famous is “Böda Sand” in the north-east.
- Other: Gettlinge prehistoric grave field, Kårehamn fishing harbour, lighthouses Långe Jan (in the south) and Långe Erik (north). Långe Jan is also a great place for bird watching!
Öland is just a stone’s throw off the coast, and easily accessible by a bridge. But it’s still a place full of mysteries. There are ruins here with graffiti many hundred year’s old, the magical stillness of the “Alvaret”, the wry and wild woods of the Troll woods and the surprise of a praised gourmet restaurant in the basement of an ordinary villa, that’s just a few of the things that happened to us during a stay of a couple of days on this island. So join us there!
Since 1972 there’s a simple and easy way to get to Öland from the city of Kalmar on the mainland via the 6 km long Öland Bridge. And all of a sudden you’re in another dimension. Here’s no need to hurry, the roads are mostly narrow and winding. The Alvaret heath dominates the center and the rest is mostly cultivated. Forests are found mostly in the north.
The place is tranquil and idyllic now, but it has had a dramatic and violent history. Borgholm castle had an immense strategic role placed to control the important Kalmar sound that most of the marine traffic in the Baltic sea passed through. From the middle ages and a couple of hundred years on germans, danes and swedes fought to conquer the fortress, which was destroyed and rebuilt many times. In the 17th century the Swedish king Charles X had a strong wall built right across the the island to protect his royal hunting grounds from poachers.
Our journey starts in the main city of Borgholm, a picturesque little small-house town with wooden villas. The main square is dominated by a long and low building with a high tower. You might think it’s the city hall, but it’s actually a church.
We stay in a lodge just south of the city, within walking distance to it, in a stylish mansion with the odd name “Queen Victoria’s resting home”. It was once a place where tired housewives could relax away from the family chores and duties. Now it’s a regular hotel, but the place still looks exactly like it did back then, a hundred years ago.
From here a footpath leads to the caste ruins. It’s a surprisingly well kept building, most of the walls are intact and you can climb stairs and get a fantastic view of Kalmar sound from the upper floors. The castle was never destroyed, but it burnt and was abandoned. For many years it was fashionable to see the ruins, and you can see today graffiti that was carved in the 17th and 18th century!
But times of trouble and war plagued the islanders in much earlier times. And a type of prehistoric defense structure called “ancient fortress” can be found in many places here. They are circular stone walls to where people could flee in times of unrest.
We visited one of the most remarkable of them, the ancient fortress of Ismanstorp where there’s not just the stone wall with its seven gates, inside the circle the remnants of 88 houses are found. This is extremely rare and has been compared to a Roman military camp.
All along the coast of the Baltic sea there are small fishing villages, and Öland is no exception. They are just even smaller here. One that we visited for a seeafood lunch is Kårehamn where they served a very nice plate with smoked salmon and buttered potatoes.
The southern tip of Öland is, as any dedicated bird watcher knows, a magnet for migrating birds. Huge flocks of birds rest and feed here on their way to or from the nordic countries. And many visitors here carry large telescopes in the hope that they might see an exotic bird. The lighthouse is open to the public if it’s not too windy, climb it’s many stairs and get a fantastic view of the surroundings.
We have already mentioned the “Alvaret”, a vast flat heath with a magical atmosphere. There are lots of marked walkways across it but it can still be tricky to navigate in. But in clear weather it’s a great experience!
Finally some pictures from the north side where we found “Byrums raukar”, spectacular sculpted limestone rocks with plenty of fossils (forbidden to take away). Here is also the northern lighthouse “Tall Eric”, and the Troll woods forest.