Did you know that there are 8,000 islands along the coast of Bohuslän? The best way to explore them is by boat or kayak. I must admit that Bohuslän has a very special place in my heart. To me Bohuslän is smooth, pink granite rocks, picturesque fishing villages where red boathouses jostle for place with beautiful white wooden homes, an invigorating salty sea breeze, fresh shellfish and a varied natural landscape. Join me on a cruise through the archipelago!
Every time I visit Bohuslän, I immediately experience a sense of calm. Although I have been to Bohuslän many times, I’m swept off my feet every time – it’s almost like a teenage crush.
The Bohuslän of my childhood
I have lots of childhood memories from Bohuslän. The many still evenings spent handline fishing for mackerel with my family on perfectly calm water, salt in my hair, running across the granite rock, crabbing and swimming – until my mother ordered us out of the water, as our lips were turning blue. The joy of mooring our boat in one of the many small harbours and buying fresh shellfish on the pier; later enjoyed in the boat’s cockpit. Or my dad’s lunchtime classic; baguette with smoked mackerel and ‘skagenröra’ – a creamy prawn mix! I still buy this every time I’m in Bohuslän and I always think of him!
Smooth island cruise with Captain Roy
If you would like to explore Bohuslän but don’t have your own boat, there are a number of options. I decided to travel with the cruise company, Kulturbåtarna, which offers a number of different cruises along the coast. The boats depart from Gothenburg, which makes this the perfect choice for anyone spending time in Gothenburg and wanting to experience the archipelago for a few days. My trip started on Gullholmen, an idyllic little island near the big island of Orust. Gullholmen is easy to reach by ferry from Tuvesvik (Orust). On the quay I met Roy, the charming captain, who proudly steers the steamship Ellen af Bohuslän (anno 1885). He is also very popular with the ladies. Could this be because he is a sea captain, or a result of his genuine friendliness and handsome Swedish features? I have no idea, but Captain Roy and his crew look after their guests well and tell amusing and interesting anecdotes from the sea during our journey. They share their knowledge of the sea, play songs by Swedish troubadour Evert Taube and serve cups of coffee. Always with a cheeky smile!
The idea behind the Kulturbåtarna cruises is that you enjoy a pleasant boat trip during the day. Along the way, the boat stops off in pretty fishing villages, where there are guided tours and free time to explore independently. In the evenings, you enjoy local well-prepared meals, often fresh fish and shellfish, before spending a comfortable night at a coastal hotel. Suits me perfectly!
Floral scents and salty winds
Our first stop turned out to be the village of Fiskebäckskil. Fiskebäckskil is full of charm and best reached by boat from Lysekil. It is an old fishing community on the island of Skaftölandet. The cobbled streets are lined with white wooden houses, complete with ornate sun lounges and mature gardens with beautiful roses, lavender and marguerites. The scent of all these flowers mixes with the aroma of salt and seaweed, carried by the wind from the sea. Each house is more beautiful than the last! I really enjoy ambling along the narrow lanes and chatting with the locals. Not far from the residential houses, the red boathouses line the quay, where boats flying Swedish flags are gently rocked by the waves. On the rocky shores and piers tanned children play, lying prone to catch crabs using a clothes peg tied to a piece of string – just like I used to as a child. It looks almost like a postcard, and I believe this is how many tourists imagine Sweden and the West Coast.
Fiskebäckskil and Smögen – Gems of Bohuslän
After our first day on-board, we spent the night at Hotel Gullmarsstrand in Fiskebäckskil. At Gullmarsstrand you stay as close to the water as it is possible to get, on a long pier with views of the bays and islands of the Gullmar Fjord. The menu of fresh fish and shellfish is a real highlight and my taste buds were singing with joy as we sat in the fully glazed restaurant. From here, we had an amazing view over the sea and the colourful sunset warmed my heart. This is life at its best! The following morning, we were treated to a guided walk on the island, before setting off towards are next destination – Smögen.
The journey was amazingly beautiful and we sailed past fjords, open waters and a number of islands. We saw chubby seals basking on rocks and islets – completely relaxed and content in their salty environment. The colour of the rocks changed as we moved along, shimmering in pink and grey. Who would have thought stone could be this beautiful?
The Smögen Pier: seaside delicacies, shopping and partying
Once on Smögen, we walked along the world famous Smögen Pier, before heading for Restaurant Skäret and a generous lunch. We were served a delicious rich fish casserole, which was rinsed down with a cold drink. The gorgeous location of the restaurant makes this the perfect place for both people- and boat-watching.
After lunch, we did a spot of shopping in the old boathouses that are now home to various stores with a maritime theme, selling everything from clothes to home furnishings and yachting equipment. Smögen is one of Sweden’s most popular tourist destinations in the summer and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The island has several nice places to swim, with wonderfully smooth flat rocks and child-friendly sandy beaches. The Smögen Pier is the biggest tourist attraction, with its shops, coffee shops and restaurants.
In the evening, the pier turns into a rocking entertainment palace, with music, dancing and partying on the program. I like the sharp contrasts on Smögen; the quaint old boathouses – including those used by local fishermen, an industry that is still important for the island – the smooth flat rocks that lend themselves to sunbathing, relaxed meals on the pier, a great range of shops and entertainment, along with plenty of activities, including canoeing, walking, whisky tastings, shellfish safaris, spa treatments – not to mention the beautiful nature reserve Hållö fyr.
Ice cream, sunset and spa – with a view!
We ended the afternoon with an ice cream on the quay, legs dangling and faces soaking up the sunshine, listening to the shrieks of sea gulls and the sound of boat engines chugging past. The summer evening offered an unbelievably beautiful sunset, why we decided to enjoy our dinner on the large terrace of Smögens Hafvsbad. Can there really be a more attractive view than a bright red sunset behind rocks and islands?
If we’d had slightly more time (or if I was slightly better at getting up in the morning) I would have taken the opportunity to relax in the hotel spa. Smögens Hafsvbad opened in the year 1900, when it was a popular place for recreation. It was also Bohuslän’s last traditional spa resort, where people took the waters. Smögen is a place I visit regularly, so I will save the spa experience for next time. Perhaps I’ll combine it with the hotel’s popular Langoustine Safari? In my opinion, langoustines are the tastiest shellfish by far!
Fjällbacka – criminally beautiful
The last stage of our journey takes us to Fjällbacka. Entering the harbour of Fjällbacka is a spectacular experience; the dramatic Vettberget Mountain towers over the little town, with its picturesque boathouses and white wooden houses. The old stone church is not only a place of worship, but also a guiding point for sailors and an important place in Camilla Läckberg’s detective stories. Fjällbacka is one of my favourite places along the coast of Bohuslän – and I am not alone. Large numbers of tourists come here to enjoy the charming coastal location, delicious food and nearby islands, in particular Valö and Väderöarna. Today, Fjällbacka is best known for the books by crime writer Camilla Läckberg, all set in this idyllic seaside community, and the fact that our perhaps best known actress ever, Ingrid Bergman, spent her summers here.
We had lunch in the sun at Restaurant Bryggan Fjällbacka – again with amazing sea views, this time over the busy guest harbour. A few of the skippers seemed a lot more experienced than others, and we had a great time watching the many possible, and impossible, ways to moor a vessel. Man on yacht, shouting to his wife: – Jump ashore! She jumped – but without the line!? General confusion and great lunchtime entertainment.
Ingrid Bergman and Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka
In my view, Bryggan is the best restaurant in Fjällbacka; not only because of the magnificent sea views, but also because of the wonderful food on offer, which includes day-fresh prawns, langoustines, mussels, crabs, oysters and fish. And naturally, lobster when in season. Susanne Maxvall, who runs Bryggan, pays a lot of attention to detail and has spent plenty of time carefully planning Bryggan Fjällbacka and the hotel Stora hotellet, which is open all year round. After lunch, we decided to have coffee like a proper movie star and walked to Ingrid Bergman’s favourite café, Setterlinds bageri, where we bought delicious cinnamon swirls (despite the fact that Ingrid Bergman’s favourite was almond meringue). After our snack, it was time for a guided Läckberg Walk with Åsa Cunniff from the guide company Kustguiden. She really loves her Fjällbacka and showed us, with great enthusiasm, a number of the murder scenes from Camilla Läckberg’s books/films. We ended the tour with a walk through the gorge Kungsklyftan, which was also where the children’s film Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, based on a novel by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, was filmed. We climbed the steps up onto Vetteberget, from where we had a magnificent view over the archipelago of Fjällbacka. I had to pinch myself several times… this really is for real!
There are plenty of beautiful places to visit in Bohuslän and with Kulturbåtarna you are guaranteed to find new favourite places to enter under the heading ‘places I’d like to return to’.
Text Emelie Persson from the West Sweden Tourist Board