Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Skåne's secret sun coast

My travel feature about Sweden's southernmost municipality, Trelleborg, will be published in the summer issue of South of Sweden Magazine. Here is a sneak preview of the article.

Skåne’s secret sun coast

Trelleborg’s municipality lies sunning itself at the very southernmost tip of Sweden and conceals a summer paradise of endless sandy beaches, a city of palm trees and a honeycomb of quiet country roads. These lead you to preserved villages where lauded gourmet restaurants, exclusive shops, art galleries and bed & breakfasts cluster in little oases. As the town proper gears up to celebrate its 750-year anniversary this summer, Laurel Williams learns that Trelleborg is much more than its reputation as just a busy port of entry between Sweden and continental Europe.

A place in the sun
The Trelleborg region has been inhabited for over ten thousand years and Stone Age settlers, Danish Vikings and medieval herring merchants have all left their mark on this land that lies so strategically and temperately at Sweden’s southernmost extremity. Entering from the north, pass a strand of beech forest that opens onto lush hills and dales tumbling down to meet the Söderslätt, Sweden’s most fertile plain. The green and yellow patchwork of flowering rape, wheat, potatoes, sugar beets, corn and peas is freckled with small preserved villages and stately farms that cause this region to be called the kingdom of farmers. Still today, provincial hospitality and friendliness prevails and you will find the people of the Trelleborg region to be warm and eager to accommodate you.

To the south, soft sandy beaches, crystal clear water and harbors great and small embellish the 35-kilometer coastline facing the open horizon of the Baltic Sea. The beaches feel secluded, enjoy full southern exposure and catch the sun from dawn till dusk, ensuring you a sunrise over the water for your early morning dip and a shimmering sunset for a romantic beach rendezvous.

The distance from one village to the next is often just a pleasant walk or breezy bike ride along beech or willow lined avenues. Do not be put off if asphalt gives way to gravel lanes veering out into endless fields. Give yourself time to explore these especially and you will be rewarded with the quiet beauty of this landscape and then chaperoned by butterflies past balmy gardens into the next perfect little village or sometimes to another country altogether.

Little Italy
Arriving at Idala Gård, by way of one of the aforementioned gravel lanes, is to be transported to a secret golden corner of Italy. The exquisite farm has been in the family since 1635 and your hosts, Pia and Hans Nyman have gathered the essences of Friuli, Liguria, Apulia and Tuscany here. Four long whitewashed buildings form a sheltered cobbled courtyard and under the big tree at its center is sweet old Emma, the family’s Labrador retriever, waiting to greet you with a lopsided grin.

Choose your table in the courtyard or the airy dining room and be dazzled with big platters of antipasti and Italian effusiveness. Once you have discovered the place you will return again and again for the balsamico onions, sizzling polenta cakes and mouthwatering basil pesto emerging daily from the bright open kitchen.

They fire up the grill on Wednesday evenings in July and August and the occasional pig roast is celebrated with live music. Thursdays are pizza and antipasti nights, a steal at 150 SEK. The wine cellar is refreshingly stocked with exclusively Italian wines and even the beer and water hails from Italy. Join an Italian wine tasting or cooking class and stay for the weekend in one of the farm’s grand rooms for a real Italian escape.

The village green
Good things gather together in the little villages of the Söderslätt, which is perfect for the slow traveler. Pause in Haglösa and find the old schoolhouse, now slickly remodeled as the Villa Ancora guesthouse, gallery and café. If luck is on your side, you will find the musically talented owners, Monica and Christian Einarson hosting an impromptu concert in the great room where the grand piano stands ever ready.

Monica is an accomplished opera and musical star whose stunning smile you may recognize from her role as celebrity voice coach on the Fame Factory television show. Sign up for one of their workshops or learn how to sing your heart out with a private voice lesson. Then stroll across the village road to Frida’s Gård, where you will find a quaint little farm shop in a former henhouse proffering lovely French and Danish kitchen and garden design treasures.

In the tiny village of Västra Torp, a crooked hobbit-like cottage houses a genuine Scanian gourmet haven. The Hedmans Krog restaurant serves local delicacies like wild garlic soup made from tender wild garlic shoots handpicked in a nearby glen. Stooping to enter the snug dining rooms increases the feeling of hobbit coziness inside and tables are also set for lunch and dinner out in the lush little herb and spice garden in the shade of wizened fruit trees.

Ten paces away, find soft beds in lofty white rooms at Hedmans Pensionat, a charming family-owned bed and breakfast in the former Västra Torp schoolhouse. The generous breakfast is served under the vaulted ceiling of the common room and you are welcome to use the barbeque in the garden on summer evenings.

Around the next corner is another ancient farmhouse and the former stall is now the pottery studio Hjärtegården, where artist Barbro Norrström literally puts her heart into her creations. Every colorful piece, from the tiniest garlic zester to the largest pitcher and basin set, is embossed with a heart all its own, making them sought after wedding and anniversary gifts.

Down by the seashore
From Västra Torp the sea is barely a kilometer distant and best accessed through Böste Läge. In this ancient fishing village boats anchor off the coast or are dragged up on the beach for lack of a harbor as they have been for centuries. The village road is still unpaved. Hedgerows, climbing roses and fragrant lavender bushes line your way past the summer cottages and paths slink between their long narrow yards down to the secluded sandy beach.

Near the Eastern border of the region, the summer village of Beddingestrand hugs one of the finest strips of sandy beach in the country. The long pristine ribbon of pale sand is kissed by silvery water and banked by low dunes. Pine trees offer shade and lend the air that hot summer perfume of baked pine needles.

Hire a cottage here or take in at the lovely guesthouse, Pensionat Rosengården, and wander down to the beach after breakfast. Tropical drinks and Latin rhythms at Beddingestrand’s very own cabana restaurant, 2:a Sandbank, is the right way to cap off a long lazy day on the beach.

The Deep South
A quaint lighthouse watches over Smygehuk, Sweden’s most southerly little spurt of land and very popular tourist destination. Climb the 17 meters up the precarious spiral staircase inside the turn of the century lighthouse for panorama of 180 degrees of shimmering seas and 180 degrees of quivering fields that add up to a magnificent view.

A modern beacon further out to sea now warns ships off the Kulla Shoals but the old lighthouse beam is still lit every night. The lemon yellow lighthouse keeper’s residence is now a popular hostel and the former laundry outhouse hosts a doll-sized maritime museum.

Follow the path from the corner of the garden to the tiny harbor where the air is pungent with seaweed and smoked herring from the Smyge Smokery. Pick up some picnic nibbles and then pose with the southernmost point marker by the harbor.

The harbor was once a lime quarry, thus the milky sheen of the turquoise water, and there is a timeworn limekiln nearby where lime for whitewashing local houses was prepared. Continue along the water’s edge to the 19th century Merchant’s Warehouse (Köpmansmagasinet), which now functions as a tourist office, local craft exhibit and a cozy café that opens under new ownership this summer.

Smyge goes to Hollywood
For the seamless link from Smyge to Hollywood look for the huge nude statue called Famntaget (The Embrace), a shameless beauty caressed by the wind and sun. Young Brigit Holmquist modeled for the statue by well-loved Trelleborg artist Axel Ebbe. Holmquist was the daughter of the Trelleborg factory director that commissioned the statue but she is more famously known as Uma Thurman’s maternal grandmother. Can you see the resemblance?

Oprah quizzed Thurman about the statue on her talk show and the star herself recently visited Trelleborg, under all secrecy, to see the statue with her own eyes and explore her Swedish roots.

The city of Vikings & palms
Medieval Trelleborg emerged from obscurity in 1257 when it was mentioned in royal correspondence as an important shipping and merchant city. Three years later the Danish royal family presented Trelleborg to Sweden as a wedding gift at the union of Danish Princess Sophia and Swedish Prince Valdemar. Wedded bliss did not stop Denmark from re-conquering the town soon after this and Trelleborg stayed in Danish hands until the decisive war of 1658 that brought all of Skåne under Swedish rule.

Though 1257 is the town’s official birthday, Trelleborg was already strategically important in the late 900’s when famed Viking king Harald Blåtand (Blue Tooth) ordered a ring fortress of over 100 meters in diameter to be built here. The Trelleborgen, as it is called, gave the town its name and is now partially reconstructed on its original site, right in the center of town. The fortress hosts Viking activities all summer long and a storming of the fortress is reenacted during the Viking Festival days in July, drawing would-be warriors from all over Europe. Today, the harbor that has hosted scores of Viking long ships and Hanseatic merchant vessels still commands most of the region’s commercial activities and is in fact Sweden’s second largest seaport.

Nobody misses an opportunity here to remind you that this is as south as it gets in Sweden. The prime location has been Trelleborg’s principal claim to fame since the early 80’s when it was branded Sweden’s Costa del Sol. It was then that local marketing guru Alf Näslund first tackled the challenge to attract families to settle here and fill the new jobs that were rapidly being created.

Näslund carted home a dozen palm trees from Alicante, Spain and today they have multiplied to line the city’s front street and pop up all over town from June to October every year. One of the city’s roundabouts, where a tropical colossus sways its fronds, was recently voted the most beautiful roundabout in Sweden. Trelleborg throws a full two-day party called the Palm Festival every August.

The currency of the world
To attract visitors to Trelleborg, Näslund also invented the clever ‘Tax Free for Tourists’ system that allows you to get your VAT back all over the world and is now a business worth billions of Euros.

Trelleborg’s local currency is another Näslund brainchild that has drawn media attention to the town. The Trelleborg coins are slightly larger than the Swedish five-crown coin, come in copper, silver and gold and are worth 50, 500 and 5,000 SEK respectively.

“We thought we would end up in jail, since it is illegal to mint your own money,” Näslund marvels, “but all the banks and shops accepted it as valid currency.”

You can even pay with the local coins at the state-owned liquor store, Systembolaget. Mostly though, people buy the coins as souvenirs and collector’s items. The stunning total amount in circulation is approximately five to ten million SEK.

Summer in the city
Trelleborg celebrates its 750th birthday this summer with lavish festivities, the most extravagant of which is the living and home show ‘Leva & Bo 07’ in August. Architects have designed nearly 300 modern concept homes and apartments, including ecologically certified Uniqhus houses, which will open their doors to visitors for the two weeks of the event.

A wealth of activities and live entertainment is planned and a star-studded Rhapsody in Rock concert hosted by Robert Wells forms the grand finale. Similar projects, like the development of the North Harbor in Helsingborg and the West Harbor in Malmö, have worked wonders to enhance the appeal of those cities.

Trelleborg is dominated by the expansive harbor from whence millions of passengers are ferried to Rostock, Sassnitz and Travemunde in Germany every year. But the heart of town is the quiet pedestrian street Algatan that spills out onto the main square and city park. Saturdays are market days on the square and stands crowd around Axel Ebbe’s enormous sea monster fountain at its center. An old water tower looms over the scene and locals gather in glass café pavilion at its base.

On the other side of the park, through the rose garden and past aviaries, is a small temple to Ebbe’s heartily Scanian and sometimes irreverent art. The town’s most popular sculpture, however, is the high-heeled clique of Böst ladies created by Malmö artist Fred Åberg. The ladies hide their faces under umbrellas on Algatan and one of the women stretches out a slim hand to passersby who leave her little offerings. A man clings (almost) halfway up a huge bronze pole a little further along on Algatan in another Åberg sculpture called “Nästan Halvvägs” or “Almost Halfway”.

Duck off Algatan into Trelleborg’s savviest big city espresso bar, the coffee and cream-colored Café Systrar & Böner, where organic baby food is served alongside the lattes.

The finest epicurean evening in town is found at Hotel Dannegården on Strandgatan. The restaurant in the wealthy ship owner’s villa from 1910 is praised in the White Guide for its classic gourmet cuisine and their selection of after dinner brandies and whiskies was once crowned the finest in Sweden.

Down a dram of the world’s oldest and most expensive whiskey, sip Armagnac from 1890 or sample from the 17 vintages of Calvados Coeur De Lion. Then pluck a plump cigar from the humidor and enjoy the evening’s constitutional in the period garden. Time is an illusion and here, as in the rest of Trelleborg, you are free to travel in it.

Getting there & getting around
By air – Both Copenhagen’s international airport (Kastrup) and Malmö Airport (Sturup) are just 30 minutes from Trelleborg by car.

By land – Drivers can follow the E6 south from Malmö (30 minutes) or take scenic coastal road 9 east from Ystad. Local and regional buses connect the villages to Malmö, Lund, Vellinge, Höllviken and Ystad. Rent bikes at Beddinge Cykeluthyrning, Lilla Bedding (+46), Cykelakuten Trelleborg (+46), Lena på Läget, Trelleborg (+46) or Fribergs cykelaffär, Trelleborg (+46).

By sea – Catch a ferry from Rostock (5 hours), Sassnitz (4 hours) or Travemunde/Lubeck (6 hours) in Germany. Ships sail several times a day.

Mark your calendar
June 2nd – 3rd, Jordberga Festival
Enjoy live classical music performances in the castle gardens of lovely Jordberga Manor.

June 29th – 30th, Smygehuk Folk Music Festival
Folk musicians from all over the country gather to compete and perform. Learn how to dance a reel to the old tunes on fiddles and accordions and don’t miss the last dance by torchlight at midnight.

June 29th – July 15th, Summer Operetta
Trelleborg’s Variety Troupe entertains with a free summer operetta at Parken’s open-air stage. The show starts at 7 p.m. and is in Swedish.

July 5th – 8th: Storslaget Viking Festival
Four days of Viking and Medieval food, music, dance, craft and battle. Dress up and join the parade through town and the storming of the fortress. Prizes will be awarded for the best period costumes.

July 7th, Scanian Food Fair in Smyge
Sample classic Scanian treats like smoked sausages, honey, preserves, pies and the traditional spettekaka, a pyramid cake made of eggs and baked on a spit, in the Köpmansmagasinet.

July 19th, Tommy Körberg Concert
Swedish vocal hero Tommy Körberg will perform an outdoor summer concert on the Thurevallen soccer fields in Beddingestrand.

July 27th – 28th, Smygehamn Jazz Festival
The 10th annual Smygehamn Jazz Festival, Sweden’s southernmost such event, fills the Köpmansmagasinet with live swinging music.

August 4th – 18th, Leva & Bo 07
This living and home show is the biggest happening in the town’s recorded history. Visit the main events and exhibition in the courthouse, on the main square and in the city park. Buses shuttle visitors from there to the newly developed areas for an open house of the latest in home design and architecture.

August 11th, Rhapsody in Rock Concert
Swedish superstar Robert Wells hosts a special Jubilee Rhapsody in Rock at the Vångavallen stadium to celebrate Trelleborg’s 750 years and cap off the two-week long living and home show.

August 24th – 25th, The Palm Festival 2007
Over 75,000 visitors descend on the city of palms for the 32nd annual Palm Festival, Trelleborg’s favorite party.

Find more information about these and other events on www.trelleborg.se.

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