Fly into West Sweden’s foodie hub, Gothenburg, and explore the city’s seafood, coffee and craft beer scene with our foodie guide here. Then, pick up a car and drive north for an hour to reach West Sweden’s Bohuslän coast, a series of islands and peninsulas (Orust, Skaftö, Tjörn) jutting into the North Sea. Drive through forests and pass by quintessential coastal villages strung between rugged rocks, stopping off for Swedish fika in forest huts, local craft beers on sun-soaked wooden jetties and quiveringly-fresh fish inside painted clapboard cafés.
Ladfabriken b&b, Hälleviksstrand, Orust
Drive to the very Western peninsula of Orust island, off the coast of West Sweden, and you’ll find this remote b&b marked with a Swedish flag. Kuru the dog bounds out to greet guests into the dollshouse-like former fish crate factory. Sunshine bounces around the open space, which owners Johan and Marcel have kitted out with quirky furnishings – giant letters in playschool hues strung up on one wall, colourful sofas covered with even brighter throws, and cabinets bursting with knick-knacks and 50’s crockery. Each white-paneled room is unique (a chest of drawers covered in funky blue tuna tin packaging here, a turquoise chair with arms that curl up into a wave there), and given the couple’s trademark idiosyncratic stamp.
There aren’t many options for guests to dine out in the area, so the couple have taken it upon themselves to swot up on their kitchen skills and now whip up sharing dinners for their guests. Simple Swedish cooking makes the most of local ingredients, including the catch of the day from neighbouring Skargrak Sea via Larsson’s fish shop in nearby Mollösund.
Dishes are served family-style at a communal table covered with a retro tablecloth – tuck in to huge cod fillets on a bed of leeks and mushrooms in a buttery cheese sauce, fish around for shrimp, ling and red tuna in an ‘east meets west’ soup with an Asian coconut cream, ginger and lemongrass base, and cut a slice of caramelised rhubarb tarte tatin topped with cream.
Breakfast is a similarly homely affair, seeing the table laden with Priest cheese, Swedish emmental, Leksand crackers and an array of homemade preserves – rosehip marmalade, cowberry, lingonberry and more. Local strawberries get plenty of light throughout the long summer days, so they’re extra sweet and served with fresh mint.
During the day, take a kayak out on the crystal-clear water, go wild swimming in the archipelago, kick back with a book on a deckchair in the rocky garden, or clamber over rocks following blue dots to the picture-postcard Swedish hamlet of Edultshall. Here, among red and white clapboard houses, families gather around barbecues on little jetties outside their boathouses.
Drive 10 minutes down the road from Ladfabriken to Mollösund, another pretty town at the end of the peninsula (note: the road is a dead end). Park outside the church and follow signs to Larsson’s fish shop, winding over cobbles between clapboard houses.
Spot the impish dancing Lekande boys on the side of a barn and turn down a narrow alleyway to the harbour where a sign marks the way to ‘boiled crab’, ‘fresh fish’, ‘salted herring’. Order a bag of shrimp to eat on the go with a choice of toppings (chilli sauce, dill, garlic…) then wander along the waterfront to Café Emma for homemade pastries and cakes.
This pretty red building dates back to 1904, and has maintained various features from the building’s history – pad across vintage carpets covering creaking wooden floorboards, down narrow corridors lined with pale green and white striped wallpaper, to find the hotel’s cosy, individually themed bedrooms; pots of flowers and a delicate vintage dress in the maid’s room, old photographs and an ancient hat on a hook in the granite worker’s room, and a stethoscope and an ancient doctor’s trunk (it can be turned into a child’s bed) in the large doctor’s suite.
Take traditional fika in the drawing room, a conservatory decorated with traditional white dressers and lace tablecloths, with vases of flowers on the tables and plenty of foliage decorating sash windows. There’s a cabinet dedicated to Swedish afternoon tea time, heaving with glass jars of buttery biscuits, drawers neatly packed with teabags and mugs lined up ready to fill with filter coffee.
Hop off the jetty at Grebbestad harbour into ‘Signe’; fisherman Lars’ boat was built in 1952 and named after his grandmother. Chug out of the harbour into the archipelago, passing timber houses on deserted granite islands that in times gone by hosted several pubs and had reputations for drinking and brothels.
Continue through the clear waters until a tiny black hut comes into view on Lars’s private island. Hop off the boat and help Lars cart up nets filled with fresh mussels and oysters; 90% of Swedish oysters come from the waters around Grebbestad, and Lars sure knows how to shuck, his current record being 100 oysters in 30 minutes.
After a lesson in shucking, duck into the cabin, kitted out as the ultimate Swedish cosy den – a little stove that gently heats up a pale blue pot of mussels, illustrations of seabirds on the walls painted by Lars’ wife, a wooden table made from salvaged wood from the bottom of the sea. Wrap up in cosy throws and slurp juices from the freshest mussels, finishing with creamy homemade coconut slices.
A 100-year-old shipyard is an unlikely location for a hotel, but this one, in Fiskebäckskil, has become a destination for foodies thanks to its restaurant, Brygghuset. Fiskebäckskil used to be a holiday village, so the surrounding houses have verandas, the streets are cobbled and pristinely manicured gardens are full of roses.
The restaurant’s owners decided to open a dozen bedrooms for punters to stay the night (there are thousands of whiskies to try at the bar, so it became a necessity!). Each one is designed around a local character, from Anna-Stina, the area’s first female taxi driver, to Sander the ferryman, who ferried passengers to and from the island in times gone by. Squishy beds are some of the comfiest we’ve curled into, furnishings add cosy touches against dark green and blue painted walls, and bathrooms are kitted out with power showers and Swedish toiletries.
Before dinner, wrap up in a fluffy white robes and pad down the harbour’s long jetty to Slipens’ floating spa. A red wooden hut with an open roof houses a large jacuzzi and sauna, so you can soak up the steam as well as the serene harbour life (and enjoy a sparkling wine/Swedish beer or two at the same time).
This popular restaurant focuses on seasonal seafood caught straight from the Atlantic by a fisherman named Manfjärd – mussels in the summer, lobsters in the autumn, oysters in winter and mackerel in spring. Start with crayfish with wild garlic followed by cod in a rich shellfish sauce with deep-fried, crouton-like potatoes (paired with a minerally Riesling). Finally, a chocolate pie is given a Swedish twist with liquorice ice cream and liquorice panna cotta.
Peruse Sweden’s largest selection of whiskies (1600 varieties and counting) at Joeys Whisky Bar; if you’re finding it hard to choose plump for the apple and woody spice notes of hyper local Smögen Swedish single malt.