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Fjords Perfect

Costa Rica

Sweden’s west coast stretches enticingly north from Gothenburg to the border with Norway, 150 quiet miles of fjords and little inlets, pebble-dashed with 8000 islands. I paid a visit and list my favourite things - pretty fishing villages, absorbing rock carvings, a brand new marine nature reserve and Ingrid Bergman's one-time holiday haunt. And friendly people with effortlessly good English. Photo: GHD

Easy driving.

Sweden is a big country, and on a short visit we confined ourselves to this
convenient little corner in the west, the Bohuslän Coast. We made an easy
getaway from Gothenburg City Airport, where Ryanair and EasyJet now fly, on
good and serenely empty roads through rich farmland under wooded hills. Brisk
and efficient ferries hurried us across wide rivers in the way in a jiffy. First stop
was the attractive resort town of Marstrand (old fortress, shops in old wooden
buildings). Driving was a rare pleasure in our hired petrol-sipping Volvo.
(Alternatively a network of buses serves most towns and villages.) And the
motorways are a cut above.  One new service station offered a 3 mile guided
path into the woods.

Car free carefree.

Traffic chaos on the Koster islands (50 minutes by ferry from Strömstad)
means two cyclists meeting at a crossroads, unsure who goes first. We spent
a day of easy pedaling around this car-free
utopia, on tracks snaking through fields and woods, creeping up on
yellowhammers and wheatears, then diverting to tranquil bays and harbours.
The hotels offer free bikes - just help yourself. There’s just the one hill, Valfjäll,
opposite a white, wooden church where they stage summer concerts. We
looked over dozens of islets, part of Sweden's first marine nature reserve,
designated in 2009. Then lunch in the café at nearby Kosters Trädgårdar,
where they grow everything on the menu. We stayed at the waterside Hotel
Ekenäs. From our balcony we watched two cuckoos flying around on the island
opposite.

Perfect forecast.

The fun started in Fjällbacka harbour on the mainland.
They whisked us across to Väderöarna at action-movie pace in a high-speed boat in 25
minutes. From then on, perfect peace. The Väderöarna (Weather Islands) are
too small and hilly for even a track, let alone a car. We walked around the
main island (or rather jumped from rock to rock) climbing grassy hills to glimpse
basking seals. We returned to afternoon tea, set outside the guesthouse,
Väderöarnas Pensionat. The waterside sauna was up to full steam.
This is the only place to stay. It has shared toilets and showers and creaky
wooden floors, but is perfectly comfortable. Our bedroom had a dreamy view
over a serene little inlet. We watched the terns fishing in the little harbour
before an excellent dinner based on the local seafood.

Fish feast

'Quick,' said Leif. '20 seconds to go.'  Dashing after him, we were in time to
see our host open a big oven door to reveal ranks of freshly smoked prawns.
All very dramatic; and fitting, as Leif and his wife Pia are professional actors.
They run this lively restaurant, Åstol Rökeri, on the rocky little island of Åstol
(ferry from Rönnäng) in the summer. Leif led us back to our table and our
unfinished mountains of local shellfish. The recorded blues played on. That
evening it would be live jazz (. Another place on
the “Taste of West Sweden” list I heartily recommend is Salt & Sill, on
Klädesholmen, for a feast of pickled herring. And
Brygghuset, in the pretty port of Fiskebäckskil. Its vast whisky selection
included Penderyn, from Wales.

Here’s looking at you

The scene in Casablanca where Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid
Bergman) part in the pouring rain at the station in Paris, leaving Rick to ride
his luck with the invading Nazis, is high on my list of great cinematic moments.
So it was very moving to come across a statue of the radiant lady in the quay-side garden in Fjällbacka. Bergman often stayed here in her later summers. If
you want a romantic hideaway to match this mood, try Hotel Strandflickorna
in Lysekil. Ask for one of the two waterside suites. In the late, late light of a
Swedish midsummer evening, we sat on our private jetty over the gently
lapping waves, amid the pink granite rocks watching the eider ducks ride the
tide.

Art rocks

We walked through one of the world's earliest open-air art galleries, in the
woods around Tanumshede.  Wondrous Bronze Age rock carvings (some
made 3000 years ago) on sloping walls of rock have been picked out in red
paint. They're funny, inventive, and sometimes baffling – strange boats, carts,
animals, a whale, and lots of men ready, shall we say, for fertility. We took
half a day to see the four main sites, connected by signposted paths trailing
through the woods. The excellent museum at Vitlycke explains the carvings at
this important World Heritage Site in detail. www.vitlyckemuseum.se We
picnicked a short drive away at a mysterious group of Iron Age stone circles
among woods and fields. There was nobody else there, even in June.

West Sweden Tourist Board - see below

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