Before I could get on the boat, I had to don my wind and waterproof coverall. I felt a bit like a balloon but then again so did everybody else, and it was actually pretty comfy. Then, after a little safety briefing by my skipper, Henrik, (it’s like riding a horse apparently), I donned my ski goggles, zipped up my marshmallow suit and climbed aboard the RIB boat. That’s Rigid Inflatable Boat. I was off for a splash (excuse the pun) of island hopping in West Sweden. One day for a whirlwind tour of the Swedish coast.
Once upon a time, apparently, the sea was silver with herring. That’s according to the locals I met on the islands. There was a time when you could dip buckets into the water and they’d come up brimming with the country’s national dish. The fish have come and gone from Sweden’s west coast, but now they’re back (in slightly less legendary amounts) they make for a great dish and another reason to head this way.
My first stop was Pater Noster. Small enough to throw a stone over (almost) I enjoyed a glass of bubbly at the top of an iconic 19th century red iron lighthouse to accompany the amazing 360 degree views. After exploring the island (hunting down the outdoor hot tub) and enjoying some warm fish soup, it was off again to Marstrand Island.
Marstrand is definitely a summer playground for the Swedish. The island was full of picture perfect white houses with red roofs and stunning flower gardens. Along the harbour, people were sitting out in the sun enjoying themselves at the cafés or shopping in the boutiques (I gave in to my retail addiction too…) before walking up to the fort to explore and climb the walls for sunbathing on the grass, or going down to the beaches and harbours around each corner of coast.
Leaving Marstrand, the RIB boat caused quite the stir as it sped between the yachts on our way to Åstol for more amazing seafood (including my first taste of herring) before heading to the lovely Salt & Sill Restaurant and Hotel for yes, more food. I lost count of how many meals I ate in one day. They served one of their classic meals– three bite sized portions of different herring dishes, paired with three glasses of schnapps – a different flavour to match each different herring.
Then I was singing (well, trying to) traditional schnapps songs, drinking our shots and enjoying our fish. A hot coffee on the balcony wrapped up in a blanket was the perfect unwind after all that eating. Salt & Sill is home to Sweden’s first floating sauna too which you can hire for the night. You’ll be out at sea for a night of steaming away, bubbles on the balcony and sleeping to the sound of nothing but the local seals. Pretty great, right? After my coffee I was on my way to my own hotel’s sauna…
At Björholmens Marina hotel, after dropping my bags in my waterfront studio room, I got into my new swimsuit courtesy of a Marstrand boutique, wrapped up in my fluffy robe and headed down the boardwalk along the harbour’s waters to the sauna. But before I steamed away, there was one thing I had to do first. Go swimming. To make the sauna all that more welcome, I first climbed down the ladder, shut my eyes and leaped into the chilly (really, really chilly) Swedish waters. Refreshing just about covers it. But it’s all relative – the sauna is open year round, and in the heart of winter, the hotel cuts holes in the frozen water for you to jump in – so the water I was paddling in was practically balmy. I still shivered. The sauna was definitely welcome.
Stockholm is what usually comes to mind when people think Sweden. But I would definitely take some time to see the Western islands. You might be surprised.