Marion Hume | September 20th, 2011
Photos by Peter Hunt
How Skandi chic it all is. Orust island is where the Swedes go on holiday, and it’s exactly as you would imagine; herring, red barns, sailing boats, blond people in stripy clothes, blond people in not many clothes.
We wanted quiet and yes, to be honest, we wanted cheap. The perception that the Krona makes Sweden impossibly expensive keeps it free of tourists that aren’t Swedes yet you can fly to Gothenburg for a song and you can find secluded cottages at half the price of southern Europe - except, to be honest, it is half as hot.
Mollosund, on the island of Orust, is one of the oldest deep water fishing villages in Sweden. The few full time residents make their living by fishing and also by farming; which leads to odd vistas of single wooden houses clinging to the sides of the rock and then a lone cow seeming to balance on
the top of it. Come summer, apparently this place is ‘packed.’ But hang on. We are here mid August and it is empty.
Mollosund has winding little streets and pretty wooden houses in yellow and pistachio, duck egg blue and dark red, each with cottage garden flowers in the window box. There’s a competing pair of sensational fishmongers; Larsens fisk and Morgans fisk, where each sells the latest catch fresh as it is landed on the pier.
Don’t look for a pub though. There isn’t one. Don’t look for a bottleshop either. Nope, not one of those either. You have to order alcohol from the local store 3 days ahead. That’s an unwelcome discovery when it’s been raining for days and you’ve run out of gin.
Hope lies an hour away, to the nearest ’systembolaget’ which translates roughly as ‘the grog shop owned by the government.’ The systembolaget sells a wide array of wine in cartons and in ‘lighter eco’ bottles with a low carbon footprint. You start to get used to the sight of people boarding
ferries to far-off islands with their backpacks strapped on their backs, a blond child in one hand and a brace of cardboard grog boxes in the other. Makes sense.
Eating out is pricey and the few places that serve lunch aren’t open at night but least you can have a glass of wine or three at noon. What else to order? Island fayre = Fisksoppa, (fish soup), raksmorgos, (a pile of fresh prawns on rye bread) skagen toast (also a pile of prawns, + dill, fish roe, mayonnaise), lax (salmon) and sill (herring). The Swedes do lots of things with herring. And get excited about boiled potatoes.
Our Swedish friend insists it is normal to eat liver pate with salted butter on tunnbrod (flat bread) rolled up for breakfast, or to ring the changes, ‘Kaviar’ (which is not to be confused with Beluga) and comes in a tube, is pink and salty. For dinner, he eats hot dog sausages + mashed potato +
mustard + (sweet) Swedish ketchup + dried fried onions + a dollop of skagen prawns, roe, dill, mayo all rolled in tunnbrod. He insists this is normal too. Oh for a gin now.
The island of Karingon (there’s double dots over letters rendering the pronunciation more like ’sheringon’) looks delightful when you reach it by ferry from Hallevikstrand on Orust. Karingon has some cute shops selling billowy white smocks, stripy sweaters, tasteful lanterns. It has a teashop in a grand wooden house complete with candeliers inside and mismatched furniture painted Gustafsson grey outside. It has one splendid restaurant, Peterson Krog, which is right on the water (you can moor up if you have your own yacht). At first glance, Karingon, which has no cars, is pretty as a picture, until you spot details like a single, severed doll’s head staring out of a window. Then it starts to make you think of some scary Skandi version of Hot Fuzz or indeed, episodes of Wallender where weird things happen. There’s even a little house in chains.
All over these islands, the swimming is divine although speedy; you can jump off rocks and jetties into cold, clear water and not see a single other soul, unless, that is, you believe brannmanet, red jelly fish, have souls, this being the philosophical debate you conduct as you scramble back out over slippery rocks as fast as you can. There are lovely walks past heathery fields to the shore, down paths flanked by rowan and birch trees. You delight at deer bounding through the long grass until you find out the hard way that deer carry revolting little bastard ‘fastingbett’ which, while not as dangerous as your Hamptons, USA deer ticks are vile blood suckers all the same.
Yet it is surprisingly relaxing to be in a place where you cannot understand a word and in any case, so few are spoken. Island Swedes are a quiet bunch. Presumably they have to enjoy silence, because once winter creeps in and the sea freezes, you have to skate between the islands if you fancy a chat.