Sweden’s High Coast – the prettiest place you’ve never heard of
It’s the third of June and today’s the day the little cafe on Ulvon Island has reopened for business. The plant pots still await their summer flowers but the sun is out and has enough strength to make an al fresco lunch a pleasure. The owner, like the plants, is taking a while to adjust to the change in season. She’s been to the supermarket, she says, but asks me to wait awhile so she can fetch the groceries in from the car and work out what’s going to be on the menu. I’m happy to hang out. The boat doesn’t leave until after lunch and it’s moored just a short stroll along the gravel path that doubles as a quay.
The High Coast’s not exactly a hive of activity, but even by those languid standards, Ulvon’s a sleepy place. There’s almost no traffic, so the only noise to be heard is the gentle flapping of the flagpoles, of which there are many, and the occasional rustling of leaves. The climate in these parts, and a relatively fertile soil, makes the grass lush and the trees thrive. Rows of conifers stand sentinel on the rocky hills that form a backdrop to the harbour, but down by the water’s edge I spotted maples and robinias dotted amongst people’s gardens.
The familiar claret red is prevalent but not ubiquitous here, joined by soft ochres, creams and even a cottage painted sky blue. The houses hug the gentle curve of the bay, lined up in three rows, two by the water and the third set back behind long lawns lined with racks for drying fishing nets. Everything faces out to sea, both physically and metaphorically.
The sea is the reason this area won UNESCO recognition, one of Sweden’s fifteen World Heritage Sites. Once, the High Coast was pinned down under the weight of thick ice sheets. When it melted, the land, free of its burden, sprang upwards. Now, what was once coastline is now an impressive 286 metres above current sea level. At the top of the Skuleberget chair lift, iron rings placed around rocks demonstrate where the waves once lapped, far above today’s glinting sea.
Unsurprisingly, the region’s beauty has been well documented, but the season doesn’t get underway until midsummer. I’m a few weeks early and it shows. The car parks are almost empty, trails bereft of footprints. Ferry schedules are pared down to the bare minimum. There isn’t much of a cafe culture up here, but supermarkets stock ready made rolls and prepared salads, their staff offering plastic cutlery and serviettes without me having to reveal a complete lack of Swedish beyond “Hej” and “Tack”.
I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to picnic locations. The reflections of Mjallom’s waterside dwellings and the trees that form a picture perfect backdrop are still, not a murmur of a breeze to shimmy the water’s smooth surface. Under a blue sky at Norrfallsviken beach, I clamber over the pink granite cobbles and boulders with not a soul in sight. A lone tree on the headland marks the end of the promontory and something to aim for.
Back in the car, I follow the white flower signs of the scenic drive as far as Bonhamn. There, in a perfect U-shape around the sheltered harbour, every house is the same red shade. The few villagers that can be seen are tending to their gardens, the buzz of lawnmowers the only sound to punctuate the silence.
It’s Rotsidan that tempts me to linger, and I picnic on the flat rocks that line the sea as far as the eye can see. A lone reader is engrossed in her book, propped against a cleft in the rock but there’s plenty of room for us both to feel a sense of solitude. A stroll through the forest to walk off lunch and I’m ready to hit the road again. I’d have thought nothing could top it, but now my Ulvon host’s come up trumps with homemade waffles piled high with prawns, creme fraiche and finely chopped onion, liberally sprinkled with fresh dill. It’s so delicious I might never leave.