Scurry to Skåne
History and modernity combine in Sweden’s southernmost region
I feel a little guilty about waking up Swedish archeologist Ann-Louise Ferngård. But, on a blustery morning in Skåne, Sweden’s southernmost region, she shrugs off my early visit, and warmly welcomes me to Kiviksgraven, or the King’s Grave, a Bronze Age tomb, which dates back some 3,500 years.
“I’m happy to share this with you,” she says of the historical site, normally only open in summer months. She leads me down a path, flanked by chunks of granite, remnants of a former quarry, to a locked, metal door, already telling me stories. There’s some graffiti, fresh from last night, and she stops to rub at it, swearing softly. I can hear the nearby waves, like rhythmic thunder. The air smells of salt and apples. Eventually, she pulls the knob, opening the door to reveal a dark portal.
“Come in,” she says, and I follow her into the shadows of another time.
Kiviksgraven is just one of dozens of prehistoric vaults and barrows, stone circles, and fortresses in Skåne, a forested region with rolling farmland and beaches so white, some call the area the Riviera of Sweden.
For history buffs, Kivikgraven delivers with original petroglyphs and a sacred history. Louise further ups the ante when she plays me a recording stored on her phone. It’s of a scientist blowing into an intact bronze horn discovered in Sweden that dates to this tomb’s time.
According to Louise, it’s similar to the ones depicted in these petroglyphs. The notes, eerie, entrancing, on a gut punching vibrational frequency much like the Om sound, stop me in my tracks. I can almost see the petroglyphs—people, birds, horses, fish—come to life. “Soulful, isn’t it?” says Louise, leading me out again to modern-day Skåne’s uncanny golden light.
While Skåne (pronounced “Skoneh”) brims with history, including Vikings and bloody takeovers by the Danes, it also reigns as a particularly continental and cosmopolitan piece of Sweden. Connected to Denmark by a bridge, it brandishes the emerging hipster city of Malmö, as well as picturesque medieval villages and beachside hamlets. With unique denizens, blessed with their own singsong accent, regal carriage, and affable ways, Skåne offers a Sweden that contrasts to more often visited Stockholm up north.
Apple orchards, farms, castles, golden fields of rapeseed, grazing beasts, church steeples galore and bone-hued beaches lined with diminutive, colorfully painted cabanas combine to define Sweden’s smallest region as a treasure trove. Add in a farm-to-table movement, Michelin-starred restaurants, spa hotels, canny bars, artistic chocolatiers, a major design culture, and more than a century-old sauna complex atop the Baltic Sea, and nobody leaves bedazzling Skåne bored or hungry.
Learn more: kiviksgraven.se/en/welcome.
Ready to go? Here’s what I think you shouldn’t miss.
Walkable, youthful Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, pairs nicely with a visit to Copenhagen, which lies just across the Öresund Bridge. Stylish, vibrant and diverse, Malmö has cobbled streets and medieval squares, as well as striking modern architecture, such as Santiago Calatrava’s Turning Torso, rising from the restored Western Harbor.
Fly into Kastrup, Copenhagen’s international airport, then take the train across the bridge to Malmö. A short walk from the train station, Hotel Duxiana welcomes with classic Scandic chic.
Learn more: hotelduxiana.com
Take a dip
The Swedes define spa a little differently. Follow their ancient sauna-plus-plunge tradition at Malmö’s Ribersborgs Kallbadhus, a more-than-century-old bathhouse, which hovers above the sea. Cast aside bashfulness as you toss your clothes into a locker, perspire in a wood-fired sauna, then dive into the frigid waves—all the while wearing nothing but your birthday suit.
Learn more: ribersborgskallbadhus.se
Book a boat or ride a bike
Pack a picnic and play Viking when you sightsee Malmö from one of its charming, eco-friendly electric canal boats. Cruise down a variety of waterways, viewing the city on a relaxing trek, in which you play captain.
A relatively flat city, easy to pedal around, Malmö has a plethora of parks (try Folkets, a huge green lung, ideal for families) and 213 bike routes around town. Conversely, use your feet and walk Malmo’s many pedestrian streets, squares, and nooks. Gamla Väster, The Old Town is an Instagram must.
Learn more: bookaboat.se
Nouveau Nordic cuisine
Global gourmets have prophesied that the next new Nordic culinary stars will come from Skåne. I ate my best meal of 2018 at Vollmers, situated on a cobbled side street in Malmo’s heart. With two Michelin stars, the friendly, fun restaurant, owned and helmed by two creative brothers, sources everything from the Skåneregion. Dishes, less weird than NOMA in Copenhagen, more inventive than El Bulli near the town of Roses in Catalonia, Spain, less rich than some Michelin favorites in France, draws from Swedish childhood memories.
Also, sure to please gourmands, further afield Hörte Brygga, by Martin Sjöstrand, provides two unforgettable seasonal opportunities for eager eaters in search of the profound. Come in summer for an epicurean box lunch on the porch of his restored weaving house, a meal based on what Martin’s foraged that day.
In the winter, snuggle in for Köksbordet, the Kitchen Table, where one seating of strangers per night becomes an intimate dining experience, with the chef and his crew never more than an arm’s length away. Innovative, thoughtful preparations and local cider, schnapps, or wine pairings will put this at the top of your lifetime dining.
Learn more: hortebrygga.se
Ready for dessert? Chocolate lovers can take a bonbon-making class at Mat & Chokladstudion, where talented confectioner, Joel Lindqvist shares the sweetest secrets.
Learn more: pastryybyjoellindqvist.se
Ystad and beachy Nordic noir
Those who’ve read Henning Mankell’s popular novels, which feature the melancholy detective, Kurt Wallander, have heard of this pristine, medieval town. A short drive from Malmö, it lies wedged between bucolic farmland and the stellar beaches of the Baltic Sea. Touted for its colorful, half-timbered houses and night watchman, who still rings a bell from the ancient tower, the town brims with art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Stay at historic Ystad Saltsjöbad, a modernized icon of a spa hotel, right on the water.
Learn more: ysb.se
You’ll want to dance with joy inside the oval formed by the Ale’s Stones, a 1,400-year-old megalithic monument, which exudes mystery. Up a hill from the rustic fishing village of Kaseberga, the landmark dominates the verge of a breathtaking cliff. Shaped like a ship, composed of 59 standing stones, it may have been a burial ground or energy center.
Learn more: visitystadosterlen.se
Viking fans can get their fix in the seaside town of Trelleborg, where a fantastic Viking fortress has been reconstructed according to artifacts and remnants found during archeological digs on site. The original structure is believed to have been ordered by King Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark, and may date to the 980s. Peruse the museum or take part in myriad Viking themed activities—including a camp out—beloved by kids.
Learn more: visittrelleborg.se/en
Take a break
Coffee break—in Sweden, there’s a verb for that. Fika means to sit down in a cozy haven with steaming coffee and a cinnamon bun. (For word nerds, fika can also be a noun, as in “a fika,” or coffee break.) Skåne’s citizens love their coffee. As Hörte Brygga’s Martin Sjöstrand, told me, “without coffee we die.” Be sure to try a kanelbulle (cinnamon bun), for which every Swedish grandmother holds a treasured recipe. In Malmö, take your fika at Solde Kafferosterie or Uggla Kaffebar—and enjoy!
This article originally appeared in the June 18, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.