Monday 17 October 2011

A Weekend in West Sweden

I may have only spent two days, courtesy of Visit Sweden, on the islands of West Sweden but it made quite the impression. The evening Friday night flight from London was loaded with good-looking businessmen and glamorous well-heeled women, making me feel like an ugly dwarf so not only is the scenery breath-taking, so are their people. As are their booze prices.

I arrived a day later on the blogger group trip than everyone else as I couldn't get out of work, so I missed out on the mussel safari and instead picked up with the group at Lysekil to get on a ferry to South Koster Island.

Once there, we dumped our bags at Sydkoster hotel Ekenäs and set off on a cycle tour of the island. A mere 300 permanent inhabitants, our guide told us that almost 300,000 tourists pass through in the summer months; it must be a staggering contrast. The island is car-free, and we cycled merrily along with only walkers and a couple others passing us. I had forgotten how much I love cycling and I could have well gone on for another couple of hours had it not been for the gnawing hunger that had started to set in. We clambered up to the highest point of the island to gawp at some panoramas before we set off for lunch.

We arrived at our guide's garden centre and restaurant, Koster Gardens, a calming place where we spied chickens pecking away in the vegetable beds and cockerels making us laugh with their ridiculous calls. The restaurant itself is oh-so-very-Swedish; clean wooden lines, dark blue and teal furnishings.

A salad full of leaves picked from the garden was a simple start to the meal, and a light tomato stew with poached fish, golden beetroot and a golden glob of mayonnaise on top followed. Warm, nutty bread helped up soak up the juices.

We were told that the restaurant uses it's own produce and often sells vegetables to customers; in an outhouse we found palettes of vividly coloured vegetables. A munch on a cherry tomato was intensely sweet and juicy.

Later, we attempted to go on a lobster safari but with 2.5m waves (which sounded quite fun...) the trip was abandoned and instead we toured calmer waters. Once back ashore, we had a good ol' stare at some previously caught lobsters, including this beasty which I forget how old was, but was really heavy. And it had one massive claw.

Back at the hotel, we were talked through the cooking of the lobsters - though not the massive one, as big lobsters don't taste so good. This poor bastard was dangled above the bubbling pot, staring into its fate as everyone squealed for our chef host to pause for a photo. What followed was a multi-course feast of lobster served as popcorn, soup, and whole, somewhat bizarrely served with quiche and cumin-flavoured cheese.

It was then, perhaps a mistake to get drunk and dance around to the hotel's 'Rocktoberfest' band (they were really rather good...) as the next day we took a boat for an hour to Grebbestad. I don't get seasick but I suffer from hangovers more than most, and jiggling around on the boat gave me an extreme case of the queases. To be honest, just being alive was giving me the queases but after a quick, er, purge I perked up some and got right stuck into the 'oyster experience'. Our host, Pers, was super-enthusiastic and taught us all about Swedish oysters and the ideal home he had created underneath his oyster house. He dredged some up and after a quick lesson on opening the oysters, he invited us to try it ourselves.

I was rubbish at it and I made Pers open mine for me. The oysters had some serious mineral flavour to them, while still being sweet but briny. They cured me.

As we'd missed out on the lobster safari the day before, Pers kindly offered to take us out to see his lobster pots instead. We got these awesome survival suits which were the most comfortable thing ever. So comfortable that I may have drifted off for a moment or two. The lobster pots were brought up from the depths of the ocean and to our delight, they housed a couple of crabs and a lobster.

Back at the oyster house, we sat down to a meal of freshly boiled langoustine (they call it crayfish) and crab. Viscera coated my face as I smashed my way through claws and squeezed langoustine juice into my eyes to extract the precious flesh.

And with that, we set off back to Gothenburg to catch our return flight. I loved Sweden; it was bloody freezing but crisp, clear waters and gorgeous scenery more than make up for it. I imagine if I lived there I would look as healthy and slim as its inhabitants - especially if I ate langoustine and crab for lunch every day. My god is everything expensive though; at roughly £7 a pint it would suit the richer holiday-goer. Or if you're less of a booze monkey.

Cycle tour, hotel, four course lobster dinner, and shellfish safari package on South Koster - link here.

Everts Sjobob organised the boat pick-up, oyster experience and lobster safari for us and their link is here.

You can read about the day I missed here and here, and my full Flickr set is here.

I would not recommend First Hotel G in Gothenburg, where I stayed on my first night. I woke up the next day with 36 very itchy bites down my right arm. I am still boiling all my clothes obsessively.

EDIT: I've since been told that beer in Sweden is not expensive and beer in most places set you back £4 - £6. Be that as it may, I reported on my experience.


Chris Pople said...

I still have cuts on my fingers for tearing far too enthusiastically at spiny sea creatures. Totally worth it though.

Steph Reed said...

Hi Lizzie, thanks for sharing your article – glad to see you had such a great time! As you know, I was on the same trip and I just wanted to comment on your point about the cost of beer being £7 in the region – this is actually not the average cost of beer in West Sweden, which is generally priced at around 40 to 60 SEK (£3.80 to £5.70) – very similar to prices in London. The £7 bottle of beer you mention was on offer in the restaurant of the only hotel on a remote island, very close to the Norwegian border. On islands, everything has to be imported and this adds to the overall cost, wherever you are in the world. Thanks again for the article and lovely pics.

PDH said...

that's you told then Lizzie! Two words, well Jel.

Looks awesomes.

Hollow Legs said...

Poople - So have I. Puncture wounds!

Pav - It's a lovely place.

Thanks Steph - perhaps I shouldn't say 'everything is expensive' (though I'd never pay almost £6 a pint in London), more rather that South Koster is - though it was still £30-odd for a bottle of wine at the airport.

The Grubworm said...

This just adds to the growing need i have to get out to Scandinavia to experience the fresh food, despite the booze prices. I'd manage without if the food is all this good.

You description of the crayfish and the oysters has me drooling at my computer slightly... Seafood as fresh as that is hard to beat.

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

Great write-up - it was a pretty spectacular weekend, wasn't it?? And OMG yes that poor lobster dangling above the pot, staring his fate in the eyes!!

Leigh said...

Lovely pictures - that seafood looks amazing!

Hollow Legs said...

Grubworm - I am sad we can't get it so fresh here.

Jeanne - thanks! It was good fun. Poor Lobby-Ster.

Leigh - thanks! seafood, scenery, all gorgeous.

Benji - The Margaret River Guide said...

Wow this is fresh and will be hard to beat. Fresh is best and looks like you embrace that 100%. I am fortunate to live in Margaret River Western Australia and like your trip to Sweden we have tons of amazing local produce, not to mention the globally recognised wine brand.

Jonathan said...

Glad you guys had fun. It's such a beautiful stretch of coastline. But it is certainly expensive - for booze. Although I hear Norway is worse!