By David McKay Wilson
On the first night of summer, we strolled the beach at Tylosand, that fabled resort that was gearing up for a hectic six weeks of music, revelry, and sunbathing along the breezy shores of the Kattegat.
Over the dunes at the Hotel Tylosand, tango aficionados learned new moves in preparation for that evening’s all-night milonga. Guests lingered along the hotel hallways and staircases, perusing hotel owner/rock star Per Gessle’s impressive photographic portrait collection of 20th-century rock and movie icons while others gathered around the bar sipping Nils Oscar Pale Ale.
It was close to 10 p.m. as the sun set on the last night of our weeklong journey. It was a time to explore the city of Halmstad by bike, soak in the gloriously green Swedish countryside, and eat salmon in seemingly every possible way. It was time to reflect on the warmth of Scandanavian hospitality and connect to the region’s attachment to the natural world – be it walking down a country road where we saw a foal and his mother grazing in a field, marveling at the splash of colors from the mid-June riot of wildflower blooms, or observing the ubiquitous robot lawnmowers in suburban subdivisions that kept their small plots finely manicured.
One evening, we spotted two blasé skinny-dippers who calmly rose out of the water as we paddled across a lake. On another day, we saw a classroom of pre-school children out at recess in the pouring rain, all dressed up in rubber boots and rain jackets. In Sweden, we learned, there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.
It was cool in mid-June, with the temperature rarely rising over 62. So we had our layers, and rain jackets in reserve, when we decided to explore the southwest Sweden countryside and its city centers by bike. The terrain is flat, the scenery spectacular, and the biking infrastructure extremely well-developed.
We took to two wheels around the city of Halmstad, the urban center of about 100,000 that we reached by rail from Denmark’s Copenhagen International Airport, about 100 miles south, for about $25 a ticket. Biking has long been an essential part of the Swedish transportation system, with trail networks criss-crossing city, where children and adults get around on solid bikes with baskets in the front, and racks on the back to cart their books and groceries.
Halmstad is crossed by the Kattegatsleden, the 220-mile multi-use pathway along Sweden’s west coast, which connects municipalities from Helsingborg to Goteborg. It opened in early June as Sweden’s national bike trail #1, and signaled the country’s entrée into the bicycle tourism market.
“It will make people aware of just how good it is to bike in our area,” said Hakon Anderson, customer service manager at Trek Sverige.
The trail stretch through Halmstad provided a glimpse at Swedish history, a taste of its local cuisine, and opportunity to experience its fine art – both inside and out. Along the trailway in downtown Halmstad you’ll ride by Picasso park, with Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjar’s 45-foot high interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Woman’s Head. Not far down the Victoriagaten you’ll see Annika Simmonson’s whimsical Cylisterna – four bright yellow cyclists in plaster, making their way west.
As we headed out of the city, we rode through wheat fields waving in the mid-day sun. Just off the trail we found Riccardo’s Dolce & Verde, at Mollegard, a landmarked farm down a country road with rich tasting gelato, and a menu that included antipasto, Belgian waffles, as well as hard cider and good beer. There was the start of Prins Bertils Trail, an 18 km unpaved pathway for walkers, that takes you down through a dense swamp forest of alders. Prins Bertil was part of the royal family, the Duke of Halland, who lost his chance at the throne by falling in love, and marrying, a commoner. His legacy is 11 miles of trails along the Halmstad coast that brings you to several beaches and through dense forests.
From there were found the Melleby Kunstmuseum, which featured the paintings of the Halmstadgruppen, a group of cubist and surrealists from the early 20th century.
If you head south, you’ll see Tylosand, and later, Grotwick, with its marble quarries, and harbor. Head north, and take a side route into Lynga to sample smoked salmon and smoked mackerel, which have an international reputation.
On Midsummers Day, a national holiday, we rode through Halmstad’s centrum, the inner city of cobblestone streets. We rode through the North Port, where Danish King Christian had walled in the inner city to protect the Danish conquerors from the restive Swedes. We found cobblestone streets for pedestrians and cyclists, but no cars for blocks upon blocks. There was Levin and Nilsson, the bike shop, now led by the fourth generation of Levins, where you can rent city bikes with big tires and cushy seats for $15 a day. We stopped into the Halmstad Library, its east side rising from the Nissan River, and remnants of the old wall that surrounded the inner city. The sidewalk flower seller was doing brisk business, with young women and girls buying head wreaths interwoven with birch leaves and flowers. The Bulls Pub was filling up in late afternoon as celebrants had begun the festivities.
Having spent a year as an exchange student in Norway in the early 1970s, I was keenly aware of the rivalries among the Danes, Norwegians and Swedes, whose languages can be understood by each other, but who still engage in verbal combat over that national identities. The Swedes still had it in for the Norwegians, whose vibrant economy had attracted thousands of young Swedes across the border for work. A Norwegian had even purchased the sailing ship, Najaden, which had been docked at Halmstad’s 17th century castle for decade, but had fallen in disrepair. A Norwegian magnate brought it to the Oslo area to restore.
There’s no need to worry about your lack of Swedish if you travel there. English words are crept into standard Swedish, and a goodly bit of advertising is in English. Attempts to find T-shirts to bring home to my kids – from a Swedish sports team or with a catch phrase – turned up dry. One sports store called Stadium featured NY Yankees baseball caps and t-shirts, all in English.