European landscapes have wowed Indian travellers for many decades now. We are familiar with picturesque countrysides, castles that look like they are straight out of fairy tales, meandering rivers, gentle streams, medieval towns and modern cities. While many of our Instagram accounts boast of these sojourns, the joy of discovering quaint locations that allow you lots of 'me time' and a chance to have an immersive cultural experience, remains unparalleled. It was my quest for a unique holiday like this that led me to Skåne.
Why not? I started out thinking. Then each day that I spent doing my research, about this beautiful, southernmost county of Sweden, I found a new reasons to go. Apart from the fact that it is naturally gorgeous, has places of historic importance and offers delicious local cuisine, what made Skåne truly special to me is the fact that it allowed me to participate in the local way of living and made me feel part of the place. Here's my guide to what I loved most about Skåne
1. It's really easy to get to and to get around.
Skåne is accessible both through Stockholm and Copenhagen (a 50 minute flight from Stockholm to Malmö). It is right next door to Denmark too (only a 20 minute scenic train ride away from Copenhagen Airport (CPH), across the famous Öresund Bridge. Once you're in Skåne, it's easy to get around as public transport is great and easy to use. If you want to experience different parts of Skåne or if you feel like a change of scenery, everything is nearby and easily accessible by train, buses or car. If like me, you are someone who doesn't really want to drive, this works to an advantage, allowing you absolute freedom in terms of connectivity. Use the Skånetrafiken App, which is the simplest way to find timetables for buses and trains. If you have an iPhone or Android and internet access, you can download the app and buy your tickets through it. You can buy tickets at any ticket vending machine across all train stations in Skåne or choose to buy them at one of Skånetrafiken's ticket machines at Copenhagen Airport and at bus and train stations in Copenhagen. There are multiple rental options for bike lovers too.
2. It let me stay in a farm!
I'm an urban dweller and was desperately looking at some time off from the crazy city crowds. Skåne has a rich agricultural heritage and today many of the farmers also welcome guests. You can opt for a traditional B&B or rent a few rooms with your own amenities. There are around 50 farms that are part of the 'stay at a farm network'. I chose to stay at a horse farm at Axbrogård, just north of Kristianstad in north-eastern Skåne and it was one of those experiences I'll cherish forever. We rode through blooming canola fields on the back of an Icelandic (pony-sized) horse. You can rent a horse for a week or ride 2-3 hours per day and care for your horse. If you are bringing your own horse there’s extra room in the stable as well! You can choose to help with animals on a farm or work in the stables. I had the warmest hosts and this gave me an idea of how they live, allowed me to share their home and meals and I felt like a part of their family.
There are other farm stay options as well. If you like fishing, there's good news. Skåne has some of Europe's best waters for pike. The Furustadsgården farm, sublets a small red cottage by the water, where the owners will help you with boats, fishing gear and fishing permits. You can rent a room at Killeboda gård Bed & Breakfast by the southern end of Lake Immeln or opt for the small cottage by the lake that comes with its own bridge. There are organic farms and cosy cottages in the woods to choose from as well. Pick what you like.
3. I could give the locals a hand with daily chores and join the party
I really wanted to indulge with the animals on the farm and was pleasantly surprised to find quite a few farms offering that opportunity. My research led me to Folkesro outside Simrishamn in Eastern Skåne. I tried driving the tractor (must admit I didn't do too well but my kind hosts stayed calm), picked my own breakfast eggs in the henhouse and fed the horses, sheep and cattle. It was almost therapeutic for me.
Since I was there in June I joined my hosts at the Midsummer festival. It's an occasion where family and friends gather in large numbers to celebrate this traditional, high-point of the summer. It usually takes place on a Friday between 19 and 25 June. People often begin the day by picking flowers to make head wreaths and to decorate the maypole (a painted pole, decorated with flowers, round which people traditionally dance, holding long ribbons attached to the top) which is raised in an open spot and traditional ring-dances ensue. It's a happy, fun experience you shouldn't miss out on. My hosts wanted me to stay on till August so that I could be part of a traditional crayfish party in their house. I was told it usually features a huge bowl of boiled crayfish with dill, snaps and songs about the crayfish. I missed it but atleast I know what I'm doing in Skåne on my next visit.
4. The food is outstanding and so is the wine
Go to Skåne with an open mind and experiment. I guarantee you won't be disappointed. The Swedes love their traditions and food tends to be the most important element of their festivities. There has been a boom off late, in the small-scale artisan food production, and Skåne has its own food traditions such as the spettekaka. Ribbons of a batter made of eggs, sugar, and flour are piped onto a conical form to make this confection sometimes also called a pyramid cake in English. Traditionally it was cooked on a rotating spit above an open fire and ordered based on dozens of eggs rather than servings. Today they are baked in special rotating ovens and sold by the number of servings. When in Skåne, you must try a traditional goose dinner. It is served with boiled apple slices, prunes, boiled potatoes, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage and a rich sauce. The Äggakaga (egg cake), another traditional delicacy, is made using a pancake-like batter, but adding more eggs and flour for a creamier consistency. It is served with fried pork or bacon, lingonberry jam and chopped white cabbage. There's also what is popularly known as the 'juice for adults. Skåne is famous for its apple 'must', which is an unsweetened, non-alcoholic drink made from pressed apples. The town of Kivik in Österlen hosts an Apple Market festival in late September each year where you will be treated to apple tastings and swigs of the local cider. You'll also find a host of micro breweries and vineyards around Skåne to sample bold beers and balanced wines. Apart from the traditional fare, there are edgy international eateries and chic, modern bars to choose from.
5. It is historical yet modern
Skåne boasts of modern buildings designed by several internationally renowned architects including Gert Wingårdh, Ralph Erskine and Mario Campi. Scandinavia's tallest building, The Turning Torso, a neo-futurist residential skyscraper is located in Malmö. This iconic, energy-efficient tower block, home to offices and apartments, deserves a special mention for lovers of modern architecture. Despite its modern structures, the neighbourhood still manages to remain home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, canals, ponds, small craft marinas and swimming beaches. The countryside, rural areas and charming fishing villages are close to the cities. Even when you're in the city or the bigger towns, just taking a picnic basket and spending some quality time with family or being by yourself with a book, at some of these quiet and gorgeous spots, is easy to achieve.
6. For the love of the beach
Skåne’s beaches feature warm water and fine white sand! Of course I was tempted. Beach bums will love the pristine beach at Ribersborg, which is only a 20-minute stroll from the Malmö city centre. With shallow water, the 1.5 mile long beach is perfect for kids. This beach is also lined with play areas, beach cafés, and barbecue spots.
7. Because I am a history buff
A visit to the Ales Stones, an ancient spot shrouded in mystery which dates back to the earliest Iron Age, is a must. The monument features 59 massive boulders arranged in a 220 foot-long outline which is located 105 feet above the sea level. It is located high above the village of Kåseberga in Österlen. Some believe that the 59 stones is a burial monument. Others claim that the stones have served as an ancient astronomical clock, as they are positioned so that the sun goes down at the northwestern stone in summer and rises exactly at the opposite stone in winter. I'm not sure which version of the story I believe but just standing there, hearing the story and watching the sunset over the sprawling landscape, is a memory I cherish.
Skåne allows you to be a part of their history and not just listen to folklore. You can actually live in a castle here! Skåne was the province of the wealthy Danish nobility, and many of them built castles here before the province eventually became Swedish. Around 150 castles still stand to this day. I lived my fairy tale dream at the Bäckaskog Castle which lies between two sparkling lakes. The castle was originally a monastery built in the 13th century. It was transformed into a castle in the 16th century and has fascinating stories of the time gone by.
Feeling at home
The present day Skåne is a multicultural region with more than 160 nationalities and more than 100 languages spoken here. The bridge, connects the city to Copenhagen's downtown while Germany is just across the Baltic. That's probably why more than 150 nationalities call Malmö home. I found most people proficient in English and had no trouble communicating with my hosts. Though far away from my home in India, I did feel a sense of home and family in Skåne. I've made friends and become family to the people I met in my two weeks in this warm and charming province. I have enough reasons to go back again.
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