Stretching between Gothenburg and Malmo – Sweden’s second and third largest cities, respectively – is a coastline that’s partly industrial, partly dedicated to the leisure of thousands of holidaymakers from both cities. The shores of Denmark loom a stone’s throw away – in Helsingborg, they almost meet; across the narrow strait lies the Kronborg Castle, from which we were looking towards Sweden a mere 20 days before. If we wanted to complete the loop of the Danish Straits, all we’d have to do is cross Oresund here on a short ferry ride – or simply drive through the massive bridge a little further south, in Malmo.
The small Landskrona, centred around an old and big citadel, lies in Malmo’s massive shade, but we stop there nonetheless, lured by the sweet charms of its northern suburb, Borstahusen. We have truly passed into Scania. Scania is an ancient land, one that has given name to all of Scandinavia. Since its conquest in the 10th century until the loss at the end of the 17th, it was a core part of Denmark; the flag reflects that conflicted relationship, having the Swedish yellow cross on Danish red. It looks and feels a lot more like Denmark than Sweden. The fishing villages look identical, at least, the same quaint, idyllic, half-timbered and white-washed cottages, with the same deep red roses. June is the month when Denmark, current and present, shines best; it seems to have been designed to be seen only in June, when all the roses, the mallows, the jasmines and the elderflowers are all in full bloom.
Malmo might just as well be a huge suburb of Copenhagen, especially now that the two are connected by the Oresund Bridge. It’s a surprisingly diverse city, and quite wonderful; in fact, it deserves far more time to savour than we can spare. The old town, around the twin market squares, is perfectly preserved, and one of the inner timber courtyards is transformed into a design centre and exhibition space: the effect is stunning. Right around the corner from the old town is the more “vibrant” district, which, of course, means there’s good coffee to be found somewhere. The Djakne Kaffebar boasts guest roasts from Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen, as well as from local places. Not far off is an organic sourdough bakery.
There’s plenty of green and open spaces in the city, some of it dedicated to sports – a long row of fields ranging from football, through rugby, to baseball, stretches along the coast. The old dockland district is being rebuilt into new flats and offices, after the fall of the shipyards and fishing business, though a single street of fishing huts remains in the middle of it all, with fishermen still selling their fresh catch every day. At the tip of the dockland area rises – seen from miles around – the new symbol of Malmo, the Turning Torso; a skyscraper in a Scandinavian city is a thing almost unheard of. The only reason the Turning Torso was allowed to stand was because the people of Malmo demanded a skyline symbol in place of the demolished docks. The council buckled, but only on the condition that the building will be sufficiently unique. The Torso is one of only two such buildings in the world, with each floor rising at an angle to the others.
We have an unexpected treat the next day; the annual Viking Market at the Foteviken Viking Reserve, some 20km from Malmo. Among the myriad of Viking festivals that spread throughout the summer all along the Baltic coast and beyond, this one is perhaps the most unique (and one of the largest). Foteviken is not just a reconstruction of a Viking village: it is a LIVING Viking village. Its inhabitants stay after the gates are closed and continue their lives in the Dark Age manner, as some sort of blond, axe-wielding Amish.
Although the village itself was slightly lost among the throngs of visitors and stalls (spreading as far as the eye could see – we didn’t even manage to see it all; the vendors, smiths, weavers, potters and jewellery makers seemed to have come from anywhere the Vikings had once visited: Ukraine, Poland, Baltic Countries, England, France and beyond), it was still a remarkable sight. Using the medieval methods, sleeping on fur-covered beds, under hand-woven tapestries, tending to livestock, picking seaweed and turf from the beach, weaving wool, making ropes and tools, they the Vikings have created for themselves an almost comfortable, and certainly exciting, life.
There is more Viking stuff in the nearby Trelleborg, including a ring-fort of the Danish design, but we skipped that, having seen a similar in Denmark, as we moved towards Ystad. This harbour town is the unlikely Scandivanian capital of crime – albei fictional one; this is where Kurt Wallander has his headquarters, the Swedish super-sleuth, and as we approached it, it was easy to see where the author of the books could have gotten his grim inspiration. The entire coast became covered with a sea-haze, a fine mist blown inland by the fierce breeze, rendering the lanscape an odd kind of gloomy and dark. The haze, combined with the twilight, turned even the town as pretty as Ystad – normally a lovely area of cobbled streets and rose-hidden timber cottages – into a den of crime. Ystad has a dedicated Wallander-trail, culminating in a visit at the detective’s favourite hang-out, Fridolfs Konditori, where you can eat a slice of a police-car-shaped cake.
Ystad is also a good choice for a crime thriller, since it’s a lively harbour town, connecting Sweden with the rest of the Baltic. Here arrive the daily ferries from Poland and Germany, as well as from the Danish island of Bornholm – where we are heading next.