Explore The southwest
The southwestern provinces of Halland, Skåne and Blekinge were on the frontiers of Swedish-Danish conflicts for more than three hundred years. In the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries, the flatlands and fishing ports south of Gothenburg were constantly traded between the two countries, and the presence of several fortresses still bears witness to the area’s status as a buffer in medieval times.
Halland, a finger of land facing Denmark, has a coastline of smooth, sandy beaches and bare, granite outcrops, punctuated by a number of small, distinctive towns. The most charismatic of these is the old bathing resort of Varberg, dominated by its tremendous thirteenth-century fortress; also notable is the small, beautifully intact medieval core of Falkenberg, while the regional capital, Halmstad, is popular for its extensive beaches and nightlife.
Further south, in the ancient province of Skåne, the coastline softens into curving beaches backed by gently undulating fields. This was one of the first parts of the country to be settled, and the scene of some of the bloodiest battles during the medieval conflict with Denmark. Although Skåne was finally ceded to Sweden in the late seventeenth century, Danish influence died hard and is still evident in the thick Skåne accent – often incomprehensible to other Swedes and the butt of many a joke – and in the province’s architecture. Today Skåne is known as the breadbasket of Sweden and its landscapes are those of slabs of yellow rape, crimson poppies and lush green fields contrasting with charming white churches and black windmills. In the north of the province, Båstad is renowned for glamorous living through its close links to the country’s tennis elite. One of Sweden’s best areas for walking and cycling, the Bjäre peninsula lies to the west of Båstad and comprises forested hill ranges, spectacular rock formations and dramatic cliffs. To the south of the town, both Helsingborg, with its laidback, cosmopolitan atmosphere, and bustling Malmö, Sweden’s third city, have undergone some dramatic changes in recent years: Helsingborg’s harbour has been transformed by an influx of stylish bars, while Malmö has seen the most significant development in recent Swedish history – the completion of the 16km-long bridge linking the city to Copenhagen, and thus Sweden to the rest of Europe via the Öresund Strait.
Just north of Malmö, the university town of Lund, with its wealth of classic architecture, has a distinctive bohemian atmosphere that contrasts with Malmö’s more down-to-earth heritage, whilst east from Malmö, you’ll encounter the pretty medieval town of Ystad on the south coast, and then the splendid countryside of Österlen, whose pastoral scenery is studded with Viking monuments, such as the “Swedish Stonehenge” at Ales Stenar and the southwest’s most alluring beaches. Beyond here to the east, the ledge of land running to the Baltic is Blekinge province. Among its several small and not particularly distinguished resorts, Karlskrona stands out, a Baroque beauty built on a number of islands.
In addition, this is one of the easiest regions of Sweden to get around; trains run to all the main towns and services are frequent; we’ve given details under each town account.Read More
The most obvious starting point for a visit to town is the 1618 Heliga Trefaldighetskyrkan, right opposite the train station. It symbolizes all that was glorious about Christian IV’s Renaissance ideas: the grandiose exterior has seven magnificent spiralled gables, and the building’s high windows allow light to flood the white interior. Inside, the most striking features are the elaborately carved pew ends: each is over 2m tall, and no two are the same. The gilded Baroque magnificence of the 1630 organ facade is also worth a look.
Diagonally across from the Heliga Trefaldighetskyrkan, the main square, Stora torg, contains the late nineteenth-century Rådhus, built in imitation of Christian’s Renaissance design. Inside the entrance, a bronze copy of the king’s 1643 bust is something of a revelation: Christian sports a goatee beard, one earring and a single dreadlock, and exposes a nipple decorated with a flower motif, itself a source of interest for a baby elephant round the royal neck. Opposite the town hall, and in marked contrast to it, the 1920s post office and the old Riksbank have an identical 1920s brick design; while the adjacent 1640s Mayor’s House is different again, with a Neoclassical yellow-stuccoed facade. The square also boasts Palle Pernevi’s splintered Icarus fountain, which depicts the unfortunate Greek soul falling from heaven into what looks like a scaffolded building site. The town’s streets are peppered with modern sculptures; one of the best is Axel Olsson’s bronze Romeo & Julia at Östra Storgatan 3, close to Storatorg, depicting an accordion player serenading a woman emerging from an open window.
Behind the old bank is the Regionmuséet. Construction of the building was started by Christian in 1616; he intended to make it a grand palace, but, thanks to the bloody Skåne wars, work got no further than the low buildings. As soon as they were built, the stables here were turned into an arsenal containing ammunition for the pro-Danish partisans. Today, the museum is home to permanent exhibitions about the town’s military and industrial past. There’s also an art gallery showing good contemporary exhibitions.
Wander down any of the roads to the right and you’ll reach Tivoliparken, known locally as the “English Park”, with avenues of horse-chestnut and copper beech trees. In its centre is a fine Art Nouveau theatre, a stylish white building whose designer, Axel Anderberg, also designed the Stockholm Opera.
From the lakeshore in the park, boats operated by Landskapet JO leave for three-hour tours of the nearby marshes and wetlands, a UNESCO World Heritage site known as Vattenriket and renowned for its rich vegetation as well as extensive bird and marine life. Departures must be booked in advance through the website. Before boarding the boats, try to check out the bird’s-eye tour of Vattenriket shown in the Opteryx flight simulator inside the Vattenriket Naturum nature centre (daily 11am–5pm; free), accessed via the wooden footbridge from the southwest corner of Tivoliparken.