Glass-making in Sweden was pioneered by King Gustav Vasa, who’d been impressed by the glass he saw on a trip to Italy in the mid-sixteenth century. He initially set up a glassworks in Stockholm; however, it was Småland’s forests that could provide the vast amounts of fuel needed to feed the furnaces, and so a glass factory was set up in the province in 1742. Called Kosta, after its founders, Anders Koskull, Georg Bogislaus and Stael von Holstein, it is still the largest glassworks in Småland today.
All of the dozen or so glassworks still in operation in Småland give captivating glass-blowing demonstrations. Several have permanent exhibitions of either contemporary glasswork or pieces from their history, and all have a shop. Bus services to the glassworks, or to points within easy walking distance of them, are extremely limited, and without your own transport it is almost impossible to see more than a couple in a day (though this will satisfy most people).
The Glassriket Pass gives free entry to the glassworks and discounts on some glassware products; it’s available at the tourist office in Växjö and online (100kr; w glasriket.se).
Kosta Boda glassworks
While each glassworks has its individual design characteristics, Kosta Boda is the easiest to reach from Växjö, has extensive displays and gives the best picture of what’s available. The Kosta Boda and Åfors glassworks are both operated by the same team. While two of Kosta’s most celebrated and hyped designers, Bertil Vallien and Ulrica Hydman-Vallien, have their studios at Åfors, the bigger glassworks is at Kosta.
The outlet store here contains some of the most delicate fin-de-siècle glassware, designed by Karl Lindeberg; for contemporary simplicity, Anna Ehrner’s bowls and vases are the most elegant. Among the most brilliantly innovative works are those by Göran Wärff – examples of his expressive work can also be found in Växjö’s cathedral. Current design trends tend more towards colourful and rather graceless high kitsch; nonetheless, new designer sculptural pieces can go for astoundingly high prices: commercialized designs start at 2500kr, although for a single, traditional akvavit glass you’re looking at paying something like 200kr.