The southwestern provinces of Halland and Skåne 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. Today, for the visitor, the southwest is one of Sweden’s most appealing regions, known for its gently rolling landscapes and laid-back coastal towns. The attractive coastline south of Varberg is characterized by seemingly endless wide, sandy bays backed by gently shelving beaches, which makes it a popular destination for holidaying Swedes.
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, 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. Here, pastoral scenery is studded with Viking monuments – such as the “Swedish Stonehenge” at Ales Stenar and the southwest’s most alluring beaches.
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. The west coast can be busy in the Swedish holiday season of mid-June to mid-August, so it pays to book accommodation wel in advance.