A chain of islands linked by a thread of bridges and short ferry crossings make up the enchanting region of Bohuslän where, despite the summer crowds, it’s still easy enough to find a private spot to swim. Sailing is also a popular pastime among the many Swedes who have summer cottages here, and all the way along the coast you’ll see yachts gliding through the water.
One feature of the Bohuslän landscape you can’t fail to miss is the large number of churches. The region has a long tradition of religious observance, fuelled in the early nineteenth century by the dogmatic Calvinist clergyman Henric Schartau, who believed that closed curtains were a sign of sin within – even today, many island homes still have curtainless windows. The churches, dating from the 1840s up to the early twentieth century, are mostly white, simple affairs, and look like windmills without sails. Once you’ve seen the inside of one you’ve mostly seen them all, but the few that are exquisite or unusual have been highlighted in the guide. Each church is usually open between 10am and 3pm, but the clergyman invariably lives next door and will be happy to unlock the building at other times.
FISKEBÄCKSKIL, 50km north of Marstrand, is one of the most attractive villages along the entire length of the Bohuslän coast. Peppered with imposing old wooden houses perched high up on rocky rises, many with fancily carved porches and intricate glazed verandas, it also boasts several attractions that are well worth exploring.
About 50km northwest of Gothenburg, the island town of MARSTRAND buzzes with activity in the summer, as holiday-makers come to sail, bathe or take one of the highly entertaining historical tours around its impressive castle, Carlstens fästning. With ornate wooden buildings lining the bustling harbour, Marstrand is a delightful place to visit and, as an easy day-trip from Gothenburg, it shouldn’t be missed.
The town’s colourful history – as so often in western Sweden – mainly revolves around fish. Founded under Norwegian rule in the thirteenth century, it achieved remarkable prosperity through herring fishing during the following century, when the ruling king, Håkon of Norway, obtained permission from the pope to allow fishing in the town even on holy days. Rich herring pickings, however, eventually led to greed and corruption, and Marstrand became known as the most immoral town in Scandinavia. The murder of a cleric in 1586 was seen as an omen: soon after, the whole town burned to the ground and the herring mysteriously disappeared from its waters. The fish and Marstrand’s prosperity partially returned until in the 1770s, but the town fell behind Gothenburg in importance, and by the 1820s, the old herring salting-houses had been converted into bathhouses as Marstrand reinvented itself as a fashionable bathing resort.
Fifteen kilometres west of Nordens Ark along the coast, the old fishing village and island of SMÖGEN is one of the most picturesque and enjoyable destinations in the whole of Bohuslän. The village is an attractive mix of shops and boutiques in old seafront wooden houses, fronted by a quay that runs for several hundred metres that’s famous across Sweden and known as the Smögenbryggan. Smögen first hit the big time in the late 1960s as tourists began to discover its unassuming charms. Then, during the 1970s, it became the number-one summer destination for Swedish teens and 20-somethings who came here to party all night long in the countless bars that once lined the jetty. Things are quieter now and Smögen, though still busy, is once again regaining its dignity.
When it comes to beaches, most people take the boat (every 30min; 10min; 80kr return) from the harbour to the tiny, low-lying island of Hallö where the smooth, flat rocks that make up the entire island, which is also a nature reserve, are perfect for sunbathing and swimming.