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An inviting view of the sea at the southern archipelago of Gothenburg.
Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson for CMC 2009

If you’re headed to Gothenburg this summer, consider putting aside a day or two for exploring the southern archipelago that lies just outside of the city. It takes about half an hour by tram to the ferry terminal and another half an hour by ferry from the mainland to the islands. The rewards of being on the islands on a warm clear skied summer’s day are without limits, where you can experience the pleasures of the islands first hand.

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Small wooden piers line the water’s edge, dotted with red painted wharves.

Being out on the islands along the Swedish west coast is as close to kampong you would ever get when visiting Sweden. Located about 15 km from the city of Gothenburg, the southern archipelago even has slightly different weather conditions than from the mainland. Coupled with the deep sapphire blues of the surrounding seas, it wouldn’t be difficult to believe that you’re in Viking paradise.

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The many piers around the islands offer people a place to sit, relax and enjoy a view of the ocean.

On the islands, the water’s edge is lined tangent with wooden planked piers, most of which are private docking areas for boats belonging to the houses not far from shore. The houses in themselves are a beautiful, rustic sight. Most of the houses that look like cozy cottages are constructed with heavy interlocking logs and are painted red, red and blue or yellow. I especially love the tone of the deep red used on these houses, as I’ve come to identify them as a Swedish-red, associated with Swedish culture, design and style.

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A Swedish version of a sampan, undulating in rhythm with the waves. The wooden boat is beautifully crafted and looked after with pride.

The islanders’ love of the sea is evident in their way of life and what they keep as artifacts and decorations in their home. A common sight is a seashell wreath made with blue mussel shells, hung at the windows of island houses, or sculptures of seagulls, sailing boats and anchors displayed on the insides of the window panes.

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A view from the top of Styrsö. This maze of rocky islands was the original hangouts of the Vikings, offering a myriad of options for the richly laden trading ships from the inland, to unscathed finding their way out on the sea from the Gota River, to avoid or not, any marauding competitors. The islands still bearing romantic names as the Signal Fire Island, the Merchant’s Island, the Steering Island, The Wolf’s Cave Anchorage and the Breaker Island, all translated as the names sounds today.

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Vivid wild flowers growing on the rocky surface of the boulders, higher up on the islands.

The islands of the southern archipelago are not very large, and you can walk from one ferry jetty to another on a single island in about 40 minutes. You’ll do fine exploring the islands on foot or on a bicycle. Hike up to the top of a hill and you’ll come upon a fantastic view of the place. The many smooth boulders that make up the landscape of the islands gives plenty of room for you to unfold your picnic blanket and laze for hours with a good book.

The Swedish traditional allemansrätt (all men’s right) makes it perfectly legal to walk around and enjoy nature as long as you don’t destroy anything and don’t trespass into fenced in areas, private grass lawns and gardens or areas immediately near private houses. Since Sweden is so large, you’ll soon see that the areas available for “all men” are indeed immense. It is allowed to pick wild berries and any edible mushrooms you might find. Some common sense is required to figure out where immediate private property ends and the freely available “nature” begins and in popular suburbs overly enthusiastic tourists are regularly escorted out of the local’s private strawberry patches, but in general the Swedes are a friendly bunch so you might equally well just be invited in for coffee.

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Keeping tabs on our lamb cutlets: the sheep are not falling for bogus human friendship!

The kampong bit of the southern archipelago comes in when you find yourself sitting in the middle of a sheep farm, trying to make friends with the sheep. I find these woolly creatures ever inquisitive with their large eyes and unafraid to come up to you to say hello. But around the islands, it isn’t only sheep that you’ll find, but ducks and wild deer.

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Lambs feeding.

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A warm nosey hello from the black sheep.

For a none too hurried day of exploration, you could take one of the late morning ferries across and then leave as late in the night as you wish with the last going ferries, because these days, the Midnight Sun hovers low on the horizon without really setting, extending the days and blurring the boundaries between dusk and dawn, so you’ll never feel pressed for time.

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