Viveca Sten is a Swedish writer of Nordic murder novels. Her books take place on an island called Sandhamn. Mirinda has read all of the Sandhamn Murder books. Sandhamn is real. The murders, not so much. And so, today, for our final day on the archipelago, we caught a ferry to the island, risking the possibility of fictional death, to visit the places that Mirinda knows so well.
I haven’t read any of Ms Sten’s novels. The reason I love Sandhamn is because it’s a large car free paradise. I was eager to visit for this reason given my dislike of traffic.
Imagine a place where you could breathe the air all the time, knowing there were no heavy metal particulates contained in it. Imagine a place where you could walk along and never be tooted by some impatient driver on a more important mission than yours. Imagine a place devoid of selfish pricks who block the footpath with their god awful vans. I was so looking forward to this visit.
And so, bright and early, we were up, packed and on the road to the ferry stop at Stavsnäs.
We caught the express boat (M/S Tärnan) out to the island (non-stop and 30 minutes) and planned to get the more leisurely stopping service back later in the day (around an hour). We weren’t alone but the ferry was far from crowded, and we spent a lot of the trip outside, enjoying the ride between islands and skerries alike.
From the moment we arrived, I knew I was going to love the island. Okay, while there isn’t any cars, trucks, buses or other motor vehicles, there are a number of small, battery operated trikes with front trays attached that putter about. These are used to transport everything from food and luggage to rubbish. They are largely silent. They are not a problem.
Obviously, our first stop was at a cafe for fika. The first one we found was called Café Strindbergsgården. The garden is all a bit wild and untamed, the sterns and bows of old boats have been used as arbour type seats, tables are old timbers and everything looks like a magical collection of ramshackle invention.
Obviously, by this time, it was beer o’clock. Though, sadly, the only beer was Carling. Still, it was better than nothing. Just.
Just along from the café is the restaurant where a lot of action takes place in the books. It’s called Sandhamns Värdshus and we were going to have lunch there. I was suddenly aware that today was going to be very similar to the trip we took, tracing the steps of Jane Austen novels way back in 2001.
Before lunch, we wandered around the narrow paths between the houses, admiring the buildings and the total lack of noise, pollution and inconvenience of traffic. I was ready to move into any house.
Of course, for all of this bliss, there is a hefty price tag and, needless to say, we won’t be moving to Sandhamn any time soon. Still, it’s nice to pretend. Mirinda already had our lives planned out by the time we reached a Swiss style house which, at first, she thought might be the green house in the books, which the main character inherits.
It was here, on top of a very sizeable rock, that we wondered how on earth you were supposed to walk to the neighbouring island of Telegrafholmen. According to Mirinda’s usually reliable transport app, the way to catch the return ferry was to walk across a narrow but deep, strait of water called The Sandhamn Hole.
The name alone is enough to dissuade the fleet of paddle-like foot from marching across.
Once upon a time (1860-1875) there was a huge windmill on top of the rock. August Strindberg claimed it was too big given the general grain shortage at the time. Now there’s no evidence of its existence apart from a very well written and instructive information board.
Our wanderings took us up to the heights where a chapel (shut up tight) and a detached belfry, stood as close to god as it’s possible to get on the island. Both chapel and belfry had the best views, looking over the tops of houses and trees, across the water to other islands. Typical. Some bright spark decided the best views should go to his imaginary friend.
Still, at least we could walk up there and enjoy the views for a little bit.
It was inaugurated in 1935 and contains a couple of votive ships, a rarity in Sweden. Of course, we didn’t get to see them because the church is not open on a Sunday. Not this Sunday, anyway. Unsatisfied, we headed back down the hill and to lunch.
Sandhamns Värdshus is a place of two halves. There’s a lovely little pubish bar downstairs serving bar food and various alcoholic beverages. Upstairs there’s the ala carte restaurant. We poked our heads into the bar and were directed upstairs where, we were told, there were free tables. This advice proved extremely accurate given we were the only people there for quite some time.
Which was good because it meant I could take a photo of the room without asking other people if they’d mind moving into another room to get out of shot. It’s always really annoying when you have to do that. Particularly when they’re mid-forkful.
Our lunch was delicious though Mirinda’s Swedish hash was a bit on the large side which the waiter who took the plate away agreed with. My salmon, on the other hand, was the perfect size. As was my IPA. And the double espresso almost took my head off. It was also perfect.
I can highly recommend the kalix löjrom, toast, crème fraîche and rödlök. It’s an excellent starter, delicious, light and a delight on the plate.
Our tummies satisfied, it was then time to meander over to the ferry dock and board the vessel for the trip back to a waiting Max.
A marvellous day rounded off with the relatively short trip back home where we arrived around 5pm, having picked up the girls from Linn.
I thoroughly enjoyed our foray onto the Stockholm archipelago and would be more than happy to return. Given it’s such a short drive, we could easily go for the day as well as for another weekend away.