10 stunning highlights
Skåneleden Trail, Sweden
Beneath the foliage of ancient beech trees, along cliffs, beaches and fields of wheat. Everywhere you look, they emerge: the orange signs of the Skåneleden, the famous long-distance hiking trail through the south of Sweden. These are the ten most stunning stops along the trail.
Over 1.000 kilometres. You can’t cover it in a day. Not even in a week. Many people choose to walk sections every year, just like on the famous pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The Skåneleden trail is divided into five multiple-day sub trails and 89 sections, varying between 5 and 25 kilometres in length. Each route has its charms. One part guides you through tiny fishing villages, another goes past steep cliffs, bright white churches, abandoned beaches, and then crosses phenomenal beech forests. You can spend the night anywhere you like: in your tent beneath the stars or in a small hotel along the trail. Even camping wild is allowed, thanks to Swedish Everyman’s Right, Allemansrätten.
Many people believe that, in many ways, Sweden is a utopia. These people often refer to the educational system and the gender equality between man and woman. However, there is more to Sweden that makes it special, especially for hikers: Allemansrätten. You have the right of way, or freedom to roam, everywhere. A Trespasser’s Welcome. The Swedes aren’t bothered at all. Fancy a chanterelle? Feel free to pick one. Would you like some blueberries? Go right ahead. Do you have to cross a farmer’s land? Nobody is going to stop you, even though it is private property. Even camping wild is allowed in Sweden because of this age-old right. However, there are some do’s and don’ts.
• Limit your stay on someone’s private property to one night.
• Close all fences behind you.
• Don’t leave any waste behind.
• Be careful with fires.
• Respect local flora and fauna.
A Viking ship of rock art
By far the most famous megalith is Stonehenge in England. Sweden has its own Stonehenge; a stone monument near the town of Kåseberga, located atop an impressive cliff. You will hardly ever find a place more magical than this: a Viking ship of rock art. Ales Stenar. The monument dates back to Viking times and is 67 meters long, 19 meters wide and counts 59 boulders that weigh almost 2 tonnes each. No one knows who built Ales Stenar, or why. Some claim it is a tombstone to mark a burial ground. Others think the boulders were used as a sundial. During summer and winter, the sun sets on exact opposite rocks, which means they were not placed there at random. Nonsense, according to another school of thought; Ales Stenar is nothing more than a regular shrine.
It is common for megaliths to be enigmatic. Were the gods astronauts, or the Vikings astronomers? Or are we standing on ancient graves of a people that conquered the seven seas? In any case, the first tourist photograph of Ales Stenar was taken in 1914.
A post-modern fairytale
Skåne was Danish until 1658, which is beautifully exemplified by Hovdala Castle. The holes of Swedish cannonballs are still visible in the gatehouse’s giant door. Taking a tour gives you a glimpse of Skåne’s Downton Abbey. The table is set. Like the lord of the castle is about to return from the hunting party. His hat already on the hat rack.
You will hear stories about Eva and Elsa Ehrenborg, Hovdala’s last residents. The sisters lived in a small part of the castle until the 1980s, presumably to save energy. Keeping a castle warm continues to be the ultimate challenge for Europe’s aristocracy. When you look outside, you see a park where silence now reigns, but it wasn’t always this calm. There used to be a military training ground here until well after World War II. When Eva and Elsa awoke in their bedrooms, with its custom-made wallpaper from Paris, Leopard tanks rolled past the windows. Being here feels like a post-modern fairytale, written by the sisters ‘Eva and Elsa Grimm’.
Hovdala Hiking Centre
Hovdala is popular among hikers. Several sub trails and sections start at the castle, among them the 57-kilometre long Hovdalaleden. Mind you, somewhere deep in these woods once hid the greatest spy in Swedish history: Colonel Stig Wennerström. He was responsible for leaking well over 20.000 pages of top-secret Swedish defence documents to the Russians. He was finally arrested in 1964.
Wake up with the sun shining on your face
Birk & Birka
In the summer of 2019, Sweden gained a new and unique outdoor crash pad: two wooden wind shelters, Birk and Birka, situated at Hovdala Hiking Centre with a magnificent view of lake Finjansjön. The name of the campsite could not be more appropriate: Between Dusk and Dawn. In Birk or Birka you wake up with the sun shining on your face.
Thailand? No, Sweden!
You might not expect this from a country known for its deep dark forests, but in Sweden’s most southerly region you will find the most idyllic beaches. The Swedish Rivièra, if you will. Bring your bikini if you go hiking: Skåne boasts 380 kilometres of coastline and the beaches are truly breathtaking. The absolute winner is Knäbäckhusen beach, near Stenshuvud National Park. What you smell are the pine trees. What you hear are seagulls. So kick off your hiking shoes and get your feet in the water! Other gorgeous beaches can be found at Mälarhusen and Sandhammaren. The sand won’t get any whiter than this.
Another day in Paradise
On the beach stands an abandoned fishing cabin, several spikes in the sand for fishers to dry their nets. When it rains, you can find shelter here and leave a message in the guestbook. Another day in Paradise, it reads. Yet it’s not raining, and it is not going to rain either. You can tell from the sky it is going to be a beautiful day.
Haväng is prettiest in the morning, about half an hour before sunrise, [when the heather is still crisp, and the horizon slowly transforms into a Mark Rothko painting. A ray of light, the promise of a new day.
Here you walk among animals: sheep, horned dung beetles, pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies. You almost step on some sea holly because you get distracted by a flock of swans, skimming the surface of the water. You automatically whisper here, especially when you pass Havängdösen, a 5500-year-old megalith, Ales Stenar’s little sister.
The best is yet to come. The reflection of tree roots in the Verkeå river, which discharges into the Baltic Sea. The sunbeams above it. Almost imperceptibly, the day has begun. No need for a jacket now.
Visiting Hansel and Gretel
The comparison with houses from the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel has probably been made many times by people who walked into Knäbäckhusen, located north of Stenshuvud. You see white plastered timber houses with thatched roofs, and impeccably painted window frames in blue and red both left and right. These are often second homes or holiday homes, owned by people in search of the tranquillity of the Swedish countryside. This paradise surrounded by hollyhocks only has one road, an unpaved track that leads to Hanöbukten, the bay where the two most southern provinces of Sweden come together: Blekinge and Skåne. Just before you get onto the beach, you will see a small chapel. Many people get married in Knäbäckhusen and, in keeping with most fairytales, live happily ever after.
Hiking past ancient hornbeams
Stenshuvud towers over the sea, 97 meters high; it literally means ‘Stone Head’. The climb is not too steep, just a one-kilometre hike from the main entrance of the park. The reward is a marvellous panoramic view of the Baltic Sea and the green of the hornbeams that covers Stenshuvuds National Park. This area, slightly south of Kivik, was declared a national park in 1986 and covers 401 hectares, 80 of which are sea. A park with (by Swedish standards) wide sandy beaches, a lighthouse, erratically mossy rocks, rivers, heather, pine trees and ancient beech trees. It is also the habitat of the hazel dormouse, which is the park’s symbol. Each year the park draws 500.000 visitors. It can get rather crowded, especially at the weekends, so to enjoy a peaceful hike you should start your day early.
The Skåneleden guides you right through the park, from Kivik in the north to Simrishamn in the south. Follow the orange signs with the letters SL4 (Skåneleden 4).
On the cliffs
One of the most beautiful stages of the Skåneleden crosses Kullaberg Nature Reserve, a peninsula in northwest Skåne. At the highest point, 78.5 meters above sea level, stands a lighthouse with the brightest light in all of Sweden. You can go down into several caves here (Kullaberg has 25 in total), as well as the chance to go abseiling.
Ready to Roll
Time to log off
Nyrups Naturhotel describes itself as a slow hotel. There is no better word for it. Everything slows down here. The outdoor cooking alone takes up a couple of hours. All guests get the ingredients for the recipe of the day. You have to make your own fire and get started with it, such as cooking a piece of lamb or melt white chocolate. Cooking au bain-marie in the forest! It’s time to log off. Put on some warm socks, stare into the fire for hours and philosophise about life. You sleep in a round tent, inspired by Mongolian yurts, where the morning sunlight fights its way in. You hear the forest around you: a snapping twig, the call of an owl. A short walk to the lake for a quick dip ensures you start your next day on the Skåneleden as fresh as a daisy. A dream destination.