Biking adventures in Skåne, Sweden
Cycling the Sydostleden
It’s half-past three on a Saturday afternoon. We’re en route to Åhus, the medieval town on the Sydostleden biking trail. It’s a short 10km cycle before we get there. Easy peasy, especially with an e-bike. Until the battery runs out, that is.
“Can I help you?” I’m walking with my bicycle to a fisherman’s cabin. Maybe the man can charge the battery? In the meantime, I rest on the beach. That’s the beauty of the Sydostleden: the sea is always within reach.
His name is Mats, and he is a fisherman. His boat ‘Anna’ is ready for departure and is already on the waterline, behind the tractor. A moment later, his brother arrives. He is wearing green rubber waders and a life jacket. For a moment I think I see double, but Max and Mats are twin brothers. They have fished together for sixty years, twenty years of which they spent fishing at sea.
How can you tell them apart? You can’t. Or wait. Mats is one minute older, and you can tell. He takes the lead in everything. Looking at me mischievously, he says: “Do you want to fish with us?” “Yes, please! What are we fishing for today?” They’re both surprised: “Eel, of course!”
The Sydostleden runs along Sweden’s famous eel coast. For centuries men like Mats and Max have been fishing for eel here. After spawning in the Saragossa Sea, the eels swim back to the Baltic Sea and end up in one of the twins’ traps after travelling 6000 kilometres back.
Mats and Max are one of the ten eel fishers with a permit to fish for the slippery delicacy. All over Europe the eel stock is threatened. Sweden is doing the upmost to protect the eel and has even stricter rules than other countries in Europe. That’s why the number of eel fishing permits is very limited and fishing can now only be exercised three months a year on the eastern coast of Skåne, the so-called Åla coast (Eel Coast), which extends from Åhus to Stenshuvud. The reason that the eel is still fished on, is the fact that the knowledge of fishers like Mats and Max is essential to preserve the eel from going extinct.
The haul is in! We sail back with the catch of the day: six smooth eels
Meanwhile, I am feeling stressed. The boat that we’re on is way too small for so many people. I crouch and feel all kinds of fish writhing around my bare ankles. Jellyfish, perch, eel and herring. Suddenly I’m concerned about the bycatch: “Jellyfish sting, don’t they?” A grin from Max: “Only the female ones”.
The haul is in! We sail back with six smooth male eels, so-called Baltic Gold, on board. Off to the smokehouse, we think, but we couldn’t be more wrong. Max and Mats are fishermen, not smokers, but most of all, they are tellers of gripping stories. Everyone knows: fish have to swim, especially eel. They bring some vodka to the table. August Strindberg’s words come to mind: “40 thousand sober people are a greater danger than 40 thousand drinkers.”
We raise our glasses. Mats starts, and Max follows: “Helan går, Sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej, Helan går.“ It’s Sweden’s most famous drinking song. We do not understand a word, but something in us says ‘down in one.’
This morning we started on our e-bikes in Kivik, possibly Skåne’s quaintest little village. Each and every half-timbered house is wonderfully painted. All the hollyhocks in the front gardens are gently swaying in Claude Monet’s favourite colours. Italian traveller Edmondo de Amicis would call it “a town from the window of a Nuremberg toy store”. With a full battery, we head out of the fishing village, past rolling fields of grain, old farms, cream-white churches and countless apple orchards with over 70 different apple varieties.
All the hollyhocks in the front gardens are gently swaying in Claude Monet’s favourite colours
We are on our way to our lunch stop, so we make a big loop inland. Kaffestugan Alunbruket in Andrarum turns out to be one of the oldest coffeehouses in Skåne. Just like Kivik, it looks like a vintage village from an old toy store. The café opened in the 1930s and is now run by the great-grandchild of the original owner, Johan Carlsson. He tells us about this extraordinary village, in particular about the hundreds of workers who once lived here and worked at the factory where they produced alum, a mordant used for leather tanning. Back in the day, this village had its own schools, houses and even its own currency. This way, the people invested their hard-earned money back into their town. The contrast between then and now could not be more different. Once there was a yellow cloud of sulphur hanging over the town. Nowadays there is not a trace of such and, we are cycling into a perfect little hobbit village.
The Åhus ‘church’
“How far to go?” We had been in the saddle for a while when we discovered the battery was not fully charged at Mat & Max’s fisherman’s cottage. We carry on along a gravel road in a forest where each hill is followed immediately by the next. Maybe Skåne is less flat than I had initially thought. No time for mutiny however, we have to keep going.
We are in the town where Absolut Vodka has been made since 1906. I hear myself humming ‘Helan går…”
The next day we cycle to Kristianstad, only 18km from Åhus, so no battery worries this time. The route is less attractive than yesterday, but our destination makes it worth; a Renaissance city founded by Christian IV of Denmark in 1614. The whole village is surrounded by water and had to defend itself against the Swedes for a long time. Skåne was Danish until 1658, and there are many signs of this in the region. You hear it in the language for example, as the people here speak differently to how people talk in Stockholm. Kristianstad is Swedish, but inside the city itself, you notice it is in fact Danish through and through.
Beneath your feet swim European catfish. The largest one ever caught is claimed to have been 3 meters in length!
Discover the beauty of Skåne by bike
The Sydostleden is the second international cycling route in Sweden after the Kattegattleden. It’s a 270-kilometre long route which runs through three provinces: Småland, Blekinge and Skåne. Its start and finish (or vice-versa) are Simrishamn – in the south of Skåne – and Växjö in Småland. The south of Sweden is sloping, but there are no tough climbs along the route. The ‘leden’, a path in Swedish, is also largely paved. The Sydostleden gives you a perfect introduction to the Swedish countryside. It leads They lead you past forests and farms, while at the same time the sea is always nearby. In the summer of 2019, a third cycle route through Skåne was opened: the Sydkustleden (260 km) from Simrishamn to Helsingborg. The second major cycle route has been around for a while: the Kattegattleden (370 km) from Helsingborg to Gothenburg. Combining these three routes you can take a cycling trip of almost 900km. You can see the west, south and east of Skåne, while Travelshop takes care of transporting your luggage.