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Discover Orust, Sweden’s Wild West

It’s time to rethink Sweden. From its daily sweets-laden coffee break, fika, to IKEA, the ubiquitous Swedish furniture store, the Scandinavian country has long been known for its cozy indoors. But Sweden is as much about its wilderness as it is warm hearths.

The wild spirit of Sweden is on irresistible display in Bohuslan, the country’s farthest western province. Here, the “freedom to roam” ethos—which makes almost all lands accessible for people to walk, cycle, ride, ski, or camp—opens up an entire frontier to outdoor enthusiasts.

Adventure in Bohuslan

Orust, Bohuslan’s largest island, is about an hour by car from the large city of Gothenburg, and is a perfect home base for exploring the wild west of Sweden. Most visitors rent a car; bridges and free ferries connect the mainland to many of the region’s larger islands.

But a car will only take you so far. To really see the region, you need to be moving slowly across the landscape. It’s simply not enough to steer the car along the island’s beautiful backroads—human speed is the best speed if you want this island to unfurl around you. Otherwise it’s a blur of red barns and green grass, of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them villages, and glimpses of the surrounding archipelago.

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Two-Wheeled Adventures

On an island like Orust, peppered with three-house hamlets, it’s a strategic move to ditch four wheels for two. On a bike, you can take it slow and soak up the scenery, all without blocking the road.

Bikes on orust island, sweden
Bikes on Orust Island, Sweden

Exploring by bike turns a day out into a memorable study in small moments—pedal slowly past a gaggle of lambs playing in a field, pause to photograph the wildflowers or be dazzled by the sparkle of local quartz on the bike paths. On a bike, there’s no need to look for parking if you decide to stop for a view or take a fika break and treat yourself to a coffee and cake (you’ve earned it, after all, pedaling all that way).

The official bicycle map for Orust labels roads by their traffic level, and it’s entirely possible to circumnavigate the island sticking mostly to nearly traffic-free paved roads. Some hotels and B&Bs have bikes to lend, and outfitters like Upplevelsebolaget will rent you both gear and bicycles. There’s even the option to stay at multiple properties during a challenging but beautiful multi-night island excursion.

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The Ocean’s Surprise

Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the summer waters along Sweden’s western coast are about the same temperature as those in Southern California. And Swedes make the most of the welcoming sea—Sweden has among the world’s highest per capita boat ownership, and most families have at least a little rowboat or kayak for getting to nearby uninhabited islands for picnic lunches, swimming, and sunbathing.

There’s no shortage of small islands to explore. Archipelagos rule along Sweden’s western edge. And thanks to the freedom to roam, you can dock your vessel and explore any island you see—as long as there’s no yellow sign that marks it as a protected land (usually because it’s an active breeding ground for wildlife).

Mollosund harbor, orust island, sweden
Mollosund Harbor, Orust Island, Sweden

Even if you’re not an avid boater, it’s worth venturing out onto the water with a guide. The early settlers didn’t come for the granite cliffs or fresh air—they came, and stayed, for the bounty of the sea. To step into a kayak and explore the archipelago by paddle is to take a step back in time, and to embrace the true heart of island life.

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The Trick of the Weather

It’s not just the land that’s wild here—the micro-climate-based weather can feel untamed as well, even in summer. But as in the tropics, the saying here is if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes. Systems pass fast and rain in the forecast doesn’t necessarily mean canceling a day out. Talk to locals and sooner or later, they’re likely to mention the adage of Swedish grandmothers everywhere: “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Listen to grandma and pack accordingly.

If You Go: Orust

Stay

Ladfabriken: Design and hospitality meld at this bed-and-breakfast housed in a former fish box factory. Breakfast is included, and dinners are extra, but worth every penny.

Ladfabriken b&b
Ladfabriken B&B

Slussens Pensionat: This cozy and welcoming seaside hotel features dinner and concerts on weekend nights.

Explore

Upplevelsebolaget: This outdoors outfitter rents bikes and kayaks and offers independent and guided day and overnight trips.

Snack (Fika)

Mia’s Sjobod, Hälleviksstrand: Find a seat in the cozy interior or opt for a table with a view on the dock at this beloved boathouse-turned-café serving up homemade Swedish sweets.

Mia's sjobod
Mia’s Sjobod

Solegarden, Svanesund: Try the coffee and Swedish cake, or opt for the chokladboll, at this part-café, part community gathering spot.

Tavlebords Honey Farm, Henan: Enjoy the farm-like setting and locally produced treats at this café and farm shop.

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis explored Sweden as a guest of West Sweden Tourist Board and Goteborg & Co. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

Email Christine Sarkis at editor@smartertravel.com.

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