A Traveller's Food Directory: Gotland Island
A short flight or a slightly longer boat ride from Stockholm, the island of Gotland is known as Sweden's 'summer island,' packed full of well-heeled Scandi tourists from June until August. After visiting each summer since 2015 to take part in the Designers on Holiday project, I know this moony little island well — here are some things that this moony little place has to offer should you ever find yourself there...
As someone who hates routine and thrives on new adventures, I never really expected to end up being so drawn to a place that I would keep going back, year after year. After all, there is still much of the world to see. This anomaly of a place, is the Swedish island of Gotland, lodged firmly in the Baltic sea between the Eastern Block and mainland Sweden. Gotland is a windy, limestone land with strange rock formations, a vast and navy sea, pancake flat fields speckled with grey sheep that look like furry rainclouds, a medieval town to the West and a good helping of out-of-commission stone quarries. In parts it looks like the moon. In other parts it looks like a scene from a Scandinavian thriller, all tall, straight trees and endless stretches of road (some of which double up as military airplane landing strips). I am making it sound highly unappealing but it’s actually magic. To me, it is a summer holiday in its truest form in all its outdoorsiness and its wholesomeness. Known as Sweden’s summer island on account of the fact that it has the best weather in the country (not hard), this birth place of the Pippi Longstocking stories features excellent places to swim, quiet places to rest, long summer days which barely turn to night, and when night does eventually arrive the skies are expansive shooting-starry, milky wayish and inky blue. Here is a directory of things to eat and do on the island:
Saffron isn't Swedish, but Swedes have been cooking with it since the Middle Ages and in Gotland they use it very well indeed. To fit the summer-island brand, ice cream is also a big thing on Gotland — you'll find Sweden's biggest ice cream shop, Glassmagasinet, in the old town. Despite a treasure trove of flavours at Glassmagasinet, my favourite (in fact, the only flavour I ever order) is Gotlandic saffran och honungsglass, or saffron and honey ice. You also might encounter one of Gotland's most popular export's, saffranspannkaka – this is a saffron rice-porridge pancake, which has the consistency of polenta and is usually eaten with healthy dollops of dewberry jam and cream.
There are some cracking smokeries in Gotland. Thanks to IKEA, we all know about pickled herring and smoked salmon with gravalax but there are so many other smoky, fishy options. Try smoked oysters, smoked fish roe, or snack on a smoked fish-fin, which are gloriously fatty and delicious. Recommended is the Katthammarsviks Rokeri – you can buy smoked fish to take home or eat in at the restaurant — try jumping off the piers by the Rokeri before you eat to work up an appetite.
Follow the signs
Take a drive around Gotland (I would recommend renting a car, ideally a Volvo). While you’re driving you’ll notice signs for farm shops (gardsbutiks) and eggs (aggs). Take these up on their offer and visit them — Lilla Bjers’ farm shop is great with a decent restaurant and stretches of farmland attached to it. My other personal favourite stop is Gutenviks Gard which has a great, organic selection of veg. After midsummer, small, dark Gotlandic strawberries make an appearance, sometimes also on stalls by the side of the road. There are also a number of signs for the local loppis (second hand shops). These shops very often have a car-boot like feel and vary in quality but I have found some real gems in these over the years. The one that I personally recommend is the Antikt Glas Loppis on the 143 very close to Ala Boden, run by two glassware collectors who are incredibly knowledgeable about all their stock (there are signposts when you approach Ala from either direction).
Buns, buns, buns
You know what they say, ‘a cinnamon bun a day absolutely doesn’t make you very healthy but the immense joy you feel after eating one extends your life by approximately 5 years.’ (Nobody says this apart from me). But buns are delicious. Cinnamon ones. Cardamom ones. Plain ones. All the ones. My favourite place for buns (and bread and coffee) is the Sjalso Bageri - as well as a physical bakery, they also have a food van outside the main entrance of the Medieval town.
Absolutely bloody bonkers is what Medieval Week is. It happens once a year at the beginning of August in Visby, the medieval town which sits inside a walled castle. Each year people from across Sweden descend on the island dressed in medieval garb and pretend to live that sweet, sweet Medieval life for one week. If you’re there around that time, visit the market behind the castle and find yourself a hog roast. Hilarious and delicious all at the same time, which is an unusual combination.
Right to Roam
There are lots of nice places to camp on the island and Sweden implements a freedom to roam policy, so you can pitch your tent wherever providing it’s not bothering anyone. Llugarn, the beach in amongst the pine forests is a beautiful spot and there are also amazing, old boat houses up for rent if tents don’t take your fancy. Or, alternatively, rent a cabin or camp at the Designers on Holiday campsite.
There are various piers scattered on the edges of the island, particularly around Visby, facilitating early morning Baltic swims. But (and I find this a lot more interesting), Gotland is also littered with old lime quarries that have since been filled with water and are great for swimming in. The Blue Lagoon is the most popular, but Follingbo is a bit quieter as well as that almost post-apocalyptic Smojen in Hellvi. Try visiting Faro - the island off Gotland - and have a look at the rock formations before swimming in the sea beside Creperie Tati, which is also worth a visit.
Not-Shit-Tacos are hard enough to find outside of Mexico and California as it is, so what the bloody hell are excellent ones doing on a Swedish island? Go and eat at Gothems Cantina y Casitas, try the fish tacos and have a chat to the people who run it about How-In-Thor's-Name they came to be there.