Malmo is the third largest city in Sweden, but, if you’ve heard of it at all, it’s most likely to be because of Eurovision or because of the popular Danish/Swedish crime drama “The Bridge”, the first series of which concerned the discovery of a body on the Oresund Bridge that joins Copenhagen to Malmo.
Well, there is a lot more to Malmo, and the surrounding county Skane, than that, as I was to discover on a long weekend in mid-June, just before midsummer, when the sun barely sets.
On the Friday morning, we flew into Copenhagen, from where it is normally a short train journey across the bridge to Malmo.
Unfortunately there was a strike at the Swedish end that week, so we had to use a replacement bus service. No matter, with typical Scandinavian efficiency, buses proved to be frequent and luxurious. I doubt we’d have got into Malmo very much quicker if the trains had been running.
Malmo itself is a pretty flat city, but towering over all is the distinctive shape of their new landmark Twisting Torso, a high rise building consisting of nine cubes twisting towards the waterfront. Completed in 2005, it was designed by Santiago Calatrava and is the second tallest residential tower in Europe.
Once at central station, we stopped for lunch at the newly opened Bistro Royal, once the royal waiting rooms for the station, and only recently opened to the public. The warm sunshine was beckoning so we took a table outside, but you really must go inside and see the elaborate décor, still in pristine condition and just as it was when designed for the use of royalty.
We then went to check in at the Hotel Master Johan, arguably the most elegant hotel in Malmo, and situated just a few yards from nightlife hub Lila Torg. Rooms are spacious and luxurious and, for all that you are right in the centre, wonderfully well sound proofed. The rooms are arranged round a central courtyard, which is now covered by a glass atrium, and where you can enjoy coffee or a drink and an excellent breakfast in the morning.
The afternoon was spent on a brief shopping tour of the city. Malmo abounds in stylish clothing shops, knickknack stores and locally made furniture. Also an old style gentleman’s barbershop called Roy and Son. Malmo centre is not especially large so it is easy to cram in quite a lot in a short space of time. That said, by 4pm I was longing for a sit down, and was pleased when our travels led us to Sockerbit in Holmgangen, where we stopped off for a coffee and, in my case, a delicious Swedish bun. The Swedes call the act of having coffee and cake “fika”, though it’s more about socialising than drinking coffee, and a tradition I wholeheartedly approve of.
Dinner that night was at the popular restaurant Bastard, which specialises in modern classic European cuisine using the best produce they can get, often organic and from local small-scale suppliers. Head chef Andreas Dahlberg believes in the ethos simple and seasonal, using regional produce whenever possible and offcuts of meat to keep creativity up and prices down. Beverages are chosen with a similar passion, and they have a large selection of natural wines and beers from small producers and breweries. It being summer, seating was in the outside courtyard, but, be aware, even in summer, the evenings can get quite cool. Blankets were on hand, but not plentiful enough. It might be wise to take a sweater or warm jacket.
We were treated to a taster menu, which gave us a good idea of the range of food on offer, all of it delicious, particularly the famous Bastardplanka, or platter of cold meats, which comprised our starter.
Having had a very early start, it was a pleasure to return to the comfort of the Johan Master Hotel, and drift off into sleep.
Next morning after breakfast we were met by a tall Norse Goddess going by the name of Catarina Rolfsdotter- Jansson, a journalist, moderator and innovator, who was to take us on a sustainability tour to the Western Harbour. Like most cities in northern Europe, Malmo is extremely cycle friendly, so this was to be our mode of transport. Indeed it is one of the best ways to get around the city and cycle hire stations are plentiful, with most hotels also having bikes for hire.
We cycled through some lovely parkland before finally making it to the Western Harbour, where we chained the bikes so we could walk around and see the true wonders of how sustainability can work. Though small in size, Western Harbour could act as a blueprint for how we progress in the future, and attracts visitors from all over the world, including China, where pollution is a massive problem. Certainly Western Harbour is close to some kind of Utopian ideal of the future, a world which is completely self-sustaining. Built on the old Kockums shipyard, a contaminated and run-down area, Malmo, with the help of internationally renowned property developers and architects has turned the area into a paragon of sustainable living and working. Quality of life is expressed here in the daring architecture of its residential and business and civic properties, and in the attractively laid out canals, ponds and watercourse, as well as green spaces, some actually on top of the buildings. Taking full advantage of its location by the water, the beachfront here is packed with restaurants, bars, cafés and nightclubs, and is bursting with life, especially in the summer months. What a pleasure it must be to live in this beautiful area. It is also the home of the fantastic Twisting Torso tower, which is every bit as impressive close to as it was from a distance.
Catarina left us at lunchtime where we retired to Salt & Brygga, a completely organic and sustainable restaurant and the first of its kind in Scandinavia. Restaurateur Bjorn Steinbeck’s philosophy is, “Swedish food inspired above all by the Mediterranean, but also by other food cultures. The region’s best ingredients. Friendly atmosphere, exquisite wine and great beer. A broad way of thinking that arises directly from nature and the environment – for body and soul.”
So after body and soul were satisfied, we walked on to the famous old bathhouse at Ribersborg, a beloved tradition amongst locals. Bathing costumes are forbidden, though you are given a towel and a square of cotton to sit on.
The changing areas are divided into women’s and men’s but there is one sauna in the middle that is mixed, and which seemed to be the busiest, though I was happier in the all-male saunas, all of which have a huge window with a view of the sea. After heating up n the sauna, the idea is that you then take a plunge in the sea, pretty cold you might think, but actually thoroughly invigorating, and then what pleasure to lie out naked on the wooden slatted walkways, drying out in the sun. Northern Europeans are completely unselfconscious about their bodies; nobody indulging in a ridiculous towel dance in an attempt to hide their naughty bits, they just let it all hang out. In fact you’d be a lot more conspicuous if you did try to cover up. For me it was the perfect afternoon, thoroughly and enjoyably relaxing, but then I am something of a nudist. Hanging out naked is completely natural to me.
Having spent several hours at the bathhouse, and as the sun was beginning to lose its heat, I cycled back to the hotel. After a quick beer with one of my colleagues in Lila Torg, which was already buzzing with life, I went back to my room to change for the evening.
Dinner was at Beebar, which endearingly bills itself as a straight friendly restaurant. Certainly very busy, with an extremely friendly atmosphere. On their website, they say, “With us is diversity important. All humans are equal whether you are yellow, black, white, red, blue, green, like girls, guys, – or plastic dolls! As long as we can hang out under the same conditions and have fun together. We are clear about not accepting the prejudices, racism and injustice. You can even call it respect,” a statement that seemed to ring true wherever we went actually.
Food was excellent and we were fortunate enough to be there on an evening when Nick Ofverman, a wine importer from Goteborg, was promoting some of the rose wine he was importing from France, so we were plied with copious amounts before rolling out at about 10pm. It was so light outside that it felt as if it was only around 7. No doubt because they have so little daylight during the cold winter months, the streets were packed with people enjoying the summer evening. We made our way to the nightclub Babel, a fantastic converted church, where a rock concert was taking place. This not being much to our taste we walked to the Moriska Paviljongen Park, where a completely free Festival of Feminism was coming to a close. The park was packed with revellers, drinking and enjoying the cool summer evening. Apparently the park is host to some sort of free festival most weekends during the summer.
Finally we made our way to Wonk, Malmo’s only gay club, which is on every Saturday night from 11.30 to 5am. It’s a luxurious venue with drinks prices to match and staffed with gorgeous topless barmen, and, like any provincial gay club anywhere in the world, a few too many hen parties for my liking. Quite often straight women outnumber gay men two to one, and here it was no different. Thoroughly exhausted, and remembering that we had an early start the next morning, I made my way back to the hotel and crawled back into bed around 3am.
Next morning rather later than planned, and with one or two of our party looking a little the worse for wear, we left Malmo by car for a tour of the Hällåkra Vingård, where we were to have a light lunch and get to taste some of the local wine. Yes, Sweden produces wine and surprisingly good it is too. It may not taste like French wine, but as owner Hakan Hansson explained to us, he is not trying to reproduce French wine, just good wine, which seems to me to be an excellent philosophy. All the wine is organic, as was the delicious lunch provided by Mrs. Hansson, with locally produced cold meats and cheeses.
Feeling well fed and ever so slightly tipsy, apart from our driver of course, we piled into the car for the drive south to Angavallen, an organic farm, which also serves as a hotel, restaurant and conference centre. Set in the heart of the beautiful Skane countryside, this is certainly a place to get away from it all. After checking into our luxury rooms, the owner and proprietor Rolf Axel Nordstrom came to show us around the farm. A gently spoken man, Nordstrom is a passionate believer in the benefits of organic and compassionate farming. Given the necessity of breeding animals to provide food, he strives to give them the best life possible when alive and even to give them a pain and stress-free death. No animal ever sees another one die; no animal ever smells the blood of another animal that has been killed. His approach is akin to the caring way in which we kill our pets, when they have come to the end of their lives. This caring approach even means that the meat will taste better, as animals release a hormone into their bodies when they are panicked, which affects its flavour.
After being shown around the farm, we were taken to the kitchen to engage in a spot of sausage making, our efforts accompanied by the imbibing of several glasses of organic beer. I’m not sure if it made the sausages taste any better. It certainly meant the sausage-making went with a swing.
An early dinner of home produced meats and cheeses was absolutely delicious before we all retired to the peace of our rooms for a much needed early night.
Angavallen, which is set in stunningly beautiful countryside, is the perfect place to retreat for a few days. It also serves well for wedding receptions and team building conferences.
The next morning, after a scrumptious breakfast, made up for the most part of home-produced organic fare, we were on our way, for the final leg of our trip, to the coast down at Falsterbonasett, and for a morning’s sailing with Peter Malmquist.
This part of Sweden was once part of Denmark and many of the natives take pride in their Danish heritage. It is a great place for long walks, for stunningly beautiful white sand beaches, including, naturally, a nudist beach. Also a place to go horse riding and discover Viking trails; in all a good place for an action holiday, somewhere to enjoy sailing, swimming, hiking and riding. During our invigorating sailing trip Peter Malmquist, and Petra Strandberg of the Skane Tourist Board told us tales of the area’s Danish ancestry.
After docking we went to the Skanors Fiskrogeri, a famous fish restaurant which opened 14 years ago. All the food was beyond delicious and I had the best sole I’d ever tasted.
Lunch over, it was time to make our way back to Malmo and thence to Copenhagen for our flight home.
If you are looking specifically for a gay holiday then Malmo and Skane are probably not the place for you. If, however, you feel like going somewhere different, getting some fresh air and enjoying the hospitality of a people who don’t care whether you are gay or straight, then it is certainly worth a look. You can find plenty to do over a long weekend, or maybe even a week and I would definitely recommend hiring a car and exploring the beautiful country in Skane as well.
I’d relish the idea of being able to spin it out a little longer and take time over its many attractions.
Back to part one
Reviewed by Greg Mitchell
For more details on travelling to Sweden visit: http://www.visitsweden.com