• The Traveller's Food Directory: Gotland

    The Traveller's Food Directory: Gotland
    Words: Julia Georgallis, 2018 / Image: Mark McGuinness 

    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 to, year after year. After all, there is still much of the world to see. This anomaly of a place, however, is the Swedish island of Gotland, lodged firmly in the Baltic sea between the Eastern Block and mainland Sweden. I have been coming here each summer since 2015 to stay with some friends who've built campsite and artists’ residency, Designers on Holiday. 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 come at the end of the summer, expansive shooting-starry, milky wayish skies also arrive. A short flight from Stockholm, Malmo, Oslo or Helsinki, or a slightly longer boat ride from Stockholm, Gotland it is packed full of well tailored Scandi tourists, in the winter it is not-so-packed with very down to earth Gotlanders. After a few summers worth of exploring, I think it is about time that I shared some of the things that this funny little island has to offer should you ever find yourself here.  


    Just like how I found myself in Gotland in the first place, it isn’t really known exactly how saffron made an appearance in Sweden, but Swedes have been using it for special occasions since the Middle Ages and in Gotland they use it very well indeed. Gotlandic ice cream is actually pretty good, but my favourite flavour has to be the traditional Gotlandic saffran och honungsglass, or saffron and honey ice cream. You will also encounter one of Gotland's most popular export's, saffranspannkaka everywhere – 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. Now, thanks to IKEA, we all know about pickled herring and smoked salmon with gravalax but there are honestly so many other 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. Remember to try jumping off the piers of the Rokeri before you eat, the water’s lovely round there.


    Follow the signs
    Take a drive around Gotland (I would recommend renting a car – preferably 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 super nice restaurant and stretches of farmland attached to it or my other personal favourite, Gutenviks Gard, 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, or second hand shop. 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 super 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.’ No, you're right, I made it up. 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. 


    Medieval Week
    Absolutely bloody bonkers - Medieval Week 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 get 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 this is a lot more interesting to me, 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 definitely 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. It’s the most exciting part, in my opinion, about eating and travelling - you meet all sorts of people with all sorts of stories.


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