23 . 08 . 18
A Backpacker’s Food Directory: Swimming on the moon, Gotland

Writing by Julia Georgallis. From the top – cinnamon buns, a dip in the Baltic, swimming quarries, smoked fish from Katthammarsvik Rokeri. Images by Mark McGuinness and Designers on Holiday. 

As someone who likes an adventure and seeing new things, 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 place, however, is the Swedish island of Gotland, lodged firmly in the Baltic sea between the Eastern Block and mainland Sweden and I have been going there for the last 4 summers 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 dark, furry rainclouds, a medieval town to the West and a good helping of out of commission limestone quarries. In parts it looks like the moon. In other parts it looks like a scene from a Skandinavian crime series, 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), the 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. A short flight from Stockholm, Malmo, Oslo or Helsinki, or a slightly longer boat ride from Stockholm (Take a boat with Destination Gotland) in the summer it is packed full of well tailored Skandi tourists, in the winter it is not-so-packed with very down to earth Gotlanders. So after 4 summers worth of exploring, I think it is about time that I shared some of the things that this funny island has to offer should you ever find yourself here, with a smaller budget than you should have in Skandinavia…

1. Saffron
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 saffranspannkaka everywhere – this is a saffron pancake that is more like a crumbly cake, with the texture of polenta, usually eaten with healthy dollops of lingonberry jam and cream.

2. Fishes
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 really fatty and much sweeter than you would imagine. And of course, take home some smoked herring and mackerel. Recommended is the Katthammarsviks Rokeri – you can buy smoked fish or eat in at the restaurant. Remember to try jumping off the piers before you eat, the water’s lovely round there.

3. 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 the 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 red Gotlandic strawberries also make an appearance, sometimes also on stalls by the side of the road. There are also a number of signs that say 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).

4. 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 they actually don’t say that. 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 Sjalso Bageri.

5. 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.

6. 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 at the Designers on Holiday campsite.

7. Swimming
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 sinced 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.

8. Tacos?
A strange one to end with but I love it when things get washed up on the shores that by rights they absolutely shouldn’t be on. So, not-shit-tacos are hard to find outside of Mexico and California anyway, 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 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.