Marstrand: The Best Island in West Sweden

Marstrand Best Island in West Sweden


As the ferry approached Marstrand Island, the few tin green roofs broke up the terra-cotta-red skyline like white caps mottling the surface of a mostly calm sea. Crowning the island’s peak stood Carlsten fortress, built centuries earlier to ward off the Danes. (Despite its impenetrable-looking walls, the fortress had fallen to the enemy the only two times it had been attacked.) Today’s blitz was coming from the nearby residents of Gothenburg, many of whom had taken the hour-long bus ride and now five-minute trip across the busy waterway between Koon and Marstrand Islands for a preferred respite.


Some opted for a fika along the waterfront at Bergs Konditori, where a scattering of white tables and chairs wobbled with the mandatory small cups of strong coffee and oversized cinnamon buns that were part of the tradition. Others shopped the few stores in the harbor.


Fika on Marstrand


Marissa, Harper, and I took to the path that left the small village. Around the bend, on the north side of the island, we found Swedes laying out on defunct cement docks and others climbing down rusted ladders for quick dips in the rocky channel to the sea.


We began our day in this manner, thinking that this was the extent of Marstrand–a peaceful island with a quaint harbor town. But then we noticed a few runners darting up a trail into the woods. Two elderly women followed.


We asked the ladies if the path was suitable for a stroller; they advised we leave it behind. So we hid Harper’s ride beneath a staircase in a residence near the trailhead, unworried that anyone would steal it. (We were the only stroller in all of Sweden equipped with tiny plastic wheels. This was, after all, a country covered in cobblestones and every parent knew to purchase prams with bike-sized tires.)


Marstrand The Best Island in West Sweden


Hiking Marstrand Island


We began the five-kilometer loop along the north shore of the island among small trees and long-legged Swedes who took impressive strides. (Even the old women who advised us to ditch the stroller had estimated that the hike would take less than an hour, which would be the appropriate pace of a three-mile hike that didn’t traverse an expanse of crag and wasn’t slowed by age or infants.)


When we reached the western edge of Marstrand, a few dozen Swedes had taken to a rocky outcrop, sprawled out like seals after a long journey. (As I saw more of Marstrand’s rock, it was apparent that the Swedes would lay on any surface, so long as it wasn’t precipice or gauntlet.) With Harper, we kept to the main part of Marstrand, which sat amebic in the sea, its pseudopods stretching to form endless coves. Joining us were other families, who had, in fact, pushed their strollers up the slopes of the forest and out onto the rock spotted with lichen.


Hiking Marstrand West Sweden


I climbed into the cold waters surrounding the island and swam from the cove, out into the rough seas, where I floated between a small white lighthouse at the edge of Marstrand and a regatta of sailboats.


Getting back in was no easy task as I had to climb through kelp beds and scramble over minefields of barnacles. But it was an easier entry than many hopeful visitors would have had a few decades back. It wasn’t until recently that all of Sweden’s western archipelago re-opened to foreigners. From the Second World War, when some of the islands were used as artillery positions and coastal defenses, until the 1990s, travel for non-Swedes was restricted to some parts of the archipelago.


On Marstrand, there are still some forbidden grounds. On the south-side of the island, men cannot go into the nude bathing area for women and vice versa. I, however, not being able to read the Swedish language did cross into this restricted section and can report that, in contrast to popular opinion, not all Swedish women are naturally blonde.


We made haste for the family beach.


Swimming on Marstrand Island West Sweden


Where I Stayed:


Marstrands Havshotell on the island of Koon, just across from Marstrand, provides modern comforts backdropped by a view of the historic island. What makes the Havshotell ideal is its spa. Outdoor hot tubs face the island, while the jacuzzis inside, along with a selection of steam rooms, offer a variety of temperatures. For the more brazen relaxer the Iskalla Hinken, which will require no translation once you watch a bucket of water spill on a shocked and rigidified spa-goer, is just one of the many ways the Swedes pair pleasure with pain.


Of course, when in Sweden, I felt obliged to have a Swedish massage. (More pleasure and pain, though mostly pleasure.)


While dinners are over-priced at the hotel (though this is true across the country), their breakfast is one of the best I have ever experienced at a hotel. With its smoked fish offerings and quickly replenished fare, the spread feels like a well-catered Yom Kippur break fast rather than the first meal of the day.


Note: The link above for Marstrands Havshotell is my affiliate link on Agoda. If you use it to book a room, you’ll get a good deal; I’ll get a small cut. We’ll all be happy. Support your global blogger. Thanks.




Posted on by Noah Lederman in Europe, Somewhere

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