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Blue skies over Österlen

Nowhere else is the sky as big as it is above Österlen. Come along to Sweden’s Provence – rolling fields, white-sand beaches, and the country’s best second-hand shopping.


There are many beautiful landscapes, but, according to Johny Samuelsson, Österlen is exceptionally beautiful. We are standing next to Måns Nils Torg square in Borrby. This is where Johny runs a secondhand shop-slash-café. Grapevines stretch across the roof above the shop tables. He praises the landscape as if it were a work by a famous landscape painter.

“Österlen has its yellow period with the rapeseed in early summer, followed by the red of the poppies, the green fields, and the beige period as the cornfields ripen. And then the blue of the sky and the sea,” he adds dreamily.

Österlen is known for its rolling fields and white beaches, and the sea is never far away. But it’s still the light that’s most important – a saturated, southern shimmer that’s reflected by the sea and charges the hues of the landscape. Johny moved here to be closer to the water and the Continent. He is now also trying to give Borrby some life in the winter as well. As provinces go, Österlen is for the summer – and for nerds. They grow things, paint and write, make homemade pizzas, surf, blow glass, grow black salsify, and build furniture. “An absolute must-see” is a recurring comment in Österlen. Something exciting and odd is happening everywhere. It’s the province of the sign: Turn here! The adventure begins at these turn-offs: art, homemade ice cream, coffee, and second-hand, second-hand, second-hand everywhere, from junk to antiques.


Sweden's Provence

But where does Österlen begin and end? Outside Ystad is a sign: Gate to Österlen. Residents of Skåne scratch their heads at this: “That’s not quite right, is it?” In the north, Kristianstad’s airport has been named Kristianstad Österlen Airport. This also feels like a bit of a stretch. But somewhere in-between is Sweden’s Provence, from Brösarp in the north to Hammars Backar in the south – a kingdom of beaches, fields, and a surprising amount of forest in the north.

Österlen did not become a holiday destination until the 1920s. The name was coined by a local editor in Simrishamn, John Osterman, who wrote the first tourist brochure about the region in 1929. The painting prince, Prince Eugen, discovered Österlen in the 1930s, and his landscapes of the region drew tourists and swimming enthusiasts. Today, Österlen is home to many famous people: Mandelmanns, Ulf Lundell, actors/actresses, musicians, writers, and artists.A good entrance is Östra Kustvägen from Ystad. When you reach the rolling embankments, the cows and the sky, you have arrived. Stop a moment. Leif Larsson sells fruit, berries, and vegetables at the side of the road. He is like a friendly gate-keeper for the province. Leif has sold fruit here for 25 years.

“We will be here one more season.” He has travelled the world and built Tetra Pak machines, but moved to Thailand to retire. Every summer they come home to run the vegetable stand. Cars stop all the time.
“Two raspberries, one strawberry, please.” With a bag of cherries in hand, continue onward.


The tempo: Andante

Österlen has its tourist magnets: Sandhammaren with its endless white beach, Stenshuvud National Park, Kivik Art Centre, Kåseberga and Ale’s Stones. Simrishamn with its quaint streets and lively harbour. What kind of holiday do you want? Beach time, hiking the Skåneleden trail, or surfing in Gislövshammar? In July, Österlen is filled with tourists, so expect crowds at the most well-known attractions. Blogs and Instagram tips steer the traffic. There are more foreign visitors every year. Traffic jams can occur midday. One tip is to slow down, travel leisurely, and find your own roads. There are lovely, empty beaches along the entire coastline.

Get up early and head to Sandhammaren when the red Heidenstam lighthouse is engulfed in the morning fog. Then you will see the eternal Österlen, the fishermen’s and the lighthouse keepers’ historical, dangerous coast. More than 200 ships lie at the bottom along the coastline. Stay for the morning and watch the light change. Around lunchtime the cars will arrive, the beach will fill up, and then you can move on. The village of Knäbäckshusen has a beach with trees that reach out over the sand, reminiscent of Asia, and Stenshuvud looms to the north. Take a short walk and you will find yourself all alone.


Nature and culture

The fishing village Kåseberga is filled with local fishermen, restaurants, ice cream stands and a second-hand shop. Enjoy a herring sandwich at Kåseberga Fisk with Ahl’s Rökeri. The shelves are stocked with goodies: salmon salami, smoked mussels and eel. Stairs from Kåseberga lead up to Ale’s Stones, often called Skåne’s Stonehenge. The stone ship has an impressive view of the coastline. Researchers don’t agree on the 59 stone blocks that form the 70-metre long oval. Some believe it’s a burial ground; others believe it’s a sundial. But the history is palpable between the stones. A cyclist meditates in the middle of the circle. A woman touches every stone block. It’s the perfect backdrop for selfies.

Österlen’s summers are a special mix of nature and culture. Visitors can step into an art gallery to buy a coffee mug or a watercolour painting with sand between their toes. Borrby is a hub, with its Wild West feel and a grocery store where everyone shops, as well as several bookstores. One of them, Antikvariat Hundörat, offers up everything from pocket books to rare titles.

“It’s a general second-hand bookstore, but a very good one. It’s fun to stand here,” says Peter Bodén, a bookseller with his tiny empire of Borrby and two stores in Stockholm, where he sells exclusive and rare books. He and his family bought a summer house here in 2008, but Peter wanted to have a store as well.The idea struck him early to turn Borrby into a book village. The initiative was funded by the EU, and the money was used for marketing and premises.

“We rented several buildings and brought talented booksellers here,” he says. When the EU funding ran out, many left, but some stayed. Despite e-books and tablets, Peter is hopeful. “I am convinced that physical books have a future.”

Not far down the street, Emil Fredholm and his wife are painting their house. Emil is a graphic designer, but also runs Vintageaffischer, a shop for original posters from the 1960s and 1970s.

“There’s huge demand, and all sorts of buyers. Some are looking for posters from specific concerts or a certain designer, others want something ‘small’ or ‘green’ to match the sofa.”
The business moves to Stockholm after the summer, and it’s also online.

Ale’s Stones

A beautiful road

Time for coffee, the fuel of summer holidays. Blå Huset in Borrby is a pleasant hotspot with a fairytale- like garden. Carina and Anders Öhman have been the proprietors since 2013. They used to live in Västra Hamnen in Malmö but felt the urge to move to the country after a holiday in France.

“We couldn’t shake the feeling. We found the house online, came here, and decided that very day. We don’t feel isolated living here. We have everything we need,” says Carina.

Their Österlen dream became a reality. Carina sells porcelain and runs the small B&B. Anders bakes and cooks the food in the summer. He is also a sommelier and arranges wine courses in Malmö and Stockholm.

Österlen’s landscape changes throughout our journey. Route 9 from Trelleborg, around the coast and up towards Brösarp, has been named Sweden’s most beautiful road. It twists and turns for 140 km through fields, hills and apple orchards and past churches. We pass Stenshuvud National Park, with its magical beech forests and rocky cliffs, and continue up to the hills of Brösarp for a view of Haväng’s open landscape and the northern gate to Österlen. The light is magical – filled with dreams and yearning.

Campsites in Österlen