“The Danes dug this tunnel into the rock centuries ago looking for silver,” chirps our Swedish guide Jacob with a hint of cross-border one-upmanship. “They went twenty metres before they realised there was nothing here.”
We’re standing on Sweden’s craggy western coastline, behind us the southernmost region of Scania (known as Skåne in Danish and Swedish) and in front the simmering body of water that is the Øresund strait. Usually as placid as a garden pond, today the swell wretches close to a rocky outpost which even the Vikings in all their fearlessness never dared steer their longboats around. Every cloud in the sky is heaving with a silver lining of glam-rock make-up. Underneath, Denmark’s horizontal waterfront squints defiantly back across at its Nordic neighbour.
Said pick-axed passage, pragmatically cuboidal and high enough for any size of modern visitor, is just another beautifying scar (albeit man-made) on Scania’s landscape. And there are many of them. Where Denmark’s eastern edge is characterised by kempt houses with bowling green lawns and pocket beaches, Scania’s feels almost Scottish or Welsh– and is a surprising haven for hikers, mountain bikers and even rock climbers. When these age-old lands split millennia ago – as though an unjust Christmas cracker pull – Sweden clearly came off better.
When cut loose in the native habitat as we are, it’s easy to forget Sweden’s staggering size. Scania alone is 11,000 km² yet represents less than three percent of the country’s total landmass; the multicultural cities of Helsingborg and Malmö, however, help account for the region’s disproportionately large whack of the population (13 percent). Very attractively to the car or bike-owning guest, concrete cityscape can be left behind at a canter for that holy grail of all Scandinavian getaways: nature. And it’s the 900-hectare Kullaberg regional park – home to rare bird and luscious plant species – which is the box office ticket.
Scania was the rope in an imperial tug of war between Denmark and Sweden for centuries, but now, like Sweden’s other 24 provinces, it exists more for cultural and historical purposes than administrative or political ones. It was part of the Danish Kingdom up until the Roskilde Treaty in 1658 and, although now back under ownership of the land to which it’s annexed, it has an air of independence. Sturdy, provincial houses fly the red and yellow flag of Scania more than the yellow and blue of its motherland. Even road signs are decked out in the regional colours.
Transportation has been made easier, largely due to the Øresund bridge and car ferry crossing (a mere 30 minutes from Denmark’s Helsingør to Sweden’s Helsingborg), its residents are able to regularly hop across to Copenhagen and wider Zealand. It was the boat journey we made yesterday.
Following the hike, and after a lunch so fresh it was unreal at nearby Krapperup Castle, we’re to loosen up our leg muscles by mountain biking through Kullaberg itself.
It turns out that pedal power offers the best of both worlds: laid-back forest boulevards and narrow uphill tracks booby-trapped with protruding tree roots. You also get to start from a bike shed at Mölle’s harbour. Just as with our ventures over the rocks earlier, our guide is persistently patient, seeming happier to take it in as a newcomer than to show off as a pro (as many do). We stop at a viewpoint, used by local military during the Second World War, to breathe in the scent of acres of rapeseed fields.
The fishing towns of Mölle and Arild bookend the northwest Kulla peninsula – and both are equally quaint and alluring.
Hotel Rusthållargården in Arild is the reclined epicentre of local activity and an ideal point from which to head out on expeditions, including kayaking. When you return from the wilderness, as we had the night before, Rusthallargarden’s saunas, board games and fabric-soft demeanour will help you unwind. Plus, the whole place is spotless. Even the bits of a hotel you generally don’t enjoy walking like the corridors or the car park are a dream. Swedes, like the Danes, are deft at architectural regeneration, and this is visible in the dolls-house interior of the hotel’s 16th Century main building.
They also do food very well. Scania is recognised as something of a gastronomic geyser; in the opposite way to which Malmö enthrals with multiethnic cuisine, the likes of the eateries at Rusthållargården and Mölle’s Grand Hotel pay homage to the often-overlooked Scandinavian countryside.
It’s a trait that is carried into our second night, spent at the Grand Hotel in Mölle. As well as delicious food and wine, the staff are accommodating and the view from the restaurant throws you into a three-way dilemma shared with the contents of your plate and conversation. They also knock up the best Bloody Mary this side of Texas.
It’s early on Saturday morning. The Grand Hotel stands over the Mölle’s picturesque port, the dark sky temporarily rendering it a Hitchcock movie scene, and the gathering wind slaps and cracks the harbour flags. We’ve just disembarked a 65-knot rigid inflatable boat – or RIB – having made north towards the Kulla peninsula.
As if we didn’t know before, the best approach to Scania is to go headfirst into the elements, and the boat was by far the most exhilarating way to see and feel the Swedish coastline. The region definitely caters for all, but it really feeds those who can take in its charm first-hand.
How to get there
Drive or take a train across Øresund Bridge from Copenhagen to Malmö – a good starting point in Scania. Buses run hourly between Malmö-Sturup airport and the central train station. Alternatively, take the Helsingør-Helsingborg car ferry. www.scandlines.dk
Where to stay
Grand Hotel, Mölle; room and breakfast 770 – 3,111 DKK Other packages and dinner menu options also available. www.grand-molle.se
Rusthållargården, Arild; room and breakfast from 2,036 DKK. www.rusthallargarden.se
What to do
Outdoor sports and activities instruction and equipment available through Special Sport School based in Mölle, including mountain biking, boating and coastal walking. www.specialsport.se
Krapperup Slot: This 16th Century castle is one of the country’s oldest and is a postcard of antiquity. Pace the gardens, feed the ducks or grab some cake at the courtyard café. www.krapperup.se