Växjö — Summer in southern Sweden | DW Travel | DW | 06.09.2019
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Växjö — Summer in southern Sweden

Those who travel to this big nowhere with an open mind and without expectations will not be disappointed. The villages are called Skavenäsasjön or Hjortsberga, and they consist of lakes, jetties and even more lakes.

Freedom is to paddle naked in the rain on to a lake and howl drinking songs into the Swedish silence after schnapps and a sauna have made you red-hot and when someone then falls into the water, everyone laughs. The sheep are already watching from the shore. One of them has come to the jetty for a better view.

In the distance only a few lights from a small village can be seen, nothing else. Just a lot of forest, a lot of rain, and a lot of Sweden. It is midsummer at "Asa Herrgård", a small guest house whose original German builder nobody remembers, but whose daughter was world-famous: Clärenore Stinnes! She was the first person from 1927 to 1929, to circumnavigate the world in an automobile, Emma Ekaremåls explains. In her luggage she was said to have carried three revolvers and 128 hard-boiled eggs. Emma runs the guest house where the sign on the door in handwritten Swedish says: "hot chocolate with cognac".

View of the lake from the terrace at pension Asa Herrgård, Sweden (Konstantin Arnold)

View of the lake from the terrace at pension Asa Herrgård

Emma mostly organizes weddings. Occasionally she brings big-city Chinese tourists wearing high heels and carrying Gucci bags here to show them the forest. Some of them have never seen so many trees before; they stare as they sink into moss and mud.

On the cross-country quad bike tour Emma distributes brightly colored rain jackets and tells us it makes it easier for the hunters to spot you in the forest. Then she laughs.

Don't expect blue skies

This is the kind of place where holidaymakers do not meet other holidaymakers. Places that no one who hasn’t already been here knows. Those who live here are people who do not need blue skies or were born here or who fell in love with a picture-book Swedish woman somewhere in the world. No matter where love takes you, just make sure it keeps you south of the polar circle! Nevertheless, the charming melancholy of this place cannot be ignored, because Swedes adjust and spread good cheer, which isn't dependent on the sun. Just a little "snaps".

Traditional metal milk cans (picture alliance/akg-images /S. Gabriel)

Film adaptations of Astrid Lindgren's kid's books like "Children from Noise Village" have shaped the image of Småland

Today there is no blue sky, which is no reason to get upset as at least it's not raining all of the time. In Sweden this is known as: A wonderful summer day in Småland, the region of southern Sweden around the town of Växjö, which unfortunately is only known for Pippi Longstocking  and Michel from Lönneberga, and not so much for its schnapps and saunas.

Here you find yourself sitting in a rain cape in the forest under garlands to celebrate the annual Crab Festival. In spite of the hunting season and the shots, some go collecting chanterelle mushrooms, while others prepare crayfish with dill and saltwater. Never in a hurry, but with Scandinavian efficiency. The big question that no one can answer is how much longer the rain will continue. Ingredients for the traditional summer crab festivals are collected in the forest, on the meadows and in the lake, only brandy unfortunately does not grow on trees, but still has to be bought in a "systembolaget", the government-owned chain of liquor stores, and it costs a fortune.

 Bowl of crayfish and glass of schnapps in Sweden (Konstantin Arnold)

The traditional crab festival is celebrated with the beginning of the crayfish season in August

"A crab, a schnapps, a song" you can hear this call echoing from the boats again and again, until someone falls into the water. Around 1800 almost every Swede was addicted to brandy, by far the most popular common drink. The harsh Scandinavian climate and the lack of a less powerful local alcoholic drink, like beer or wine, were said to have been to blame. The result was the abstinence movement, centralization of imports and taxes. Taxes that increase with the alcohol content and end up being more expensive than the schnapps itself. It is most expensive in Norway and cheapest in Denmark. The result: Norwegians drink in Sweden and Swedes in Denmark. 

Växjö — university town in southern Sweden

If you want to go to southern Sweden, you best fly to Copenhagen. Then take the train across the sea, a book in hand and enjoy the view out over the stormy Öresund, the strait that connects the Baltic Sea and Kattegat. Passing Malmö to Osby, continue on through many dark forests, interrupted by lakes, further, further and further to Växjö. Southern Sweden has long tried to draw attention to Växjö, building new bridges to new shores where Växjö's treasures lurk. They already have one of the most beautiful bridges in Europe, which leads here. But what else?

Danemark, Öresund bridge (picture-alliance/TT NYHETSBYRÅN/J. Nilsson)

The 16 kilometer (10 mi) Öresund Bridge since 2000 for the first time connects Sweden to Denmark by land

Växjö is a university town and the center for traditional glass blowing. In August there is a festival to remember the Swedish emigrants, hundreds of thousands of whom between 1868 and 1914 went to America — among them, above all, farmers. There is a large parade and mobile snack stalls where a kebab costs eight euros (8.80 US $).

Noble wines in a vault

The heart of the city is the "PM & Vänner", an outwardly inconspicuous hotel that represents everything that distinguishes this region. A modest building, that consists of a Michelin star restaurant and the finest wine cellar in Scandinavia. Over 20,000 bottles are stored here in a former bank vault right next to the underground car park — elaborately air-conditioned. The stairwell is a huge display of awards. Hotel director Martin Rognefall proudly shows his most expensive bottles. Guests pay up to 15,000 euros (16,547 US $) for a bottle of wine here.

Wine bottles in a lock-up in southern Sweden (Konstantin Arnold)

Rustically caged: The most expensive wine bottles in "PM & Vänner"

Martin tells the joke of the sommelier who was presented with two unlabeled bottles of wine: One which cost three euros at a discount store, the other worth a thousand euros from a wine trader. Unfortunately, the sommelier highly praised the cheap wine. Martin grins professionally, he doesn't really laugh. In his house such a thing does not happen, he says. His sommeliers have been to the vineyards, spending years during their apprenticeship at European wineries so that they can stand at his restaurant tables and truthfully wax lyrical about the wine to the guests.

The restaurant has a Michelin star, and Martin is proud of that. It serves culinary creations that you can't tell from eating if it is made of fish, meat or vegetables. Do you dare to ask? Not really, as there is a sense of etiquette that accompanies the meal, which is only interrupted only by the sound of slurping and the swirling of wine. After the sixth course, the last if you choose the shorter menu on offer, you are surrounded by wine glasses and have drunk your way through Europe.

Sustainability and regional ingredients

Southern Sweden — Star chef Morgan Giraud inspecting his tomatoes (Konstantin Arnold)

Chef de cuisine Morgan Giraud inspecting his tomatoes

The special thing about the hotel's cuisine: its origin. Morgan Giraud obtains most of his ingredients from the forests, meadows and lakes of the region, or harvests them from the hotel garden. This sensitizes and inspires him to create seasonal creations. Lucky Korean garlic, tiger almonds and even asparagus can grow berries in Morgan's garden. All of Sweden is undergoing enormous change, a sensitization to climate change. This results in short transport routes, sustainability, urban & organic gardening. This awareness is firmly anchored in Morgan's culinary philosophy. His cooks are expected to form a connection to what they cook. The result of which can be best enjoyed in the evening at "PM & Vänner", after a long day at the lake, when the voice regaling you with all those drinking songs has faded away.

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