For Swedes summer means heading out of town to commune with nature. There are few better places in which to do this than the Stockholm archipelago, says writer Judi Lembke.
Each summer I grab my kids and our bikes and hop on the ferry at Gåshaga (you can also grab one at Strömkajen in the middle of the city) and spend a few hours sipping a pint or two on the upper deck while the wind whips my hair and the sun gently warms me. We know what’s coming: a day spent exploring one of the most unique places on earth – and a meal that will have us singing its praises for months to come.
There are more than 30,000 islands spread across the Stockholm archipelago. Located roughly 60km from Stockholm, Möja is one of the largest islands and it sits just where the middle archipelago meets the outer islands.
Möja is actually part of a larger group known as Möjareservet (Möja Nature Reserve), with a history that stretches back to Viking times. Each island (Lökaön, Storö, Ramsmoraö, and Bergbo) once had its own village, something that is reflected in the names. The local industries were primarily fishing, hunting, and strawberry cultivation, and while today the only strawberries you’ll find are in the wild, fishing is still part of Möja’s culture.
These days, about 200 people live year-round on the island. During the summer months, that number swells to about one thousand as city slickers head out to their summer stugor (small country houses). It’s difficult to put a number on the amount of day-trippers, although locals say it can be several hundred a day at the height of the season.
The strange thing is that even when at the harbour, I rarely see many tourists or day-trippers getting off with me. In fact, the people I mostly run into (figuratively and literally) are locals on their ATVs tearing up the narrow gravel roads that snake around the island. Other than bikes or boats, ATVs are the only way to get around as cars are few and far between.
So there I find myself, hopping off the ferry and onto my bike and my biggest decision? Which direction to pedal in.
At the ferry landing there are a few small shops, a café, a bike rental, and a small tourist office – and then it’s a gravel road to the left and a gravel road to the right. It really doesn’t matter which way you go because although there may be some dead-ends along the way, the main road goes in a big circle so you will always find your way back to the harbour.
Being creatures of habit, we always start to the right. As you cycle along a slight turn to the left will bring an old farmhouse into view, its red-painted wooden exterior glowing against a field of wildflowers that send their scent our way. A slight turn to the right and suddenly the sea is revealed, with rocks and boulders hugging the water.
The wonderful thing about Möja is that you can safely leave your bike on the side of the road or leaning up against a tree or fence before taking as long as you like to explore the surrounding area. When you return, your bike will be exactly where you left it. We often climb the rocks and boulders along the water before biking closer to the forest, where wild strawberries and blueberries wait to be picked. These keep us fueled until lunch, which can only mean one thing: the legendary fish restaurant Wikströms Fisk.
The only professional fisherman left on the island owns and runs Wikströms and it’s not an easy place to find. As you pass through the tiny village of Ramsmora there is a crooked little hand-written wooden sign shoved low into the dirt on the side of the road. All it says is ‘Wikströms’ with an arrow below it. The arrow points you to a narrow path winding its way up a hill.
The hill is steep so we leave our bikes parked next to the sign and begin the climb. Along the way we pass small wooden houses and as we get higher there are glimpses of the sea. And then, just as we’re thinking we’ll never make it, we’ve arrived: a quaint wooden building with two large rooms inside and outdoor seating for forty is perched near the top of the hill, waiting with all its wonderful tastes.
Weather permitting you must sit outside. There aren’t any bells and whistles at Wikströms and there doesn’t need to be. Everything on the small menu is fresh: the fish is locally caught by the owner and served the same day, while the vegetables are grown on the island and their taste refreshingly still hints of the earth. Preparation is simple, allowing the true flavour of the ingredients to take center stage.
Last time we visited we had white fish sautéed in butter with herbs, served alongside some freshly boiled new potatoes and a salad. And that was it. A glass of white wine to wash it all down with and life could not have been better.
Ferries don’t stop at Möja as often as one might like. When leaving there is one between three and four in the afternoon so once you’ve had your fill of fresh fish it’s back on the bike and a chance to explore the rest of the island, which is more wonderfully serene nature. We sometimes take a dip in the sea (ask a local where to do this, as there aren’t many swimming areas), and then make our way back to the harbour, where people gather to casually eat ice cream and perhaps explore the church that stands just a few minutes away. There’s a convivial atmosphere as eyes scan the horizon for the approaching ferry.
Each time we prepare to leave we ask ourselves why we didn’t book an overnight. Because waking up on Möja is the one of the few things we have left to experience. And it’s one adventure that awaits us.
So Möja, we’ll be back. Again.