My sister-in-law invited me to come stay on Koster, the car-free island off the west coast of Sweden, where she lives. Actually, it’s two islands and I headed to the larger southern location. The month was May, so I’d be avoiding the summer tourist crowds.
I could check off number one of my travel criteria; pretending I’m the intrepid explorer and first outsider to discover a “lost” tribe of people, instead of feeling like just another tourist. Oh, sure, the island weather isn’t tropical, but if I wanted sunburns and mosquito bites, I’d head south, instead.
The only way onto the island is by ferry from the mainland of Strömstad. The ride itself is a treat. The day I travelled, winds and rain battered the boat. I imagined myself a Viking braving the rough seas, albeit on a motorized and heated long boat.
My relatives greeted me at the dock to escort me to their guesthouse. I noticed that there were no parking lots and no cars, except for the occasional delivery vehicle. People drove electric scooters, biked, or gasp, walked! I could walk the island without risking death in a game of Frogger.
Without the roar of traffic, I heard the pure sounds of nature—wind, birds, and children playing in street! Iconic red or white Swedish houses dot the landscape in a loose array, with nary a strip mall or fast food restaurant blighting the view. I felt the stress melt away be replaced with an odd feeling of calm, that I later identified as serenity.
Since it was still drizzling, we headed into the museum of the Kosterhavet National Park, Sweden’s first and only national marine park. I expected to be able to kayak with so much water and rocky enclaves, but snorkeling and diving in a marine park…in Sweden?
Koster is home to Sweden’s only coral reef and 12,000 unique plants and animals. Oh, sure you’ll need a wetsuit, and possibly a dry one most of the year, but there will be no bumping into other people in a game of snorkel pinball, like on a tropical reef. I didn’t have any way to keep warm in the water, so I chose hiking and biking, instead.
In my sister-in-law’s guesthouse, I had one of the best sleeps of my life. There were no planes overhead or trucks zooming by to interrupt my dreamy slumber. This is how humans are supposed to live and the Koster residents get to live it every day. Sweden being a modern society, they don’t even have to sacrifice technology to have peace. A laidback authentic lifestyle and fast Internet—sign me up!
The sun greeted me the next morning so I jumped on my bike that I had brought over on the ferry. The island isn’t big enough to get lost in the wilderness and require a rescue crew, so I ventured out without a map. I pedaled down a lovely path surrounded by trees. Mesmerized by the sight, I failed to notice the path narrowing, until it turned to a hilly footpath over rocks and mud. Oops! I guess I missed that sign.
Curious what lay ahead, I wasn’t about to turn around now. So, I turned a casual bike-riding day into a bike-pushing adventure through cow pastures, over sandy beaches, and up and down rocks. It was exhausting but fun!
I eventually ran into a main road and headed home. On the way back, I found a marked overlook off the road and climbed the rocky stairs to find a marvelous 360-degree view of the island overlooking deep, verdant forests and the surrounding archipelago. I imagined myself a Swede standing guard against invading Danes during Medieval times. But with no real and immediate threat, I enjoyed the sunset and then returned to my family for another night of traffic-free sleep.
The next day, I opted for less physical exertion and accompanied my sister-in-law to the farm where she works. I spent the morning cuddling and nuzzling pillow-soft lambs, inhaling their sweet woolen scent. This is the country version of a euphoric drug. Mmmm!
When the lambs had tired of being molested by city slickers on retreat, my nieces took me to visit the massive Shire horses in their care. They assured me that the horses are gentle and sweet, but that didn’t calm my fears.
Shires are one of the largest and tallest breeds in the world. Their heads are nearly as big as my entire body. I eventually felt safe enough to sit atop one of the Shire’s massive barrel of a back and be led down the road for a ride.
I fell in love. Not only with the horses and the lambs, but all of Koster and its peaceful natural lifestyle. Other activities include eating at restaurants with local-caught seafood and organic local-grown vegetables, visiting the seal colonies, listening to summer music festivals, and even watching a mackerel race? Unfortunately, my paradise had to end and I’ll have to learn what a mackerel race is on my next Koster escape.