It has taken very little time to fall in love with Gotland, a mysterious sea-swept island in the middle of the stony grey Baltic, off the southeast coast of Stockholm.
The largest of Sweden’s islands, 78 miles long, it is definitely not typically Swedish, although it officially became part of the nation in 1679. Once a strategic hub of Hanseatic trade in the Baltic Sea, Gotland today offers serenity and a landscape of lush meadows that are tapestries of orchids, thirty-five different varieties thrive here, poppies and wildflowers. You’ll also find desolate moorlands, stone walls, close up to 100 unspoiled medieval country churches, and pristine farmlands that date back to the 6th century. This is really a swedish island retreat in medieval history.
Vikings, nowhere else in Sweden have so many Viking or medieval treasures been discovered. Dramatic stone pillars, the island’s monumental “sea stacks” carved out of soft limestone by the wind and waves, dot a coastland marked by long empty beaches, tiny fishing villages, and steep cliffs.
Gotland’s highlight is the once prominent Hanseatic town of Visby, a living shrine to the island’s 14th century heyday when it was a country all its own and Visby boasted sixteen churches. Its defensive walls, more than two miles long with forty-four lookout towers, are some of the best preserved in Europe, often compared to those in Avila, Spain, and Carcassonne, France.
During the summer, festivals come thick and fast, and Gotland finds itself at the forefront of Sweden’s artistic and cultural life. Ingmar Bergman lived and filmed here, on Gotland’s ancillary island of Farö in the north.
Book much in advance, preferably into the restored 19th century Wisby Hotel, the nicest place on the island, located in the historic center, for August annual Medieval Week, when the townspeople go about their business in colorful gowns and velvet doublets, and minstrels and street theatre bring the city back to the Hanseatic trading days when it was as vibrant, rich and powerful as London or Paris.
Wisby Hotel is 60 miles from the mainland. The nearest port from Stockholm is Nynäshamn, a five hour ferry trip to Visby. There are daily 40 minute flights as well.
Visby can be crowded though the countryside remains relatively empty during the short summer season.
Written by the Daily Scandinavian team