We woke early on Saturday morning to take a bus to Strömstad further up the coast. From here, we caught a ferry to South Koster Island (Sydkoster in Swedish), where we were going to spend the day. This small and quiet car-free island has about 300 year-round residents but come the summer, that number swells to thousands per day, with visitors there for the beaches, forests and general peacefulness the island affords. As we were visiting during the off season, we came across very few visitors during our time there (luckily). And in case you’re wondering, there’s a North Koster Island too but it is smaller.
Helena von Bothmer met us at the ferry stop and walked us the five minutes to Sydkoster Hotell Ekenäs, our hotel for the night. We dumped our bags and then went off to choose a bicycle from a whole field full of them. Yes, we were taking a bicycle tour of the island – bicycles are very popular, as you’d imagine, when cars are banned. Other popular modes of transport (apart from walking, which is definitely possible as the island is only about 8 square kilometres) include the golf cart and a particular three wheeled vehicle with space for cargo whose name I’ve forgotten.
And then off we went! We cycled all round that island and passed houses, forests, and beaches. Here’s Helena telling us about the island and its residents.
We were joined by a cat who wove in and out amongst the bicycles; he was quite a friendly little fellow though he did run the risk of being run over!
Later, we stopped at the boundary of Sweden’s first Marine National Park, Kosterhavet, right on the coast of South Koster Island. Apparently there are 200 plant and animal species that cannot be found anywhere else in Sweden; as explained to us, it’s quite a deep and unique environment created, I think, by the meeting of two tectonic plates.
After further stops at the main fishing port and at the highest point on the island, well, we were hungry. At midday, we cycled to Kosters Trädgårdar (the gardens, nursery centre, farm shop, cafe/restaurant owned by Helena and her husband) for lunch. I was starving; my bicycle had decided to act up (sticking brakes) and it felt like I was cycling up a hill for most of the morning. Food was required!
We demolished a large bowl of leaf salad with peppers and toasted pumpkin seeds and cleared a platter of a wholemeal bread full of seeds.
Big bowls of a hearty fish stew were then brought out. The tomato based stew with fish, golden beetroot, potatoes, and kale was topped with a generous dollop of aioli (the amount of garlic used in Swedish cuisine surprised me) and it hit the spot. You could tell how tired we were by the silence that overcame the table as we slurped it down.
We were let loose on the spread of cakes after we finished our stews. A few of us shared a variety of them and my favourite was the traditional kanelbulle, the Swedish cinnamon roll.
After lunch, we cycled back to the hotel where we prepared for the main event of the day – a lobster safari with Johan Andersson from the hotel. Sadly, I don’t have many photos from this trip as we were very unsuccessful – 2.5m waves prevented us from getting anywhere near the lobster pots and so this safari amounted to mainly pottering around the Koster Islands. I think most fishermen would laugh at 2.5m swells but for us, they sounded deadly!
Back on land, we did get to see a few lobsters that were caught previously…but it’s not the same thing…
We did, however, learn how to cook the beasts in the manner we’d have them that night: dill-poached. 20L of water and 800g of salt and lots of dill stalks make up the poaching liquid (though I’d learn later that night that perhaps 800g is a bit too much) and the lobsters were unceremoniously dumped in. When fully cooked, they were taken off the heat but kept in their poaching liquid until dinnertime.
We also now know how to tell a lady lobster from a gentleman lobster – it’s all in the hips apparently (wider = female).
If you’d like to try a lobster safari from South Koster Island, there are two packages available here – the small package is quite similar to what we did…but y’know, we didn’t get that hot tub. I hope you have better luck with the lobstering than we did!
As we still had an hour and a half to dinner, I set out on a short walk while there was still light. I made it to a nearby beach and just sat there for a bit – it is amazingly quiet and peaceful there and I already started imagining returning with Blai!
I made it back with lots of time to spare for dinner. The dining room was already half full when I went down and had quite a jolly atmosphere. And how can you resist a fireplace like this one we found in the restaurant?
All the tables were set with dishes of lobster popcorn (tossed with lobster powder made from lobster oil and topped with lobster chips) and regular butter and goat’s milk butter. Goat’s milk butter is indeed goaty. And those lobster chips? They melted in one’s mouth and had a fabulously strong shellfish flavour.
We started with a creamy lobster soup served on lobster semolina and artichokes. The flavour of the soup had obviously come from boiling lots of lobster shells, a great way to get the most out of the crustaceans.
Here’s my dill poached lobster paired with a sliced of cheese quiche. And just in case that wasn’t enough cheese for you, there was even more on the side along with a red pepper mayonnaise and an aioli. The lobster was lovely but if you wanted to dill-poach it at home, I’d recommend reducing that salt amount – woooo, it was salty!
And then we were presented with more cheese! This was Himmelsraften, a washed hard cheese from Jämtland served with seabuckthorn and smoked rapeseed oil. The cheese was lovely but I had trouble with the tart seabuckthorn jelly with it.
Finally, poached Clara Friis pears with vanilla ice cream and pear cognac zabaglione for dessert. I would have liked a bit more of the pear and cake but from what I understand, desserts aren’t so big in Swedish culture. It sounds like most of the sweets are eaten at fika.
Full and needing rest, I retired to my room (yup, another early morning for the last day) to the sounds of a rock band at the bar. South Koster Island might only have 300 residents but they sure know how to party.