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Biking adventures on Sydostleden in Skåne

Travelog · Skåne
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It’s half-past three on a Saturday afternoon. We’re en route to Åhus, the medieval town on the Sydostleden biking trail. It’s a short 10km cycle before we get there. Easy peasy, especially with an e-bike. Until the battery runs out, that is.
“Can I help you?” I’m walking with my bicycle to a fisherman’s cabin. Maybe the man can charge the battery? In the meantime, I rest on the beach. That’s the beauty of the Sydostleden: the sea is always within reach.
His name is Mats, and he is a fisherman. His boat ‘Anna’ is ready for departure and is already on the waterline, behind the tractor. A moment later, his brother arrives. He is wearing green rubber waders and a life jacket. For a moment I think I see double, but Max and Mats are twin brothers. They have fished together for sixty years, twenty years of which they spent fishing at sea. Looking at me mischievously, Max says: “Do you want to fish with us?” “Yes, please! What are we fishing for today?” They're both surprised: “Eel, of course!”

Baltic Gold

The Sydostleden runs along Sweden’s famous eel coast. For centuries men like Mats and Max have been fishing for eel here. After spawning in the Saragossa Sea, the eels swim back to the Baltic Sea and end up in one of the twins’ traps after travelling 6000 kilometres back.

 

All over Europe the eel stock is threatened. Sweden is doing the upmost to protect the eel and has even stricter rules than other countries in Europe. That’s why the number of eel fishing permits is very limited and fishing can now only be exercised three months a year on the eastern coast of Skåne, the so-called Åla coast (Eel Coast), which extends from Åhus to Stenshuvud. 

 

Meanwhile, I am feeling stressed. The boat that we’re on is way too small for so many people. I crouch and feel all kinds of fish writhing around my bare ankles. Jellyfish, perch, eel and herring. Suddenly I'm concerned about the bycatch: “Jellyfish sting, don’t they?” A grin from Max: “Only the female ones”.

The fishermen Mats and Max Svensson
The haul is in! We sail back with six smooth male eels, so-called Baltic Gold, on board. Back on land Max and Mats bring some vodka to the table and tell some gripping stories. We raise our glasses. Mats starts, and Max follows: “Helan går, Sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej, Helan går.“ It's Sweden’s most famous drinking song. We do not understand a word, but something in us says ‘down in one.’ 

On the way between apples, coffee and toys

This morning we started on our e-bikes in Kivik, possibly Skåne’s quaintest little village. Each and every half-timbered house is wonderfully painted. All the hollyhocks in the front gardens are gently swaying in Claude Monet’s favourite colours. Italian traveller Edmondo de Amicis would call it “a town from the window of a Nuremberg toy store”.
With a full battery, we head out of the fishing village, past rolling fields of grain, old farms, cream-white churches and countless apple orchards with over 70 different apple varieties.

 

We are on our way to our lunch stop, so we make a big loop inland. Kaffestugan Alunbruket in Andrarum turns out to be one of the oldest coffeehouses in Skåne. Just like Kivik, it looks like a vintage village from an old toy store. The café opened in the 1930s and is now run by the great-grandchild of the original owner, Johan Carlsson.

 

He tells us about this extraordinary village, in particular about the hundreds of workers who once lived here and worked at the factory where they produced alum, a mordant used for leather tanning. Back in the day, this village had its own schools, houses and even its own currency. This way, the people invested their hard-earned money back into their town. The contrast between then and now could not be more different. Once there was a yellow cloud of sulphur hanging over the town. Nowadays there is not a trace of such and, we are cycling into a perfect little hobbit village. 

Kaffestugan Alunbruket

The Åhus ‘church’

“How far to go?” We had been in the saddle for a while when we discovered the battery was not fully charged at Mat & Max’s fisherman’s cottage. We carry on along a gravel road in a forest where each hill is followed immediately by the next. Maybe Skåne is less flat than I had initially thought.
In the distance, we see the Åhus church, which is not a real church, but rather the Absolut Vodka factory situated along the Helge å. We cross a bicycle bridge and reach our hotel with a view. We overlook the houses of the rich and famous. Every house has its own private jetty, of course, a ship included. Åhus is Sweden’s best-preserved medieval town, once known for its three sins: eel, snuff & spirits, all of which are made and sold right here in the small town. We are in the town where Absolut Vodka has been made since 1906. The factory is a landmark beyond classification. As I pass the factory, I hear myself humming ‘Helan går…” 
Åhus

Wetlands

The next day we cycle to Kristianstad, only 18km from Åhus, so no battery worries this time. The route is less attractive than yesterday, but our destination makes it worth; a Renaissance city founded by Christian IV of Denmark in 1614. The whole village is surrounded by water and had to defend itself against the Swedes for a long time. Skåne was Danish until 1658, and there are many signs of this in the region. You hear it in the language for example, as the people here speak differently to how people talk in Stockholm. Kristianstad is Swedish, but inside the city itself, you notice it is in fact Danish through and through.
On the way on Sydostleden
Up until 30 years ago, the population of Kristianstad has had a love-hate relationship with the water for centuries. A plan was put in place to turn the wetlands into a conservation area. This 30km by 30km area is now a UNESCO biosphere reserve. 

Next to the station is a visitor centre which has a Guggenheimesque allure. You can take a boat trip and see for yourself how otters swim. The white heron has made this unique piece of nature home, and the kingfisher is a loyal visitor. Beneath your feet swim European catfish.

Naturum Vattenriket is a place you have to spend a few hours. Unfortunately, we have to carry on. Back on track, we go. 


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Nicolline van der Spek
Updated: March 03, 2020

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