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National park tips: This fake tower's view is real

On Sweden's rocky west coast, a solid setting for stories

From my perch on Vetteberget, a granite monolith 2,200 feet above the seaside village of Fjallbacka on Sweden's rocky west coast, I could look over the town's small harbor toward Danholmen, one of the 8,000 granite islands that make up the Western Islands, an archipelago that stretches north to the Norwegian border.

Actress Ingrid Bergman, who was born in Stockholm 100 years ago in August, spent many summers on Danholmen Island after she and producer husband Lars Schmidt bought a home there in 1958. And it is there, on the north side of the island, that her ashes were scattered after her death in 1982.

To reach the summit of Vetteberget, I had strolled through Fjallbacka's small Ingrid Bergman Square — complete with a bust of the Oscar-winning actress — and into the imposing Kungsklyftan (the king's cleft), a narrow gap in the monolith.

That cleft is a must-see spot on Camilla Lackberg murder mystery tours (info@kustguiden.eu). Lackberg, a bestselling Swedish author, used the Kungsklyftan as the opening scene in her book "The Preacher," in which a boy finds the body of a young woman covering the skeletons of two young women killed decades earlier.

Real-life Fjallbacka is a peaceful burg about 90 miles north of Gothenburg, the largest city of Sweden's west coast, and the jumping off point for visiting the Vaderoarna, or the Weather Islands, the westernmost point in Sweden and a wildlife refuge.

But in Lackberg's creative mind and her half-dozen-plus novels, residents of Fjallbacka get knocked off on a regular (and sometimes gruesome) basis.

Fjallbacka boomed in the late 1800s when herring filled the waters offshore, tour leader and resident Asa Cunniff told me as we walked up a street past small, colorful homes.

It became a popular vacation spot for Scandinavians early in the last century and continues to draw visitors, many of whom come to see the 3,000-year-old Tanum rock carvings, a UNESCO World Heritage site north of town.

At the top of the hill, Cunniff and I paused in front of the village church, built from handsome red granite. From there, we walked to the harbor where, by chance, we met Lackberg's mother, Gunnel, who was puttering around her waterside cottage. Camilla Lackberg was raised in Fjallbacka, and her parents were friends of Bergman's and Schmidt's. A family photo shows the actress holding baby Camilla.

At the dock across from Ingrid Bergman Square, we boarded a boat that took us for a crayfish feast at Vaderoarnas Vardshus (www.vaderoarna.com), an inn on one of the Weather Islands, about 30 minutes west of Fjallbacka.

We traipsed up to a pilot's lookout tower high above the pretty yellow inn, which has 11 guest rooms, a sauna and a hot tub. Its restaurant is Taste of West Sweden-accredited, which means it's one of the region's top eateries. Be sure to ask for the mussel soup, laced with Cognac and crayfish when they're in season.

Kayaking Sweden's Gothenburg archipelago can lead to other adventures

The Gothenburg archipelago, with thousands of islands, is ideal for kayaking. You can take lessons from outfitters, go on an afternoon outing on your own or sign up for a multi-day tour that includes camping. If you're lucky, you'll see seals and waterfowl that call the archipelago home.

One afternoon I kayaked out of the harbor at Lysekil, a popular coastal town south of Fjallbacka, with Nautapp Sea Kayaking (www.nautopp.com), and we paddled past an area popular with rock climbers and boulderers practicing their sport. There were more sailboats here, but the wind was calm, which made for ideal conditions.

After an hour of kayaking, we returned to the dock and wandered over to a food cart where we slurped up oysters and mussels.

Sweden's west coast is also popular with long-distance runners. During my visit in September, I hiked a bit of the Icebug trail alongside the ocean and through villages and had to dodge contestants who were racing over the wild path as part of the annual IcebugXperience (www.icebugx.com), a three-day race covering more than 40 miles.

At the end of the race I was invited to join some of the international crowd for a meal. We took a ferry from the town of Ramsvik to Hunnebostrand, another seaside burg, for dinner at Kanten, a restaurant known for its tasty seafood and shellfish.

But before we got on board the boat, I watched a band of towheaded children fish from a jetty, doing their best to scoop up crabs and starfish with small, hand-held nets.

Dreaming of bicycle-only islands? Kosterhavet National Park is real  

Sweden's west coast is an outdoor enthusiast's delight, where you can hike, sail, fish, scuba dive, bike and (whew) more.

During my visit in September, I took a ferry from the small city of Stromstad, north of Fjallbacka, to the bicycle-only islands surrounded by the waters of Kosterhavet National Park (www.vastsverige.com/en/Kosterhavet), established in 2009.

Led by marine biologist Christin Appelquist, I pedaled around Sydkoster Island with a small pod of cyclists, past gardens, small bays and hotels.

At another point, we hiked to the top of a bluff where we could look across a narrow strait to smaller Nordkoster Island, dotted with farms and sandy beaches.

I stood beside Ulla Fetzer, a native of Stockholm who has lived in California for several decades. She was visiting for the day and pointed out the location of her family's former summer home on Nordkoster. I asked her whether she had any desire to see the cottage again.

"No, I don't think so," she said wistfully. "But perhaps that's just as well. You can't go back in time. And if you try, you're often disappointed."

We returned to our rental bikes and pedaled to Kosters Tradgardar (www.kosterstradgardar.se), an organic garden restaurant where we stopped for a fika, the traditional Swedish coffee break typically accompanied by pastries and sandwiches. This slow-food operation is run by Helena and Stefan von Bothmer, who once taught at Uppsala University and now sell veggies, flowers, herbs, jams, books and perennials. In their restaurant, they use only the day's fresh seafood catch, garnished with herbs and vegetables they grow themselves.

After more cycling and hiking, we stopped for a smorgasbord lunch at Hotel Koster (www.hotelkoster.se/en), which has been serving guests since 1905 and looked as if it belonged on the Maine coast. Before we left the island, we sat on a deck, sipped coffee and watched elegant sailboats head into the Kosterfjord harbor.

Petroglyphs, a monolith, seabirds, islets: 4 coastal must-sees 

For anyone interested in exploring Sweden's west coast, here are four can't-miss destinations:

Tanum rock carvings: These Bronze Age petroglyphs, north of Fjallbacka, number in the thousands. About 600 panels are included in the UNESCO World Heritage site, once the coastline of a fiord thousands of years ago. Many of the glyphs show boats, humans with bows, spears or axes, rituals and hunting scenes.

Kosterhavet National Park: More than 6,000 sea creatures, including rare seabirds, brachiopods, sponge and coral larvae, live in the waters of this preserve, which is Sweden's first national marine park. To reach the islands, you'll need to take a ferry from Stromstad.

Kungsklyftan: This huge granite monolith, featured in several of writer Camilla Lackberg's books, rises more than 200 feet above the town of Fjallbacka and offers stunning views of the Gothenburg archipelago and the community. The monolith is cleaved in halves and has several huge rocks, left by retreating glaciers, wedged into the top to form something of a roof. To climb the rock by using the cleft, take the marked path from Ingrid Bergman Square.

Vaderoarna (the Weather Islands): These islets are Sweden's most westerly islands. It takes about a 30-minute boat ride to reach them, but it's worth the trip. Once you reach the main island, you can hike its trails and climb a lighthouse. Visitors can stay overnight at the Vaderoarnas guesthouse, which has a wood-fired hot tub, sauna and an excellent restaurant that serves fresh seafood.

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Airline, hotel and restaurant info for Fjallbacka, Sweden

If you go

THE BEST WAY TO FJALLBACKA, SWEDEN

From LAX, KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, American, Norwegian Air, Delta and SAS offer connecting service (change of planes) to Gothenburg, Sweden. Restricted round-trip fares from $1,240 to $1,801, including fees and taxes. From Gothenburg, you can rent a car and drive on E6 north for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Or you can take a train to the little town of Dingle and then catch bus 875 to Fjallbacka, which is about 15 miles northwest.

TELEPHONES

To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 46 (the country code for Sweden) and the local number.

WHERE TO STAY AND DINE

All four hotels have restaurants that specialize in shellfish and other seafood.

Vaderoarnas, 3 Falkevägen, Fjallbacka; 525-31001, www.vaderoarna.com This hotel, a 30-minute boat ride from Fjallbacka, is Sweden's most westerly lodging. It has outstanding natural beauty and tranquillity. Doubles from about $245.

Stora Hotellet Bryggan, Ingrid Bergman Square, Fjallbacka; 525-31003 www.storahotelletbryggan.se/welcome. The Grand Hotel of Fjallbacka often appears in mystery writer Camilla Lackberg's books. It's right on the Fjallbacka harbor. Doubles from about $210.

Valo Hotel, 525-31234, www.fjallbackavalo.se. This small hotel and restaurant are on the island opposite Fjallbacka. To get there takes a seven-minute ferry ride, but you'll get a sea view of Fjallbacka. Doubles from about $123.

Richters, 38 Norra Hamngatan, Fjallbacka, 525-31100, http://www.richtersfjallbacka.se. A pleasant B&B by the sea. Doubles from about $100. Richters is a three-minute walk from Ingrid Bergman Square.

TO LEARN MORE

For more information on visiting the west coast of Sweden, go to http://www.westsweden.com. The Welcome to Fjallbacka tourist information phone number is 73 0206278.

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