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292km (181 miles) NE of Malmö, 110km (68 miles) E of Växjö, 409km (254 miles) S of Stockholm, 340km (211 miles) E of Gothenburg

Perhaps we've read too many novels about Kalmar's seafaring past. On our first visit long ago, we were a bit disappointed, expecting more of a medieval aura. But after settling in and wandering for hours through its old streets, we found that Kalmar became strangely appealing. Today we eagerly await another visit. There is much to discover here if you ignore the expanding industrial suburbs and concentrate on the historic core that Danish soldiers came to capture centuries ago.

A coastal town opposite the Baltic island of Öland, historic Kalmar contains Sweden's best-preserved Renaissance castle. And though today it is a thriving commercial center, it also still retains many 17th-century buildings and sea captains' houses, many clustered around the Stortorget (main square) in the center of town. The first large-scale Swedish emigration to America, more than 3 centuries ago, originated in Kalmar (and ended up in Wilmington, Delaware).

Historically, the town is forever linked to the Kalmar Union, the treaty that three northern crowns signed here in 1397 linking Denmark, Norway, and Sweden into an ill-fated but united kingdom. Queen Margrethe of Denmark headed the union, which was dissolved in 1523.