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Nearby Visingsö Island

The heyday of the offshore island of Visingsö, reached by ferry from Gränna Harbor, was in the 12th and 13th centuries. A journey to the island is for us an evocative trip back to the past. It's a chance to glimpse Sweden as it was before it joined the modern world.

This has been an important site since humans first set foot here some 6,000 years ago; large Viking-era graves indicate how busy the area once was. On the southern part of the island are the remains of Sweden's oldest secular building, Nås Castle, built around 1150. According to the Icelandic sagas, it had a large treasury and was an important target in the fighting between the eastern and western parts of southern Sweden in the Middle Ages. The castle burned down in 1319.

The remains of another castle, Visingsborg, are by the harbor. This was the seat of the Brahe family. The most illustrious member of the clan was Per Brahe (1520-90), Count of Visingsö. Brahe was one of Gustavus Vasa's privy councillors. The Brahe family also built the island's parish church in the 1680s, using the walls of the Stroja medieval church as the foundations. The tower and the door of the sacristy are from the old church; the door has old runic writing signifying that it was made in the 11th century. The church is baroque, which is unusual by Swedish standards. You can visit Count Brahe's reconstructed 17th-century garden here, too; there's no admission fee.

At the harbor near Visingsborg is Kumlaby Church, whose oldest parts date from the 12th century, though it also has some well-preserved 15th-century murals. Visitors can climb the tower to a small roof balcony, where they'll get a panoramic view of the island. The church is open only May to August daily from 10:30am to 5pm, charging an admission of 10SEK ($2/£1) adults, 5SEK ($1/50p) children 5 to 16 years old.

A 20-minute ferry trip will take you from Gränna to the island of Visingsö, 6.5km (4 miles) across the water, for 50SEK ($10/£5) adults, 25SEK ($5/£2.50) children round-trip. Ferryboats leave every 20 minutes during the day in summer and eight times per day in winter. Boats depart from the central harbor at Gränna; for information, call tel. 0390/410-25 or visit www.visingso.net. There's a tourist office (open during odd summer hours) near the point where the ferryboat docks.

The island is long but very narrow; it can be traversed by car in about 5 minutes. There are no road names or street numbers. In summer, some of the island residents meet arriving ferries with horse-drawn carriages for an excursion past the architectural highlights of the island. The cost is 90SEK ($18/£9) per adult, 45SEK ($9/£4.50) for children 6 to 16, for a 90-minute tour. There is no phone to call for information -- it's all very casual.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.