About the most impressive sight we ever viewed in this capital of Öland was the royal family walking the streets on a shopping expedition. (They have a summer home nearby at Solliden to which they did not invite us.)
Borgholm used to be an important Baltic trading post, and we're certain it was far more intriguing in those days than today. Now it's extremely overcrowded during the month of July, when tourists, mainly the Swedes themselves, overrun its bars, cafes, and pizzerias. At that time it takes on a carnival atmosphere (later settling down for a long winter's nap). Unless you're in the market for a pink plastic alligator or perhaps an ice-cream cone, we suggest you spend little time in this touristy place and seek out the beauty of the island itself.
If you see anything inside the city, make it Borgholms Slott, Borgham's greatest attraction. Just to the north of the town center of Borgholm you can also visit the ruins of Blårör (no phone), the island's largest Bronze Age cairn, although there isn't much to look at today. When it was discovered in 1849, the tomb in its center had already been plundered by grave robbers. In 1920, four more tombs were discovered, but they too had been plundered. What remains are a few sunken granite stones. This site is mainly for serious archaeologists.
In Central Öland
Frankly, we prefer to stick to Öland's coastline, as it's more scenic. But if you have an afternoon to spare, you might go inland to visit the well-preserved village of Himmelsberga, now an open-air museum. It's worth the effort to reach it.
To explore central Öland, you can travel east from Borgholm (bus no. 102 runs here), following signs to Räpplinge. This brings you to Storlinge Kvarna, a row of seven windmills. We were startled to learn that this little island once had more windmills than Holland. Less than .5km (1/3 mile) south, you'll arrive at Gärdslösa, the island's best-preserved medieval church. Inside is a pulpit made in 1666 along with paintings from the 1200s.
Your major stopover will be about 2km (1 1/4 miles) south in the village of Himmelsberga, which is preserved as an open-air museum built along both sides of the narrow village road. The heart of the museum consists of three large farms with buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. You can see furnishings, farm equipment, carriages, and sleighs common to that period in Öland's history. After soaking in Öland's past, we like to relax in the Cottage Café, where you can order delicious and freshly baked cakes to be consumed under the shade of walnut and maple trees in the garden. The gallery offers a constantly changing array of art and handicraft shows. The site is open from May 15 to September 15 (closed in off season) daily 10am to 6pm (last entrance at 5:30pm). During the summer, activities ranging from open-air theater productions to concerts with jazz and folk music captivate visitors. For more information, call tel. 0485/56-10-22 or visit www.olandsmuseum.com.
In South Öland
If you have time for only one section of Öland, make it the north. South Öland has only a few worthwhile attractions. Stora Alvaret, for example, a giant limestone plain, dominates the southern part of the island. This great plateau is almost entirely devoid of trees, covering an area 37km (23 miles) long and 15km (9 1/3 miles) wide. The thin soil in places gives way to bare limestone outcrops, creating the impression of a barren landscape. Yet the area is teeming with life and is, in fact, the last refuge for a number of unique plant and animal species.
In this eerie landscape, we've always found something to enchant in almost every season, from colorful orchids to soaring skylarks in the spring, from rockroses to golden plovers in summer, and from rose hips to cranes in the autumn. Winter, however, will prove inspirational only to fans of gloom.
The prettiest village here, and a possible refueling stop, is Vickleby.
In North Öland
We like to return to this part of Öland again and again. The coastal villages are idyllic, the forests appropriately dark and spooky -- no doubt filled with witches -- and in summer, the fields are so pretty they call to mind The Sound of Music.
From Borgholm, head north on Route 136 to find a more varied landscape than in the south. At Föra, a village 20km (12 miles) to the north, stands Die Kirche von Föra, with its well-preserved defensive tower. (In the Middle Ages, churches often doubled as fortresses.) If it's open, look inside the interior, which still boasts a medieval aura, with a cross dating from the 15th century. North of the village of Sodvik, you come to Lilla Horns Iovangar (Little Horn Forest Meadows), which are abundantly flowering meadows best viewed in the late spring. If seen at the right time, this can be the most beautiful and evocative spot on Öland.
Before you reach the village of Källa, you'll spot Källa Kyrka, which stands lonely and deserted today after its last parishioners departed in 1888. In a setting of flowery meadows, this church from the Middle Ages has dry-stone walls; however, its furnishings are long gone. On-site are ancient burial tombs. The church was last "modernized" in the 14th century, and it was frequently attacked during Baltic wars.
Continuing north, you arrive at the village of Högby, site of Högby Kyrka och Kyrkstallare, a religious shrine from the Middle Ages, now in evocative ruins.
After leaving Högby, your last major village will be Böda before you reach the island's largest greenbelt, the stunningly beautiful Böda Kronopark preserve. This "crown" over Öland is shaped like a bird's head, the beak facing east. The island's best beaches are here, lying for the most part on the eastern coastline. The beaches start at Böda Sand. We find that the best and most frequented stretch runs for 1.5km (1 mile) north of Kyckesand. One section is signposted and reserved for nudists, where you can see firsthand that some Swedes are blond all over.
The island's most scenic part, Trollskogen, or "Trolls Forest," is also here. This storm-swept forest with ivy-covered trunks is at the very northeastern tip of Öland. Part of Böda Crown Park, it'll bring to mind the setting from a child's fairy tale. We almost expect to see a wicked witch emerge at any time from the gnarled trunks of the ancient oaks. This forest offers some of the island's most dramatic walks in any direction.
Before going all the way to the northern tip of the Kronopark, though, you can make a slight 9.5km (6-mile) detour west from Böda on Route 136 to see Skäftekarr. The Skäftekarr Museum, Lottorp (tel. 0485/221-11; www.skaftekarr.se), opened in 1998 on the site of the archaeological excavations of an Iron Age village. On the premises is an exhibition showing what farm life was like in the 6th century A.D., and a reconstruction of several of the village's gravesites. The site also contains nearly a dozen well-preserved foundations of stone buildings, each attributed to five separate farms established between A.D. 300 and 700. This location is still in the process of being excavated and enlarged. On-site is an unusual botanical garden planted by a local gardener during the mid-19th century. It boasts 100 or so different trees and bushes and is ideal for country rambles. Midsummer festivities, including musical events and lectures, are staged at this park about once a week. Adjacent to the museum is a 2.5km (1.6-mile) path that's splendid for walks. The path follows a "cultural route," passing the ancient settlements from the Iron Age. You can order a complete meal or light refreshments at the cafe, which dates to 1860. When it's bright and sunny, you'll be able to linger here for 3 to 4 hours, especially if you like long walks. The museum is open August 28 to May 3 Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm; from May 4 to July 7, hours are daily 11am to 4pm; July 8 to August 20 daily 10am to 6pm; August 21 to 27 daily noon to 4pm. Admission costs 40SEK to 60SEK ($8-$12/£4-£6) for adults and 20SEK to 30SEK ($4-$6/£2-£3) for children 6 to 15. Children under 6 enter free.
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.