55km (34 miles) E of Malmö, 46km (29 miles) W of Simrishamn
Time has passed Ystad by, and that's why we like it. Its Gamla Stan contains an astonishing 300 well-preserved half-timbered antique houses along cobbled streets. They're scattered about town, but we found the greatest concentration of them on Stora Östergatan.
Most of the houses date from the latter 1700s, although one we discovered, Ånglahuset, on Stora Norregatan, was from around 1630. You can also launch yourself into the past by exploring Stortorget, the impressive main square of Ystad, which was a big smuggling center during the Napoleonic wars. You'll want to check out another charming square, Tvättorget, Ystad's smallest, as well. Surrounded by half-timbered houses, it's hard to find, reached only by walking up a narrow lane called Bäckahästgränd.
At one time, Ystad was much more important than the provincial town you see today. Back in the 17th century, it was "Sweden's window to the world." Amazingly, the first automobile in Sweden was driven on the old streets of Ystad. The town also opened Sweden's first bank, and its first building that could be called a hotel. There is still some activity here, with ferries leaving for the Danish island of Bornholm -- even to Poland.
If you're a fan, like us, of the best-selling Inspector Karl Wallander crime thrillers -- all written by Henning Mankell -- you probably already know that Ystad is also a setting for his suspense tales. If you don't have time to wade through all of Mankell's books, opt for the fourth, The Man Who Smiled. It's the best and most evocative. Devotees of the series can tour the sights associated with the inspector with a volunteer fire brigade every Tuesday and Thursday from July to mid-August. Fans are taken around town on an antique fire engine. The tourist office will have details.
Devotees of the silent screen might know of Ystad as the birthplace of Valentino's "beautiful blond Viking" Anna Q. Nilsson, who was born here in 1890 and whose fame at one time was greater than that of Greta Garbo, a fellow Swede. Some of Nilsson's greatest films were In the Heart of a Fool (1921); Ponjola (1923), in which she played a boy; and Midnight Lovers, finished in 1925, the year of a horseback-riding accident that ended her career. Today she is remembered mainly for appearing in a cameo role as one of the "waxworks" in the 1950 Gloria Swanson classic Sunset Boulevard.