As a vacation island, Oland offers a lot of what you would expect to find in more southern climes; miles of sandy beaches, deciduous forests and windmills are not exactly typical of Sweden. The little precipitation in the summer months can even lead to water shortages. The island is a large, half-submerged mountain ridge 137 kilometers long and no more than 16 kilometers wide. It precipitously drops away in the west while gently sloping into the sea in the east; the ridge is only thinly covered with deposits from the Ice Age. The vegetation, so different from that of the mainland, is due to its chalky sandstone subsoil.
Gland was already inhabited in the Stone Age; the Vikings and their successors built refuge forts here. The windmills – once numbering 1,300 – are signs of bountiful grain yields.
The Barren South: Stora Alvaret
Oland can be reached by a six-kilometer-long bridge built in 1972, which spans the sound between Kalmar and the island. You will arrive at Farjestaden, the former ferry station. The tourist information office is located here and will assist you in finding last-minute accommodations or campgrounds in the high season.
Heading south from Farjestaden (Route 136), you should switch over to Route 946 in Skogsby, which runs parallel to the main road near the coast. After five kilometers, you will arrive at Karlevistenen; it is considered to be the most beautiful rune stone on the island. The stone, still standing at its original location, was erected by a Danish king more than a thousand years ago. Altogether there are more than a dozen such stones scattered about the island, many others, though, are likely to have ended up as building material for churches.
The Stora Alvaret, a vast limestone steppe covering most of the southern part of the island, begins near Vickleby, where a 12th-century fortified church still stands. At first glance the grassy heath countryside looks rather sparse, but actually, quite a variety of plant life thrives here. Some 35 types of orchids, rare grasses and herbs flourish here in the mild, dry climate.
There is a good view of the countryside from the gentle hills of the burial mounds of Mysinge, south of Resmo. Ornithologists also prize these hills, especially for watching the resting swarms of cranes on their southward migration, for instance. A narrow road that winds through the Stora Alvaret and leads to the east coast begins at the Ice Age refuge fort of Barby borg.
If you continue driving farther south, you will pass through the Iron Age burial grounds of Gettlinge and arrive at the Wall of Charles X on the other side of Gronhogen. The king, an avid hunting enthusiast, had the five-kilometer-long wall built from coast to coast in 1653 to prevent his royal deer on the southern tip from leaving their territory, thereby protecting the farmers’ fields.
The 18th-century Lange Jan, Sweden’s tallest lighthouse, is located on the southern cape of Gland. The 42-meter tower is open in summer to visitors.
The East Coast
For the return trip from the “Tall Jan,” you should take the road on the east coast. After a few kilometers you will come to the refuge fort of Eketorp, which was built and used in three phases between 300 and 1300 A.D. Following careful excavations, the refuge was partially reconstructed as an open-air museum and creates a vivid impression of the lifestyle of the 200 people and their livestock within the ramparts. An additional example of 19 such refuges is located 30 kilometers farther inland near Mockleby: the Graborg, whose circular ramparts, once up to six meters high, measure 640 meters in circumference. This is the largest refuge fort on the island. Presumably, the fort was used from the days of the great migrations up into the Middle Ages. The remains of Knut’s chapel, a pilgrimage chapel from the 13th century, are located in front of the fort. An attempt is being made to restore the original vegetation of the surrounding meadows.
The Stormy North
The five old windmills near Lerkaka 0, like the other 350 on the island, are under historic preservation. In the little town of Himmelsberga, two old Gland farmhouses were joined to establish an open-air museum whose main collection displays the island’s beautiful country furnishings. The best-preserved church on the island is from the 12th century and is located in Gardslosa. Kapelludden is where the remains of Saint Birgitta first reached Swedish soil after being brought from Rome and taken to Vadstena in 1374.
The northernmost part of Gland consists of the Boda kronopark, an extensive forest whose pines in the east have been twisted into bizarre shapes by the wind; hence the name Trollskogen (Troll Forest). A grove of arborvitae (thuja pine) lines the sandy beach of Boda. Ferries run from the port of Grankullavik to the island of Gotland in the summer. There is also a lighthouse on the northern tip of the island: Lange Erik, whose tower can be climbed, is open to visitors.
On the way back south, it is worth stopping at Neptuni akrar, “Neptune’s Fields,” as Carl von Linne dubbed the area: between the scree embankments in June and July, the sea-blue blossoms of viper’s bugloss (blue thistle) sway here in great numbers. The beautiful bathing cove of Byerums Sandvik is also worth the detour; its raukar, oddly shaped freestanding lime- and sandstone formations, are unparalleled on Gland.
Bla Jungfrun – The Island of Witches
The island of Bla Jungfrun, located in Kalmar Sound, can be reached in summer by boats running from Byxelkrok (weather permitting). The island has been a national park since 1925. Bla Jungfrun is popularly referred to as the legendary blakulla, where witches dance through the night on Maundy Thursday. Unlike Gland, the island (86 meters above sea level and 66 hectares in area) is composed of granite, similar to the mainland. The island served as a quarry for many years, which unfortunately caused the destruction of numerous grottos.
The Royal Residences
of the West Coast
Borgholm, the capital of the island of Gland, has 3,000 inhabitants and lies at the foot of a 40-meter-high cliff called a “land castle:” The imposing ruins of the *Borgholm slott tower over the little town. There have been fortresses here since the 12th century – constantly fought over by the Swedes, the Danes and the Hanseatic League. Using the ruins of the Renaissance castle as a tremendous stage setting, open-air events take place here in summer.
Not far from Borgholm is Solliden, the summer residence of the Swedish king. The magnificent *Royal Park, encompassing an Italian-style villa built in 1905, is open a few hours daily to the public even when the Royal Family is present. This is an extraordinary opportunity for royalty enthusiasts to catch a glimpse of the crowned leaders.
Probably more worthwhile is a stop in Halltorps Hage, a grove of thousand year-old oaks, hornbeams and many other deciduous trees. The cozy country inn Halltorps Kro, the only one in the village, offers a setting for a nice break.
Ismantorps borg, the romantic refuge fort from the Iron and Viking Ages, is the last sight before returning via the Oland bridge.