Island for all seasons    

Thought by its thousands of fans to have the best beaches, the most diverse birdlife and the friendliest people in the country, island, a large island in the Baltic, is especially popular on Midsummer's Eve, when Scandinavians celebrate the summer solstice with bonfires and all-night parties.

In any case, its unique mixture of natural beauty and cultural appeal makes Öland the first choice of many Swedes when they want to have a real holiday at home.

Öland's long narrow shape means that wherever you are on the island, you are always within easy cycling distance of the sea. Every season offers its own special delight: in spring, the song of the nightingale and the flowering wild orchids; in summer, long hours of sunshine and lazy seaside afternoons; the Indian summer in autumn, and the snow-covered heathland in winter.

The southern part of the island is a World Heritage site by virtue of its unique landscape continually inhabited since prehistoric times: in UNESCO's words, "an outstanding example of human settlement, making the optimum use of diverse landscape types on a single island". Öland was "born" about 12,000 years ago, when the retreating ice uncovered its bedrock, limestone plains and lime-rich soil, creating a unique habitat rich in flora and fauna.

Today's landscape has been sculpted through the ages by wind and weather, while humans and their livestock have also left their distinctive mark. An abundance of ancient monuments, many of them dating back to the early Iron Age, includes castles, burial grounds and settlements, all evidence of former times when the island was an important part of Baltic Sea trade.

Away from the beaches, there is always something going on. Ölands Turist AB, the local tourist authority, recommends a visit to the Palace of Solliden, the Swedish royal family's summer residence, in its magnificent parkland setting. Built by King Carl Gustaf's great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in 1906, Solliden is, says the king, "a part of our cultural heritage which is of special concern to me. When my great-grandfather, Gustav V, died in 1950, I inherited the palace. It is my intention to preserve Solliden, so that future generations will be able to enjoy its unique and glorious gardens."

The VIDA Museum, on a hilltop overlooking the waters of Kalmarsund on one of the most beautiful sites on the island, features the works of some of Sweden's most established artists in glass, ceramics, sculpture and painting. Silver is something of a speciality, and the spacious museum shop sells specially commissioned items in all media unavailable elsewhere.

Since the mid-19th Century, artists and handicraft artisans have been drawn to Öland by its open landscape and unique quality of its light. Many of the island's artists have open studios all year round. The summer season ends on the last weekend in September with the hugely popular Konstnatten ("Night of Art") in connection with Öland's Harvest Festival, a long weekend featuring a fish festival, square dancing, cooking competitions and hundreds of other events all over the island.

Foodies' delight
Between the two lighthouses "Long Tall Jan" in the south and "Long Tall Erik" in the north, numerous cosy pubs, guesthouses and cafés conjure up splendid snacks and meals from fresh local produce – fish, new potatoes, fruit and berries – direct from the fishermen and small-scale farmers. And self-catering, in the circumstances, is also a joy. Visitors are advised to sample the tasty sausage from Löttorp, Källa's goat cheese, and the island's renowned kroppkaksbodar (potato dumplings). Pick-your-own farms are popular, and well-stocked farm shops can be found in just about every village.

Europe's largest unbroken noble broad-leaved forest (according to the tourist authority) supports plenty of small game, deer and elk. Red deer have been found on the royal family grounds for hundreds of years, both at Ottenby and at Solliden, beside the castle ruins.

Photo: Conny Fridh
Photo: Ulf Huett Nilsson
Ancient runes

 Photo: Börge Kamras, VIDA Museum 
Royal Solliden VIDA museum Öland bridge