Up North – a trip on Sweden's largest island

A man named Tjelvar was the first person who discovered Gotland. At that time, Gotland was enchanted: during the day it sank into the sea and it only came up again at night. But this man brought the fire to the land and from that day on it sank no longer.

It seems as if the Swedes fibbed a little when writing down the history of their island Gotland in the Gutasaga in the 12th century. Or maybe not? Since time immemorial, the island was a place full of mysticism and ancient secrets. However, we thank Tjelvar for his honorable deed. If it was really him, than we have to be thankful for the fantastic view from board of the MS Gotland. The ship maneuveres straight into the port of Visby and it has our motorbike, which is packed with our tent and luggage, in it's belly. It is absolutely fascinating how apparently easy the gigantic ferry turns with absolute accuracy in the huge docks just to park backwards at the quay.

Propped on the railing of the ship, we watch the scenario and enjoy the panoramic view over Visby. Steep red roofs which are flanked by white gables are extending to the blue sky. Between them are towering gray, massive walls and towers, parts of the old city wall and the remains of the once fortified churches. And above it all the three huge, black roofed towers of the cathedral are standing out.

Twenty minutes later, we have already left the capital of the island behind us and are riding on our BMW motorbike along the coast with direction North. The little tent symbol on the map seems to indicate a suitable accommodation, but the friendly sign "No tents" means the opposite. No tents allowed on a campground? Okay, we have to find another place - we are disappointed! We drive 5 more kilometres and find a much nicer place: a  friendly welcome, a nice lawn and a great view – much better than the previous campground. We set up our tent, take off our bike clothes and go to the sea where we recover under the sound of the waves for the rest of the day from the 1000 km long trip.

The next morning, the coffee is brewing on the gas stove while we are looking at the map of Gotland. Shall we go to the North, or to the South? That's the question! The answer comes quickly. Where are the most clouds? Okay, let's go North! A few minutes later we are rolling down the 149 with our GS. Rolling - that's the right expression. The cleverly devised system on Sweden's roads is called differentiated speed limit. The groundspeed is 70 and it goes gradually down. If it is a populous area you have to drive 50 and 30 when it is more risky. For long haul a speed of 90 is prescribed and very rare, if the road seems very safe, you may sometimes drive 110 km/h.

And indeed, everybody here sticks to it. We are surprised, how disciplined the Swedes are. The speedometer needle is exactly at 70 although far and wide there is no elk, no police or opposing traffic visible. Respect – we do have some traffic offenders in the Middle and South of Europe which should cut a slice of this discipline. I try to follow this requirement, but in view of the long and empty streets it is definitely not easy. But the threatening, rather draconian penalties are quite a useful reminder. If you are 20 km faster than allowed you have to pay 250 €, beyond that it might be that you have to pay a four digit sum.

From time to time, we leave the 149 and cruise on the side roads. One of them, in the near of Vale, leads to a fantastic pebble beach. Between the meter high cliffs, the waves are falling with white crests on the pebbles, which are shining in all colors of earth. Wooden fishing boats, which are brightly painted and coated with a thick layer of tar, are moored to the shore. We are sitting on the stones, day-dreaming, breathing in the salty sea breeze and watch the seagulls, which are flying through the wind like fight jets. From here, the Goths left the island, as there was no longer enough room for everyone. Nobody wanted to leave voluntarily. Who had to go was determined by the lot. It was not uncommon that the chosen ones entrenched themselves in their refuge until they were evicted.

At Lickershamn a virgin welcomes us to the beach. She is tall, slim and snow white with a height of about 12 metres. This special rock is called “Jungfru”. It is one of the numerous limestone cliffs which you find very often on Swedish islands. The different rock hardness and erosions created after the last ice age bizarre formations with fascinating shapes. It is also very impressive to drive along the coast to Harudden, which is the northernmost tip of Gotlands main island. The most productive fishing grounds of Gotland were in the near of Halls fiskeläge, what means Halls fishing village.

But today it is only a place for tourists. We drive along an unpaved, bumpy road from the former fishing village down to Västös. The gravel and sand beaches between dense pine forests and the deep blue sea are deserted and fantastically beautiful and invite us to swim and picnic.

It is no secret that most of the villages of Gotland are only small, manageable collections of cute little houses. On our search for Kappelshamn, which is already signposted in the 50 km away village Visby, we cross the whole place two times without realising it. In contrast, the only a few kilometers away Gotland - Ring, Sweden's enormously popular racing track, is particularly present.

Usually, when the ferry docks in Visby, there are many sports cars on board which race, only a short time later, over the ultra modern track. We forego a ride because we are travelling with our tunnels-reinforced Enduro. But we a very curious and so we have a coffee in the racetrack café and watch the sportfreaks driving their rounds on two and four wheels. Then we continue our trip.

A few kilometres later we go through a shocking situation: I brake hard and the ABS is working as strong as my heart. Right in front of my wheel a death-defying fox crosses the street. A very shocking moment because we felt safe, well knowing that there are no elchs on the island; but an adult male fox can also have about 7 kilos and therefore become a threat to our bike. I watch him disappear in the bushes and get the impression that he is very amused.

On the way back to Visby I follow the navigation system. I enter “shortest route” and drive off. At first, we drive through the town Lärbro, which also consists of only a few houses, then the navigation system leads us to direction Southwest on progressively narrower paths. We enjoy riding on unpaved roads belonging to the road network of Gotland. We pass meadows, fields and farms, colorful painted Swedish houses and drive through the dense forest and then over wide heath glades across the whole island.

Let's go for the second Gotland round! New day – new luck! Our destination is the small, northern island Farö, which also belongs to Gotland. Until the mid-90s the little isle was a military zone, but today it has emerged to a paradise for cyclists and hikers. Every 30 minutes, the ferry is crossing the   river Farösund. As we want to queue in the line of waiting cars, we are amazed that we were waved through until right at the front. Motorcycles shall drive to the very front, because there is a special area for bikes and we can leave the ferry faster. Great service! Where could you get something for free today?

On the ferry from Gotland to Farö!  When trying to pay my ferry ticket, I only get surprised looks. “No tickets!” is the statement. We are delighted!!

The village Broa consists of 3 houses and one ferry dock and just a little behind we discover a nice campground. There is nobody at the reception so we build up our tent and leave right away to explore the island. We are experiencing a pure idyll and passing by thatched cottages, ancient stables of sun-bleached wood, windmills and their relics as well as vast amounts of sheep.

Not without reason is the lamb, as it is called in Gotland, represented on the flag. We leave from the homonymous capital of Farö to Släthällar. From there, the picturesque, narrow and winding road leads us along the Raukomrade, which is Gotlands Gallery of the most spectacular Rauk stones​​. Abstruse stone formations grow up on the border between land and water. Here, we really want to get off our bike and climb on the rocks to balance on the stones and between the edged and karst formations just to enjoy the fantastic view. You can see the most amazing figures in the formations and that is the reason why some of the rocks have been named by the Swedes. Of course, I try to drive through several narrow passages and except for a few small scratches on the suitcases, which we should have better left at the campground, everything goes well. But an Enduro may look like this.

High up in the Northeast the Farö Fyr is strechting to the sky. We pass quaint, closely standing fishing huts made ​​of black, tarred wood and half-ruined boats and finally we reach the northernmost lighthouse of Gotland. From time to time I ride on huge gravel surfaces and sometimes also on sandy paths. Here in Holmudden we have the impression that we have reached the end of the world.

Far out at the sea, it is pitch dark because powerful, menacing black clouds are brewing in the sky. We don't want to be out there right now. The bay of Ajkesvik surprises us with sandy beaches. This beautiful, small swimming paradise is filled with sand castles and sailing boats. We have forgotten our swimsuits in our tent, so we decide to terminate our Farö tour and return to the campground, where now the owner is also there. A rustic, old Swede with obvious back pain and a strong cold. But that does not stop him from speaking incessantly. Even our statement that we don't speak Swedish can't stop him. He is telling us the story of this place and about his life, all news about Farö and we understand only about 5%. I give up and pretend as if I would understand him by nodding friendly. I hope he is not talking about anything sad. As he starts coughing we take the chance to escape.

The next morning we leave the little island and drive at Gotlands coast with direction North. High, bright white chalk cliffs alternate with golden sandy beaches. From time to time narrow paths lead to wonderfully secluded shores. Valleviken, Aminne, Botvaldvik are all names of inviting and enticing swimming spots.  At South of the promontory of Östergarn a sign warns us of dangerous curves. And indeed, the next 10 kilometres we experience real exciting, for Gotland rather unusual, combinations of curves. Normally, the island is characterized by straight-line routing and tranquil landscapes. And yet we meet at once, right in the middle of the tour, a Ducati rider. Perhaps, he has to take the route several times a day because there are no alternatives.

In Ljugarn, which is also not more than a little village with the flair of a holiday resort, we find our favourite of Gotlands beaches. Folhammar, is located in a nature reserve in the North of Ljugarn and you can reach it via a dead end road along the coast. Open grasslands alternate with dense, shady pine forests, and right next to them shine white and round flushed gravels, which lead into the deep blue, studded with rocks sea. And despite high season, there are only a few towels placed. That is a good reason for us to stay for a while.

The closer Kiki and I get to the South of Gotland, the more Rauk stones appear at the coast. You can see one of the most beautiful ones near Hoburgen. The Rauk stones are gray and white, have yellow dots from the lichens and they stand right next to stone-tiled, old fishermen's cottages. We take the chance and change the helmet against a hat and walk a long way along the coast.

Later on, we see in the near of Burgsvik a particularly careful driver. It is allowed to drive 70 but he his driving with only 49, 5 km/h. I pull the throttle and with a strong bubble our motorcycle is passing the car and I just have time for a brief view of the speedometer before I discover the speed trap at the roadside. But we are lucky, we are not faster than 70. Fortunately, the Scandinavian riding style has meanwhile rubbed off on me. This could have gone into the eye and especially into the wallet. 

We find a beautiful campground in the area of Fidenäs, with a nice forest and an open meadow and with only a few guests. And although it is located at the end of a huge bay, there are no mosquitoes and in the evening, when the mist is moving over the water meadows, we listen to the gray geese. Again and again, geese are flying up into the air, forming rows and other formations, turn a few rounds and afterwards they land in the sea. I guess they are already training for their annual flight to the South. Two or three days later, we leave this place and take the 45 with direction North. Near the town Jacobs, we turn left and ride on partly unpaved roads to Kronvald, which is a Nature Reserve. We drive over cow grids which are embedded to the street and pass little farms on our way to the coast. After a few more curves we already see the pebble beach and the closer we come to the water, the bigger the dark clouds become.

The dense and gray veil below does not bode well. And so we ride along the beach in order to find some protective trees. Just in the moment when the first drops are falling we reach some simple wooden huts and it seems as if they were made for us. One of the huts also has a perfect motorcycle garage with a dense roof and wooden beams to sit on; so we become squatters. And whilst outside the rain is pouring down, we are enjoying bread and good cheese and afterwards a perfect cup of coffee. Just in time with the last sip it stops raining. On our way back to Visby we pass Tofta, where every November one of the world’s biggest Enduro races is taking place. Honestly we think that Visby is the only town in Gotland, which really deserves this appellation. It has about 22 000 inhabitants and it also offers several amenities. Right next to the town we find the campground Kneippbyn. Okay, there are some negative points but the pros are definitely: good location, a well stocked shop, a nice view over the sea, a beautiful coast and the original Pippi Longstocking house from the movies which were all filmed here. But accordingly there is also a lot of trubel. An amusement park and a lot of fun options do not only provide recovery.But on the other hand we are in Visby within a few minutes, even by bus and so we can enjoy the nightlife and don’t have to drive to long to the ferry, which we have to take a few days later. We have a last look at the towers, churches and gables and then we go back to the Swedish mainland.

General information about Gotland

The Swedish island Gotland is located in the Baltic Sea in the Eastern part of Sweden. It is the second largest island of the Baltic Sea after the Danish Zealand. Gotland is about 50 km wide and 125 km long and has about 60.000 inhabitants. The highest place is the small village Lojsta, which is 80 metres above the sea level. There are also some other smaller islands, but beside the main island Gotland is Fårö the only island with ferry service. The capital is the former Hanseatic town Visby, which has about 22 000 inhabitants, a historic centre and the ferry dock. You can find many historical remnants there, like for example, ship settlements, menhirs and runestones.

Gotland has an eventful history. Originally, the Svear, a North Germanic tribe, settled on Gotland. Then, according to the legend, the Norwegian King Olav Christianized the island. The capital Visby became quite rich through trading, but later, under the Swedish reign, it also had to defend itself against their countrymen. At first the Danes, then the Vitalier and then the German Order conquered the island. In 1645, Gotland came to Sweden and only in the Danish-Swedish War 30 years later the Danes shortly annexed Gotland again.

Tips for your journey

Between the mainland and Gotland are two ferries driving through all the year. If you would like to travel to the South, we recommend the route Oskarshamn-Visby. The other seaport Nynäshamn is located in the South of Stockholm. The trip takes about three hours and costs 15 to 17 € for the motorcycle and 25 € per Person. You can download the timetable and pricelist from www.destinationgotland.se. The fastest way from Germany to the seaport Oskarshamn is the route Fehmarn-Rødby and afterwards via Copenhagen to Oskarshamn, which is about 550 km long.

Attention: the Scandinavian streets are strictly supervised and the penalties for traffic offenses are quite high.

Travel distance and duration

We have driven about 1000 km on Gotland. Depending on your mood and passion for exploration you could also drive more. If you would like to see the complete island, you should plan about one week.

Best time to travel

The summer season in Gotland is rather short; which means, despite of the relatively mild climate, the months July and August. During the other months it might be quite lonesome and many locations are closed. But if you don’t mind the weather and enjoy the silence, spring and autumn could also be a good time for travelling.

Accommodation

There are many campgrounds of different quality and size. But there should always be enough space for a tent. At www.gotland.info you will find several hotels, apartments and cottages. During the vacation time in July and August, we recommend to book your accommodation in advance.

Literature and Maps

Kümmerly + Frey, South of Sweden (Ost), 1:250 000, ISBN 978-3-259-01263-5, 11,90 Euro.

Detailed maps are also available at the tourist information and the gas stations in Gotland.

Very interesting and entertaining is the book: "Gebrauchsanweisung für Schweden" from Antje Rávic Strubel, Piper, ISBN 3-492-27556-7, 12,90 Euro.

 

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