With a view of the sea as we leave, we move on to a local glass blower's shop to see the craftsman in action, then ride past wildflowers and a windmill, part of a factory making jams that sell at Ikea. We stop by a normally sleepy fishing village that swells with visitors in summer: Träslövsläge. The wharf area is full of identical red huts where the fishermen store their gear each evening.
The fishermen are expected, but what we find in Apelviken is not. Here on the edge of Varberg we find the Surfers Center, a bustling rental shop and surfing school with a popular program for kids. From the top floor of the Surf Saloon restaurant that shares the lot, we see acrobatic kitesurfers whipping past at high speed while others ride the waves in on their boards. All of them have wetsuits on, but the surf shop owner insists "the water is very nice this time of year." It's clear that the locals aren't daunted as we watch a stream of 20 kids hoist their boards overhead and walk down to the beach while mothers look on.
After riding most of the day, we get to recover the right way at a healing spa hotel, Varbergs Kusthotell. The historic building once served as a hospital for children with chronic conditions, but now it serves older people who just want to be less creaky and look better. It's a Thalassotherapy center, with a big indoor pool and smaller ones with different temperatures. After a steam bath, sauna, and whirlpool, I'm ready to take on the odd choice for dinner that my group is walking 10 minutes to the waterfront to experience. That would be a Brazilian cuisine place called Rodizio. Health experts say you should ingest plenty of protein after a workout, so I make it my duty to eat everything the waiter with slabs of sizzling meat on a skewer brings by.
As we waddle out the door the clouds part and the moon shines over the beach and sea in the half darkness of the Scandinavian summer night sky. It's a sublime moment that highlights the appeal of the campground just around the corner. I'll enjoy the bed at the spa hotel, but sleeping under this moonlight by the sea wouldn't feel like a step down.
We groan about sore butts as we mount the bikes and crunch across the gravel parking lot of the hotel. We forget the pain soon though as we roll down the paved waterfront path toward Varberg Fortress. This is the most scenic stretch we've been on yet, with cliffs, boulders, and crashing waves beside us. We pass a few pocket swimming beaches, some of them modestly blocked off to shield the nude bathers beyond.
When we park the bikes for the last time at the fortress, we head inside to tour the eclectic Halland Museum of Cultural History. Its main claim to fame is the Bocksten Man, a 14th century skeleton found well-preserved in a nearby bog. Much of his clothing was still intact, including a wool tunic, shirt, cloak, shoes, and hosiery. He also had a fabric bag, two knives, and a leather sheaf with the stamped patterns still visible. This enabled the museum to create a complete replica wax figure of what he looked like. As if anticipating our arrival though, the big temporary exhibit is on bicycles through the ages, from the first ones with no tires to electric bikes made in Sweden.
Outside the fortress, it's a hub of activity as people are swimming in the sea, entering the bathhouse, or strolling beside the stone walls. There's food everywhere and half the people seem to be eating something, but nobody is fat. Perhaps it has something to do with how they start: all the kids are playing tag, biking, or skateboarding below the fort. It all seems so downright advanced and, well, civilized. Nobody is yelling at their kids—or at each other. For the fifth day in a row, I haven't heard a car horn. Nobody is blasting music so loud that the car rumbles. The only rude thing I can find here in southern Sweden is a woman wearing a jacket that says, "Fuck you I drive a Volvo."
As we board the train back to the capital after strolling around Varberg for a while, I reflect on the fact that people can be so content in a place that's brutally cold half the year and dark or overcast for months. Then I think back on the meals I've had, the even-keeled but warm people I've met, and the fact that nobody has much to worry about when it comes to health care, child care, or their country's infrastructure upkeep. I watch the gorgeous summer landscapes drift by through the window of our high-speed train and notice we're stopping at each city exactly when the schedule says we're supposed to stop.
Back in Stockholm, I track down that Swedish exchange student from my high school, now living in the capital and working as an architect. We pick a restaurant and I text him to say to look for the bald guy in the blue shirt. He tells me to look for "the well-dressed, good-looking Swede."
We both look a lot older than in our high school yearbook photos, but he's not drunk and doesn't sound anything like a Swedish Muppet chef. Thanks to a strong dollar, the nice dinner isn't very expensive. And as with most of my time here, we don't hear even one song from Abba or Ace of Base.
See the Region Halland website for more information on this area and see Kattegattleden.se for info on the cycling trail. While in the capital, the Visit Stockholm site has a wealth of information. To explore the country by rental car, get the best rates with Alamo Europe
Editor Tim Leffel splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa, Florida. He is the author of five travel books, including the second edition of Travel Writing 2.0, and has run the Cheapest Destinations Blog since 2003.
Wildflowers and Wine - Biking Through Rural Portugal by Tim Leffel
Cataluna or Bust by the Back Roads by Amy Dorsey
Denmark al Dente by Tony Cohan
In Search of the Scream in Norway by Chris Epting
See other stories on traveling in Europe from the archives
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