Sweden doesn’t normally top most people’s travel wish lists: a reputation for cold weather, even colder people and high prices tends to put a lot of people off, particularly backpackers. Despite this, three months ago I decided to make the journey to Sweden for one main reason: I wanted to see where Kurt Wallander had lived. I’m a huge fan of the crime series by Henning Mankell, so the small town of Ystad on the southern Swedish coast had long been on my list of places to go. And so it was that one blustery day at the beginning of December, I found myself on the train from Malmö, ready to walk in the footsteps of the complex detective – and Ystad didn’t disappoint.
Arriving in Ystad: Tourist Information
After disembarking the train at Ystad station, I first headed over the road to the tourist information office on St Knut’s Torg. From a practical point of view, the tourist information is perfectly situated for visitor to the town; it’s easily spotted from the station itself, and from there you can head directly into the town centre. Although I didn’t do this myself (I’m more of a lone wolf when it comes to these kinds of things, plus I also don’t own a smartphone), you can download Wallander-related apps at the office. Me, I just picked up a map and went on my way. As I said previously, Ystad is a small town, and therefore easily navigated on foot.
Ystad’s Old Town Centre
Aside from being the setting for Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels and the accompanying TV series, Ystad itself is an extremely charming and beautiful place to stroll around, even in the middle of winter. The town dates back to the 12th century, and the majority of the streets are lined with old half-timbered houses. When I was there, the streets were also strewn with Christmas lights and decorations, making for an atmospheric walk. The two centrepieces of the town would have to be St Mary’s Church and the 13th century monastery. St Mary’s is the oldest surviving building in Ystad going back to the 13th century, and one of the oldest brick churches in Sweden. Between late evening and early morning, a night-watchman still sounds a horn every hour to let the townsfolk know that all is well. (Also, for Wallander fans, this church is where Kurt married his wife Mona in 1970). The monastery – which includes St Peter’s Church – was possibly my favourite set of buildings in the whole town, a great example of medieval brick architecture surrounded by picturesque rose and herb gardens.. Serving as a monastery for approximately 300 years, the monks were thrown out during the Reformation and it subsequently was used as distilleries, warehouses and a hospital, with St Peter’s Church becoming the ordinary parish church. Today the monastery now serves as a museum and art gallery, while St Peter’s still holds church services.
For Wallander Fans…
For the Wallander fans among you, you may wish to pay a visit to these other places which made their way into the books or the TV series: Mariagatan, the street where Wallander lived; the old town hall – Gamla Rådhuset – which doubled as a bank in the Swedish episode The Village Idiot; Hotell Continental, Wallander’s favourite hotel and restaurant; and restaurant Store Thor, where Wallander met his daughter Linda and her boyfriend Jamal in Faceless Killers. Of course, there are other Wallander-connected sites to be found all around the city, so keen-eyed fans should keep a look-out.
Cineteket and Ystad Film Studios
For film and TV buffs, the Cineteket interactive film museum is a must. Attached to the Ystad Film Studios – set up by Henning Mankell himself on the site of an old military barracks a short walk from the town centre – the museum holds a treasure trove of sets, memorabilia, scripts, costumes and storyboards, not just from Wallander (although a large proportion of the museum is dedicated to the series) but from other Nordic Noir series such as The Killing and The Bridge. In addition, there are interesting videos to watch: one about the making of Wallander, both the English and Swedish versions, and one with an interview with Mankell’s publisher. The staff are also incredibly friendly; on arriving, I ended up having a rather long chat with the lady working there about Wallander and also my reason for being there in December (the residents of Ystad are obviously used to fans of the detective arriving in the summer months, but tend to be rather surprised when you turn up mid-winter).
Travel Tip: Language
Just a small tip for those visiting Sweden: it is worth attempting to speak a little Swedish whilst you are there, even if it is just to say ‘Can you speak English?’. Yes, Swedes’ ability to speak English is top-notch, but they seem to appreciate the effort made to speak their language and will be friendlier towards you for it, despite their reputation for being reserved.
Other Things to Do in Ystad
If you happen to be in in the town during the summer, when the weather is hopefully a bit brighter and warmer, you will probably be joined by hordes of Swedish tourists. Ystad is a popular seaside resort, not just for the town itself but for the surrounding areas: there are 40km of beaches plus a wealth of Swedish countryside to discover. Many important sites are also well within reach of the town. Possibly the most famous of these is the megalithic monument, Ales Stenar. Situated 15km east of Ystad and known as the ‘Stonehenge of Sweden’, it is a 67-metre long stone ship formed by 59 large boulders of sandstone dating back to the Nordic Iron Age, circa 600AD.
As I was in Ystad during the winter, I only went there as a day trip from Malmö, a 45-minute train ride away, and there is definitely enough to see and do to fill that time. If you go to there in the summer though (and one day I plan to do so myself), I can imagine it’s worth spending a little bit more time there in order to fully appreciate the town and the surrounding coastline.