One of the Stockholmers favourite summer retreats is the archipelago outside of the city. The archipelago consists of over 20 000 islands. The islands are mostly flat and usually covered in greenery. They are various sizes ranging from the smallest of cobs and skerries to large islands with roads and villages. From the air it looks like God has broken digestive biscuits into different sized pieces and scattered them into the Baltic Sea.
Many of the islands are inhabited by permanent residents and a boat service carries residents to and from Stockholm in anything from one to six hours. Most islands, however, are not permanently inhabited, some having space only for a few wooden holiday cottages dotted about.
Many Stockholmers boat out to the archipelago in the summer months. They take picnics with them and munch on sour dough bread, quinoa salad and sip rosé wine. They sunbathe and swim from the rocks, often exotically naked. If the water temperature is over 17 degrees celsius they are happy. They glide in kayaks through calm, glistening water. They convene with nature.
I remember the first time I went out to the archipelago as a hardened Londoner. When we arrived at our island destination, all I could see was rocks and trees. I remember wondering where the pub was and how the hell anyone could spend a whole day sitting on a rock. But Stockholmers do just that.
For Swedes, the natural environment is very important whether it’s the archipelago, the woods or the mountains. It is as if many Swedes long to get away from their cosmopolitan lifestyles and retreat to their little red cottages deep in the woods. Or go fishing in fresh-water lakes. Or spend weekends picking wild berries. And mushrooms.
As little as a century ago, Sweden was an agrarian country with many of the people living under impoverished conditions. This heritage is still apparent in the Swedish mentality and could be one explanation for the sentimental relationship to nature.
Nature is an integral part of the Swedish lifestyle and Stockholm’s archipelago is the ultimate manifestation of this.