Sarah Marshall enjoys West Sweden's covetable coastal lifestyle and newfound literary notoriety
Finding inspiration to write a postcard home from the small Swedish fishing village of Fjallbacka isn't difficult.
Anyone lost for ideas need only glance at the elaborate, adjective-laden travel scripts pinned outside globally-themed rooms in the boutique Stora Hotellet Bryggan hotel.
Each letter was supposedly written by fictional character Captain Klassen, regaling tales of his adventures around the world. Given the breadth of his voyages — from Indonesia to Africa and the Americas — it's somehow ironic his words should wind up in a sleepy seaside town barely acknowledged on a world map.
But when hotel manager Susanne Maxvall invented the character, she was tapping into a sense of nautical adventure that drenches Fjallbacka like the spray from the North Sea.
Set along a coastline of rough-hewn bluffs with an archipelago of 8000 islands and skerries, Fjallbacka is the star attraction in the scenic Bohuslan region and an easy 1.5-hour drive from Sweden's second city, Gothenburg.
I've come here for an alternative seaside break, where fish 'n' chip shops take the form of seafood safaris set against the towering cairns atop the town's dominating Vetteberget mountain.
Passing rows of classic clapboard houses and buildings decorated with intricate designs known as snickargladje (carpenter's joy), I head to the harbour where a bust of Ingrid Bergman is surrounded by wild flowers.
The Swedish Hollywood actress first came here on holiday in 1958, then spent every summer — bar one — until her death in 1982 on nearby Dannholmen island, purchased by her third husband Lars Schmidt. They would regularly throw parties for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Diana Ross. When Bergman died, she requested her ashes be cast out at sea — and it's here the magic of West Sweden really takes hold.
I join fisherman Ingemar Granquist on a boat trip to look for langoustines — mini lobsters, a speciality in this region. Visitors can join seafood safaris throughout the year, although the delicacies on offer differ depending on the season. Langoustines can be fished from spring to autumn, while the lobster season starts at the end of September.
Shellfish in this part of the world is exceptional. Ingemar has supplied langoustines to Saudi Arabian princes. Some of his catch was even served at last year's Nobel Prize ceremony. Cold water caused by the Gulf Stream means seafood grows more slowly in this part of the world, enhancing the flavour. Ingemar tells me though oysters take two years to grow off the French coast, here they require six years.
But it's not just the thought of fresh catch that grabs my imagination; being out on the water is the best way to enjoy West Sweden's coastline, drifting past lone lighthouses and isolated islets.
It's a good job there are plenty of alternative distractions, because our attempts to locate langoustines are largely unsuccessful. As we peer eagerly over the side of the boat, drizzled by a mist of salty water, Ingemar hauls in empty rope and metal pots with only the odd crab inside.
There are strict regulations governing fishing in the area, and Ingemar carefully casts back the few female langoustines we find in order to stick by sustainable practices.
Lobsters in particular are carefully monitored by marine police, although Ingemar hints that sometimes foul play is afoot.
It almost sounds like a case for bestselling crime novelist Camilla Lackberg, whose stories set in Fjallbacka have caused a surge of interest in the town. Every Friday and Saturday at 5pm, 45-minute walking tours guide tourists around locations featured in her books. A macabre highlight is the local graveyard, which provides the opening scene for three of her novels.
In the slow summer twilight, there's nothing remotely dark or murderous about Fjallbacka, but in winter when the population shrinks and grey clouds grow thicker, I imagine it could easily provide fodder for a Scandi noir thriller.
I climb the natural stairwell that winds through the Kungsklyftan ravine, caused by an earthquake 250 million years ago, and stand on top of Vetteberget mountain looking out to Valo Island, where Lackberg attended summer school and which would later become one of her fictional crime scenes.
But idyllic island life isn't restricted to this part of the coastline — even back in Gothenburg it's possible to ferry hop between islands in the Gothenburg archipelago.
I base myself at the Gothia Towers hotel, a slick glass high-rise overlooking the Liseberg amusement park, where the rooftop Heaven 23 restaurant serves a piled-high open kingsize prawn sandwich that even the hungriest diner would struggle to scale.
It's easy to get out of the town centre. A short tram and pleasant ferry ride later I'm in Styrso, one of the larger inhabited islands where visiting Swedes wistfully imagine they might own a summerhouse one day. With cars prohibited, residents get about in golf carts or motorised scooters with sidecars to carry luggage, wood blocks or even family members.
I walk along pathways where plants dress rocks like embroidered shawls, and pass grand canary-yellow properties with fairytale turrets. I stop at a quiet jetty where a crouching child is fishing for crabs with a piece of string, and an old man is sitting on a bench, drinking beer I climb to the top of Stora Ros, a vantage point with a superb panorama of the archipelago, where clusters of boulders arch from the water, like semi-submerged turtles. I've no idea whether or not Captain Klassen has passed by here on his travels. But I somehow doubt he'd be lost for words.
Getting there: Emirates flies daily from Auckland to Sweden, via its hub in Dubai.