Splendour in the glass

Are Swedish artists hiding their light under a bush? Neil Roland has to go deep into the forest to find the country's top craftsmen

In this country of paradoxes, Swedes regard blending in as a true virtue, yet they like nothing more than to stand out. Ironically for a place which prides itself on being utterly straightforward, things are rarely what they seem.

A good example of this paradox can be found in the south-eastern province of Smaland. This vast terrain has known such sadness, intensity of emotion and creativity, it is somehow appropriate that its raw charms are veiled in a cloak of forest. Hidden among a necklace of lakes and swaths of birch and pine lurk Sweden's glass factories.

Fifteen glassworks are based here, the main players being the world-renowned Kosta Boda and Orrefors factories (once rivals, but now owned by the same company). Together with independents such as Linshammar, Bergdala (blue-rimmed tableware), Johanfors and the evocatively named Pukeberg, all provide daily glass-blowing demonstrations, a mesmerising sight as glass plugs are fished from their molten lakes at 1,100C, the glowing tangerine gobs rolled and shaped into recognisable forms.

Swedes may be charged with being reticent, often shy and modest beyond the call of duty, but when they do decide to promote something, the marketing is ferocious. A handful of glass designers at Kosta Boda and Orrefors are lauded with the most absurd hyperbole and tourist office staff sigh– as only Swedes can sigh – about their rare talents.

To find some truly innovative glass art, however, you should visit the tiny studios that receive none of this kind of promotion. Seek out the Transjo studio, just behind the Kosta factory. Wilke Adolfsson trained at Orrefors (the factory) but now creates special glass from a tiny studio in Brinkleden at Orrefors (the village). Take a look, too, at Gullaskruv, run by glass designers from Uruguay.

The towns of Vaxjo (pronounced Vah-quer) and Kalmar are the best places from which to explore the area. Vaxjo is home to the Swedish Glass Museum, which shows 500 years of glass heritage, though Sweden became renowned for its glassware only in the late 1800s. Among its permanent collection is the superb work of Richard Rackham, a British master who lectures at Vaxjo university and has a studio on the west coast.

Smaland cuisine is a product of poverty, but also a joy. Try a spicy sausage called isterband, traditionally served with potatoes in dill sauce, and potato pancakes with lingonberry sauce. The local dessert is a rich curd cheesecake with cloudberry sauce. For a painless encounter with the tourist trap, join a hyttsil evening. For centuries, local peasants and glass workers ate herrings, sausages and potatoes baked in the cooling embers of the glass furnaces at the end of each day. Almost all the glassworks maintain this tradition, on different days of the week.

Smaland is more familiar to Americans than to Britons. In the 1870s, a sixth of the entire Swedish population, faced with starvation due to agricultural reforms, emigrated to the States. By 1910, Chicago had more Swedes than Gothenburg. You can find out about their horrendous journeys, via Hull and Liverpool, at the House of Emigrants museum in Vaxjo. Of the 1,500 who died on the Titanic, several hundred were Smaland emigrants.

It is only about an hour's drive to the city of Kalmar, a modest treasure on Smaland's Baltic coast. Domestic tourists come here only to cross a 6km bridge leading to the island of Oland, one of Sweden's best-loved holiday destinations, yet it is a splendid goal in itself. Kalmar's New Town was built in the late 17th century after a devastating fire; the Old Town, which dates back to the beginning of the same century, is a tiny maze of cobbled lanes flanked by egg yolk-yellow and wisteria-blue cottages. Kullzenska Café is the most atmospheric in town. It's an early-18th-century house, which until fairly recently was home to three siblings who left its interior of eight interconnecting rooms exactly as it had been for 150 years. Old Indian carpets, elaborate ceiling-high glazed stoves, glinting chandeliers and hand-painted walls all look down on a mishmash of ancient couches and tables, where locals eat the gooiest cakes in town.

One final paradox has created a unique visual feast and a cemetery very different from any other. During the 1950s 100 or so cars were abandoned in the forest a couple of kilometres from Ryd in southern Smaland. The trees grew around them, and the cars began to sink into the peaty bog. Now Europe's only car cemetery is recognised as an area of historical significance. A ghostly traffic jam, and a photographer's dream.

Scandinavian Airlines (0845-607 2772; www.scandinavian.net) offers return flights to Vaxjo cost from £228 and to Kalmar from £230. Swedish Travel and Tourism Council (00800 30803080; www.visit-sweden.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London