GOTLAND & FÅRÖ On the trail of Ingmar Bergman in Baltic Sweden.

GOTLAND & FÅRÖ On the trail of Ingmar Bergman in Baltic Sweden.

  • Words Gabriel Leigh
  • Photography Staffan Sundström

GETTING THERE If touring by car, the Destination Gotland ferry from Nynäshamn (linked to Stockholm by commuter train) or Oskarshamn (farther south) takes around three hours to reach Gotland. For sheer convenience, there are thirty-minute flights from Bromma Stockholm Airport (flights occasionally depart from Gothenburg as well, more often in summer). All inbound transport arrives in Visby.

SEE & TOUR In Fårö, head to the Gårdskrog at Stora Gåsemora for high-quality local food. In Gotland, visit Sysne Fish Shop on the eastern coast for fresh and smoked seafood. Tofta Beach is one of the most popular on Gotland; grab a local beer and take it down to the shore for a picnic, or climb around the limestone rock formations on a sunny day at Holmhällar Nature Reserve in the far south of Gotland.

STAY Visby is the main town on Gotland and a pleasant place to spend time. Fabriken Furillen is a standout hotel on Gotland, offering a handful of beautifully designed rooms and cabins set in an old limestone quarry; the island has many other hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, camping sites and vacation rentals. Day trips to Fårö from Gotland are possible, but there are also accommodations on the island, at Stora Gåsemora.

WORTH KNOWING Fårö was off-limits to non-Swedish citizens until 1998 because of sensitive military installations. Gotland remains a strategically important island in the Baltic Sea and home to Swedish military activity to this day. This could be in part because of its proximity to Russia; the island sits a little over 200 miles (322 km) as the crow flies from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

At the easternmost tip of the Swedish island of Fårö, there stands a tall white lighthouse. It rises at the end of the road in the hamlet of Holmudden, beyond which lies the Baltic Sea and, farther still, Estonia. On a midwinter day, the water shifts from a dark, forbidding shade of green to bright emerald as the sun flits into view from behind the clouds. The breeze is stiff and bitingly cold. Standing amid the coastal pines of the Skalahauar nature reserve, it makes for a picture-perfect Nordic island scene. 

For lovers of cinema, it’s impossible to think of Fårö without thinking of the seminal Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. This is the place Bergman called home in the latter part of his life, and where he made the 1966 masterpiece Persona. In fact, he shot six features, a television series and two documentaries here. This being a small island, you’re never far from one of Bergman’s filming locations; a pilgrimage to Fårö is also a journey into his movies. 

It’s easy to imagine why Bergman wanted to center much of his life and work on Fårö. Like his films, both Fårö and the neighboring island of Gotland are defined by a stark, haunting beauty: the particular angle of the light, which is more piercing than on the mainland; the sea, welcoming and forbidding at the same time, stretching to the horizon; the unusual limestone formations found along the rocky beaches, like hunchback trolls in the mist; and the sense of being in a kind of bucolic paradise, where people still make things with their hands (Gotland is known for its artisans) and sell them in their front yards. In his 1989 autobiography, The Magic Lantern, Bergman described how, when he first discovered Fårö, he had an intuitive sense that it was the place for him. “This is your landscape, Bergman,” he wrote. “It corresponds to your innermost imaginings of forms, proportions, colors, horizons, sounds, silences, lights and reflections.” 

Fårö sits just north of Gotland, and the two islands can be reasonably grouped together in one trip. Although it is far larger and more populated, Gotland lodges in the psyche of visitors in much the same way. Many artists, writers and other creatives have arrived here for residencies—artists at the Baltic Art Center, writers at the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators, both in the town of Visby—and found themselves making plans to stay. Even those without novels to finish find something here that draws them back year after year: Sweden has over 200,000 other islands, but this one is held particularly dear. 

GETTING THERE If touring by car, the Destination Gotland ferry from Nynäshamn (linked to Stockholm by commuter train) or Oskarshamn (farther south) takes around three hours to reach Gotland. For sheer convenience, there are thirty-minute flights from Bromma Stockholm Airport (flights occasionally depart from Gothenburg as well, more often in summer). All inbound transport arrives in Visby.

SEE & TOUR In Fårö, head to the Gårdskrog at Stora Gåsemora for high-quality local food. In Gotland, visit Sysne Fish Shop on the eastern coast for fresh and smoked seafood. Tofta Beach is one of the most popular on Gotland; grab a local beer and take it down to the shore for a picnic, or climb around the limestone rock formations on a sunny day at Holmhällar Nature Reserve in the far south of Gotland.

STAY Visby is the main town on Gotland and a pleasant place to spend time. Fabriken Furillen is a standout hotel on Gotland, offering a handful of beautifully designed rooms and cabins set in an old limestone quarry; the island has many other hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, camping sites and vacation rentals. Day trips to Fårö from Gotland are possible, but there are also accommodations on the island, at Stora Gåsemora.

WORTH KNOWING Fårö was off-limits to non-Swedish citizens until 1998 because of sensitive military installations. Gotland remains a strategically important island in the Baltic Sea and home to Swedish military activity to this day. This could be in part because of its proximity to Russia; the island sits a little over 200 miles (322 km) as the crow flies from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Fårö Lighthouse, on the northernmost tip of the island, is still operational, although staffed remotely. In 2019, a sixteenth-century ship was found perfectly preserved in the sea between Sweden and Estonia. Historians speculated that it had been sunk during the 1521 to 1523 war in which Sweden won its independence from the Kalmar Union.

A barn with a traditional roof thatched with a local marsh sedge called ag (the style of roof is known locally as ag tak). The sedge is dried before being tossed up against the gables by the forkful and flattened by foot. The roofs can last sixty years if made correctly, so to celebrate the local custom, parties are thrown so that friends and neighbors can help flatten the sedge while enjoying food and drink.

A flight to Visby from Bromma Stockholm Airport takes just thirty minutes; the ferry is a scenic three-hour alternative. During the busiest weeks of summer, you’ll find Gotland full of life. There are beaches with golden sand, plus ice cream stands and alfresco lunches to be enjoyed. But it is during the off-season, when it’s possible to not see a single person for hours, that the spirit of Bergman is most present. 

To continue your Bergman safari, head for the free car ferry that runs between Fårösund, at the northern tip of Gotland, and Broa, in the southwest of Fårö. At the height of summer, when visitor numbers swell, the ferry runs every ten minutes, while off-season it usually leaves every half hour. A ten-minute drive from Broa, along an unnamed road, will lead you to the Bergman Center—a modern concrete cultural center that celebrates the director’s life and work through exhibitions and a weeklong festival at the end of June (the center is open only between June and September). Visitors can enjoy a glass of wild yeast wine (there are several vineyards on Gotland) or a fresh lunch at the center’s café, Törst, before visiting one of three barn-like movie theaters on the island. 

There is a well-known photograph of the director on Fårö, walking along the rocky beach at Langhammars with a handful of tall, ice-age limestone formations—known as rauk—behind him. There are several nature reserves on both islands where these limestone columns can be seen, but Langhammars is home to perhaps the most famous (indeed, they feature on Swedish 200-kronor banknotes). The nearly 1,200-acre (486 km) reserve, set on a peninsula, is a good place for a long, contemplative walk along the coast. 

Bergman sought answers to big questions in many of his films—no less weighty topics than the meaning of life and the inevitability of death. For a visitor who is looking for silence and solitude on vacation, who hopes to be steeped in the sort of breathtaking, muted beauty that inspires inner contemplation, a summer spent on the islands of Gotland and Fårö would be difficult to beat. 

A barn with a traditional roof thatched with a local marsh sedge called ag (the style of roof is known locally as ag tak). The sedge is dried before being tossed up against the gables by the forkful and flattened by foot. The roofs can last sixty years if made correctly, so to celebrate the local custom, parties are thrown so that friends and neighbors can help flatten the sedge while enjoying food and drink.

The small, scenic alley of Fiskargränd in Visby. The medieval town is home to Gotlands Museum, which houses the world’s largest preserved horde of silver treasure, and several medieval churches. At the ruins of St. Karins Kyrka, there is an ice rink in winter, and concerts are sometimes held in summer.

The fence surrounding this house on Fårö is constructed in the gärdesgård style, known in English as roundpole fencing. Used to keep animals from straying, these fences are traditionally constructed from trees felled during forest thinning. On Fårö, you will also see many fences made of large rocks.

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