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Celebrating a Crayfish Party in Sweden

If you haven’t discovered how thrilling it is to dig into a plate of delicious crayfish, you haven’t experienced a crayfish party, Swedish style. This summertime celebration of the freshwater crustacean isn’t just about its savory taste; for Swedes, it’s a magical time to come together and toast the season while enjoying the sea’s bounty, friends and family, and the gorgeous natural setting that is Sweden.   

The country’s Midsummer holiday, with its floral garlands and maypoles, may be better known. But the crayfish parties, or kräftskiva, that follow later in the summer are also a highlight. The typical timing for these parties, starting in August and continuing into September, is based on what was long the start of the season for catching this smaller cousin of the lobster. These days, it’s possible to buy crayfish year-round, but like many of the parties’ rituals, revelers fondly continue the traditions, even if the original reasons for them no longer exist.  

Among other features of a crayfish party are snapsvisor songs—humorous short verses that typically describe the singer’s fondness for snaps (similar to Scandinavian Aquavit), the spirits consumed with the crayfish. Fanciful colors are everywhere you turn—on the funny conical hats and bibs worn by partygoers as well as on the tablecloth and plates. Cheerful hues also adorn the paper lanterns hung around the table, perhaps decorated with a smiling full moon and lit with candles that help illuminate darker August nights. Making slurping noises as you consume your crayfish is encouraged, and you can expect everyone to break out into song. (Hum along if you don’t know the words!) After the dining on the delicious crayfish, the group may engage in fun party games; then it’s time to wind down with a relaxing swim, since lakes are normally warm in late summer.  

Crayfish parties take place throughout Sweden, though this itinerary focuses on the northern regions of Skåne and Småland—areas dotted with pristine lakes, where crayfish flourish. Many of the crayfish in Sweden’s markets are shipped from the United States (the Swedish consume more crayfish than they can produce), but the experience of catching your own, in Sweden, and eating them when they couldn’t be any fresher may elevate a crayfish party to the culinary high point of your trip.  

This year, Visit Sweden is hosting a virtual celebration of Midsummer with videos from events in Skåne, Stockholm, Dalarna, and other parts of the country on its Facebook page. But since a crayfish party is best experienced in person, you can start thinking now about when to go celebrate in Sweden.

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    Photo By Alexander Hall/imagebank.sweden.se
    Day 1
    Arrive in Gothenburg
    You’ll land this morning in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city. Instead of heading into town, however, you’ll go to the nearby region of Småland, which may match the mental image you’ve long had of Sweden: dense green forests, some 5,000 lakes, and storybook red barns and houses that dot the landscape. It’s also home to world-famous Swedish crystal that’s been manufactured in the region since the 17th century. In other words, you’ll be diving right in to experience what makes Sweden’s compelling blend of nature and culture so unique. 

    Fittingly, your first stop in Småland is a place that brings history to life. Asa Herrgård is an elegant late-18th-century manor house that was a privately owned summer house until 1949. Today, the stately mansion is a hotel that sits on its own lake and is surrounded by acres of lush forest, as it has since it was first constructed. Its peacefulness offers the opportunity to forget the din of the outside world, so you can truly begin to immerse yourself in the magic of Sweden. Spend the day taking advantage of the many activities here: kayaking or canoeing on the area’s shimmering lakes, exploring the estate’s trails on foot or by bicycle, or casting a line and seeing what you catch. End the afternoon as the locals do—with a visit to the sauna. It serves as a relaxing and restorative transition into the evening’s dinner at Asa Herrgård’s restaurant, where the kitchen prepares masterful dishes using ingredients from local farms and lakes.
  • Day 2
    Småland’s Manor Houses
    After a delicious breakfast at the hotel, you’ll have the morning to explore more of the grounds and perhaps take advantage of some of the activities you didn’t have a chance to try the previous day. It’ll help you build up an appetite before you participate in the singularly unique opportunity of an Edible Country experience.  

    The setting for this unforgettable meal lies just a few miles from Asa Herrgård, in a forested glen where abundant mosses create a green outdoor dining room, while the scent of the surrounding pine trees wafts through the air. Before you sit down to eat, however, you get to help with the preparation of the meal. Traipse over the tundra and forage for the mushrooms, nuts, and herbs that will feature in the dishes you prepare. And when local crayfish is in season, you can expect the succulent, sweet crustacean to appear on the menu as well. Chat with others as you dine alfresco at a communal table, communing with nature as you savor delicious food; it’s a Swedish experience at its most authentic. After lunch, delight in wandering among the tree-scented landscape, or create ripples as you swim in a glass-like lake before continuing on to your next stop, another of Småland’s majestic manor houses.  

    Wallby Manor offers another excellent chance to channel the majestic past of this glorious country. Your focus will first be on the mansion, which dates to 1840, but the verdant grounds—dotted with stately, centuries-old oaks—will soon clamor for your attention. Your arrival time, late in the day, is ideal for fishing for crayfish, which are typically caught at night. Armed with a flashlight and a bucket, you’ll wander out to the shore’s edge, gently lifting up rocks, then grabbing them before they have a chance to scurry away. (You’ll also learn other ways to catch them, like laying cages.) After you’ve gathered the crayfish for your dinner, freshen up with a swim in the lake before setting down to a meal of Småland delicacies including, of course, crayfish, and concluding with a typical Swedish dessert and coffee. In true Swedish fashion, be prepared for an evening of song, snaps, and general revelry.
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    Photo By Miriam Preis/imagebank.sweden.se
    Day 3
    This morning, you’ll leave the pampered life of Småland’s manor houses behind and travel south to Växjö, then spend some time wandering among its charming cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways. Venture over to the House of Emigrants museum: One of Växjö’s most famous sites, it tells the story of the more than one million Swedish citizens who immigrated to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries; its archives are an invaluable resource for historians and genealogists.  
    Today, Växjö is better known for an impressive focus on sustainability, leading to its self-proclaimed name of “Europe’s Greenest City.” You may not even notice all of the eco-efforts, which include initiatives to clean its many lakes, the adoption of biomass fuels for heating, and requirements that new construction meet the highest energy efficiency standards. However, it’s something to keep in mind as you stroll: Added together, they’ve made Växjö a model for other cities striving to reduce their carbon footprints.  

    Then enjoy the results of Växjö’s serious commitment to environmental initiatives as you swim in Helgasjön, the lake just to the city’s north. As is true in much of Småland (and Sweden generally for that matter) the lakes are so pure here that you can find swimming spots without leaving town—one beach is just a short walk from the town’s market square. Or explore one the town’s 23 nature reserves, strolling through beech forests and past dazzling wildflowers. In fact, identifying some of those wildflowers in bloom is an activity Carl Linnaeus would approve of. And you might sense the spirit of the 18th-century botanist—he attended school in Växjo. 

    At the end of the day, you’ll have dinner and then spend the night at the PM & Vänner Hotel. This sleek, contemporary, 74-room hotel celebrates Småland’s ecological beauty and draws inspiration from its meadows, pastures, and forests. From oak floors to stone details, many of its architectural and design elements have been locally sourced, just like the ingredients used at its restaurant. In fact, your meal here may well be one of the highlights of your trip: The restaurant was a pioneer of new Nordic cuisine, this elegant, Michelin-starred restaurant has reinvented regional cuisine, and every dish is like a piece of modern art, offering you yet another discovery to add to your appreciation for Swedish culture.
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    Photo By Mattias Givell
    Day 4
    Wanås Hotel
    From that very modern experience, you’ll witness another example of this region’s elegant history today as you continue traveling south today to the Wanås Hotel. The 18th-century stone barns that were converted into the hotel and restaurant truly harken back to a different era. Simply but elegantly furnished, the buildings here have been meticulously restored to create a property that respects the estate’s past, while its 11 rooms are also showcases for contemporary Nordic design.  

    You’ll find Wanås Art here, too—a sculpture park and foundation that also blend old and new into a unique experience. Around 70 works by contemporary Swedish and international artists fill the grounds and some of the manor’s 18th-century buildings. After admiring the art, take a detour to nearby Åhus, a popular summer resort on the Baltic coast. It’s here you can explore the home of a well-known brand: Absolut Home is where one of Sweden’s most famous exports—Absolut Vodka—has been produced since 1879. Learning more about this iconic vodka will give you lots of facts to regale friends and family with back home. Visiting also offers you a couple ways to continue your Sweden journey when it’s done. First, pick up some of the snaps varieties that can be harder to find in the United States—they’re the perfect complement if you decide to host some crayfish parties. The second is one you can take advantage of right now: creating your own vodka-based cocktail by using Absolut’s interactive, fun, and quick guided courses in cocktail making. 

    Since you’ll then be ready for some relaxation, visit Åhus’s golden-sand beaches and go for a swim. Then return to the Wånas Hotel, where you’ll enjoy your last dinner on this Swedish adventure—a multicourse feast using the organic game and beef raised on the estate, along with produce grown there or gathered in nearby forests. If local crayfish that meets the exacting requirements of Wanås’s chef are available, you’ll likely see them on the menu as well.
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    Photo By Apelöga/imagebank.sweden.se
    Day 5
    Return to Gothenburg
    Today, make the scenic drive back to Gothenburg (it’s just over three hours to the airport); by now, you’ll have a better appreciation for the gorgeous landscape and rich culture that surrounds you, and feel more like a local. You’ll likely want to take one last swim in the sea, fill your lungs with the crisp air of Skåne and Småland, and soak in the late-summer sun’s warmth before you depart. Fortunately, you can make that happen at the Hovs Hallar Nature Reserve and the Kullaberg Peninsula, which both require only short detours if you want to stop en route (the Reserve will add about 40 minutes in driving time to your trip). The stretch of coastline here is rocky and rugged, creating a contrast with the nearby green meadows.  

    It’s the perfect place to stop, sit, and ponder as you gaze out over the North Sea, asking yourself some of life’s important questions—like when you’ll return to Sweden to explore more of its natural beauty, culinary riches, and cultural treasures.