I had a brief moment of panic. Was I meant to be on the ferry at 8am, rather than 10am? Watching the bright yellow Capella ease away from the dock and lumber out to open waters, I hopped off my borrowed bicycle and leaned it against the side of Holmön’s boat museum. I had found it there the day before. It was one of dozens of salvaged bikes parked outside for visitors to rent, for about £7 per day. To drop it off, I had coasted along the island’s forested roads with a salty breeze on my face.
“What a morning,” I thought, smiling to absolutely no one as I walked the 15 minutes back to my accommodation at Prästgården, a former vicarage that dates to 1822 and now serves as a community centre and private-room hostel.
I spent three nights on Holmön, in eastern Sweden. It is 18.6 miles (30km) east of Umeå, which has been recorded as the country’s third-sunniest place. This statistic has earned Holmön the title of “Sweden’s sunniest island” – and the country has 221,800 of them.
That morning, the sun was already luminous against a blue sky; the surrounding sea a placid, silky blue-grey. While I would have much preferred to keep the bike, grab my camera and head out for a day spent pedalling the almost 15 miles of sparsely populated roadway, I had to get back to the mainland. At least I wasn’t missing out on a rare weather day.
I had arrived in Holmön via the mid-size city of Umeå. A lively locale along a river of the same name, Umeå serves as the portal to the Holmö archipelago, which is accessible by ferry. The transfer to Holmön’s modest harbour takes 45 minutes and is free.
Though Holmön is the main island, my first overnight was spent on nearby Stora Fjäderägg, or “large feather egg”. Reached by 12-person boat in about 30 minutes from Holmön, Stora Fjäderägg is a nature reserve with a summer hostel. While there is no running water and the toilet facilities are outdoors, each party is given their own room and kitchen. Staying there was a rustic, alluring experience.
I spent my evening traipsing over rocks dating back to the Ice Age and squelching across spongy bogs, all the while keeping my eyes peeled for seals as the setting sun turned the clouds into fiery shades of orange.
“The scenery here is almost too pretty to look at,” said Jenny Lundqvist, to whom I chatted outside the bird monitoring station where she volunteers for a few days each summer.
Stora Fjäderägg is a stopover for migrating birds en route to destinations across Africa and Asia, and human visitors are welcome to help with ringing and data collection.
Lundqvist has been visiting the island for nearly a decade and the connection to nature is what keeps her returning each year. “For my children, this is their happy place,” she told me.
Back in Holmön the next day, I enjoyed a luxurious räkmaka (shrimp sandwich) for lunch at the island’s lone restaurant, Novas Inn. I had just visited the museum next door – where I had learnt about the region’s boating heritage – and was thinking about how Joar Sandström, a Holmön local and multi-skilled carpenter, museum guide and boat driver, had said that people row between Holmön and Finland’s adjacent archipelago “for fun”.
Just 15.5 miles apart, the two island clusters comprise the Kvarken region and share a long maritime history. I had my answer as to why a Finnish flag flew in the harbour next to Sweden’s.
With just one restaurant and a general store, Holmön is a place of tranquillity and for connecting with nature – I forgot about the demands on my smartphone
One of the most blissful moments was cycling to Bergudden lighthouse, which dates to 1895, to catch the sunset. The air smelled of lush forest and sea as I pedalled along a winding road, passed quintessentially Swedish houses – red with a crisp white trim – and watched the evening light spill through the trees.
The branches seemed to part just-so to reveal the lighthouse. I didn’t see a soul that night. It was as though I had the whole island (and its marvellous sunset) to myself.
“We have around 150 people registered but only 75 live here year-round,” Olle Nygren told me earlier that day. He is a retired chemist and professor who has spent most of his life in Holmön.
As we drove around the island in his pick-up truck, Nygren pointed over the steering wheel at nearly every house to let me know whether its occupants were part-time or full-time residents. “When you live in a village this small, you know everyone,” he said.
I caught the ferry back to Umeå – I needn’t have worried about the 10am schedule, Capella was right on time (trafikverket.se/holmoleden; another ferry, Helena-Elisabeth, is now in operation).
Between the perfect weather, fresh air and absence of distraction, my mind was clearer than it had been in weeks. I also felt as if I had been let in on a juicy secret, because most of Holmön’s visitors are Swedes; or Swedish-speaking Finns from just across the Gulf of Bothnia.
It is one of those “if you know, you know” places, and outsiders simply don’t know about this sunny little archipelago in the north of Sweden.
I’m usually good at keeping secrets, but Holmön is too special not to share.
From Stockholm, take a six-hour train to Umeå from Skr365 (£26), or a one-hour flight from Stockholm to Umeå with SAS or Norwegian. Several airlines offer direct UK –Stockholm flights.
In Umeå, Stora Hotellet has doubles with breakfast from £108, storahotelletumea.se
On Holmön, Prästgården has private rooms, £58, prastgardenholmon.se. On Stora Fjäderägg, doubles are from £29, storafjaderagg.se