This week’s travel dream: Toasting the Midsummer sun off Sweden’s coast
On the first Friday after June 21, people escape the city to eat, drink, sing, and commune with nature.
Sweden celebrates the official arrival of summer in a way that “has no parallel in southern Europe,” said Marcel Theroux in Lonely Planet Magazine. Granted, many other cultures fete the summer solstice, but Midsummer Eve is greeted in Sweden “with an exuberance that’s hard to understand unless you’ve experienced the cold and darkness of a Swedish winter.” Late-June visitors can join in the festivities surrounding the first Friday after June 21, when work stops and people escape the city to eat, drink, sing, and commune with nature. One popular beer ad captures the ideal Midsummer Eve party: “Buff Swedes jumping off a jetty into water, and feasting on herring and new potatoes.”
While any far-flung locale will do, the “place to be” that weekend is the Stockholm archipelago, a cluster of 24,000 small islands in the Baltic Sea. I’m lucky enough to be spending my first Midsummer Eve there. En route from Stockholm, “the road winds through the radiant green landscape of a fairy tale: forests, timber houses, rye fields, fat cows. Wildflowers nod in the hedgerows. Road signs warn of rogue moose.” When I arrive on the island of Blidö, the first thing I notice is my own breathing. “The air is luminously clear and, scoured by sea breezes, feels like it’s rejuvenating the lungs.”
That morning, I watch revelers comb the islet’s narrow roads to scoop up buttercups, geraniums, and forget-me-nots that they use to fashion festive crowns, decorate a ceremonial pole, or even beckon romance: “A superstition holds that if you sleep with seven varieties of wildflower under your pillow on Midsummer Eve, the face of your true love will appear in your dream.” By midafternoon, hundreds of merrymakers carrying blankets and coolers gather in a field perched above the sea. A friend “pours me a glass of strong punch and insists I try his sister’s strawberry cake—a soft sponge topped with whipped cream and the summer’s first strawberries.” Then there’s dancing, followed by sack races and spirited games. Indeed, “the whole celebration is so tasteful, wholesome, and sincerely done” that “it makes me wish I were Swedish.”