Denmark and Sweden are separated by the Öresund Strait in the most narrow place. You might just think of it as the stretch of water which has one of the World’s busiest shipping lanes, or the snippet of sea you might catch a glimpse of from the plane when landing at Copenhagen. Look closer and you will spot the little island of Ven which is even visible from the Öresund Bridge in fair weather if you know where to look. This is one of my absolute favourite destinations in the south of Sweden.
The island lies roughly four kilometres from the Swedish coast, and eight from the Danish. It is in fact the only surface trace of a stretch of land which, until the retiring of the ice after the Ice age, joined Sweden and Denmark physically. The incredible water pressure made this ridge collapse and left only the plateau that is Ven. Today, it is still a geologically lively island with steep, grassy slopes down to the sea, known as Backafall.
Until 1658, the Scania province in Sweden was Danish. Sweden got hold of it through the Treaty of Roskilde that year, but Ven was Danish another two years until the Treaty of Copenhagen. Today you can go here from both countries in summer when there is a boat from Nyhavn in Copenhagen city centre, but the 350 or so residents today use the regular ferries from Landskrona in Sweden which are included in the local transport system.
Today this part of Scandinavia is one of its most densely populated, and the skies are lit up by Malmö, Copenhagen and Helsingborg especially at night. This was certainly not the case in the 16th century when famous Danish astronomer and Tycho Brahe owned the island and made it his base. Here he built an underground observatory and now you can go underground to see a film on astronomy. Then you can visit the other remains and reconstructions of his world, including calculation instruments Brahe was familiar with, general information about the times he lived in, and a new version of his gardens. It cannot have been easy being an astronomer in the time when people thought you were crazy, heretic or both if you brought new ideas about the universe to the table. In the case of Brahe, he actually discovered a supernova in the Milky Way which must have been amazing at that time since it fascinates even today.
Pasta and pedals
The boats from both Sweden and Denmark arrive in Bäckviken harbour. From there, you only have a short uphill walk before you find yourself in a sea of bicycles, both single and tandem. The best thing you can do here is to rent a bike and set off. The island is small enough to go around in an hour, and this of course gives ample time for sightseeing stops. Apart from the astronomical museum, there is a typical old farm which acts as a kind of open air museum not far from Bäckviken. There are also several art galleries, curiosity shops with cafés and the like. The 19th century church in the middle of the island houses the Brahe exhibition today, but head for Kyrkviken (“Church Bay”) and you will find the old church, St Ibb. This is a lovely little Danish style, lime-washed church from the 13-15th centuries, which is popular for weddings. Set on a cliff overlooking the little harbour below, its cemetery has a dramatic setting. When you have had a look inside, I recommend the hill down to the harbour itself for lunch, or just to soak up the atmosphere amongst the yachts.
Since 2008, Ven has housed Backafallsbyn Conference centre, where you can spend the night if you fall in love with the island, but there are also several smaller bed and breakfasts or restaurants with rooms as well as a campsite. Backafallsbyn is in fact more known for its whisky distillery today, with the Spirit of Hven (Hven being the old spelling of the island). Its bar has more whiskies than most bars in Scandinavia and is known amongst connoisseurs even in Scotland.
Food in general is a big thing on Ven which has a type of soil and micro climate making it suitable for all sorts of produce. It is one of the northernmost places in Europe where you can grow durum wheat so if you find a pasta dish on the menu, you might want to try it. Flat fish, and products made of milk from the local goat herd is another delicacy in restaurants, as is pheasant in season. Once I have counted to more than twenty pheasants on just a little bit of the bike path, and you hear them everywhere in spring. Local sweet things include ice cream as well as saffron crisp rolls.