You can tell Malmö is steeped in history after walking its 15th-century cobblestone streets.
Malmö is at the very southern tip of Sweden. This lively, modern-thinking international city has been around since the Middle Ages and used to be part of Denmark.
In fact, to visit Malmö, you fly into Copenhagen’s airport, less than a half hour away. The city’s iconic image is the Turning Torso, a modern luxury condo building that looks like a giant bread twisty tie. Unfortunately, the one day I was there, the sky was emptying buckets of water into my camera. Even so, there were so many interesting things to take in.
Malmö's gothic Town Hall, in the city center.
What to do. The historic center of town is made up of three adjacent squares that date from the 13th century. Today, in the beautifully preserved, quaint buildings there are craft boutiques, see-and-be-seen cafés and Folk a Rock, a vintage record store that becomes a live music venue during the early part of the week. You’ll hear everything from Americana, blues and singer/songwriters.
Towards the Øresund (the sound separating Sweden from Denmark) waterfront, you’ll find a lot of young people congregating around chain businesses like H&M and McDonald’s. Many of the nearby duplex apartment structures have won awards for being especially eco-friendly. Keep walking and the neighborhoods boast lots of vintage clothing stores, as well as a less-discovered, more subdued vibe. Walking and cycling are the preferred methods of getting around town.
If you catch a nasty cold while traveling like I did, head straight to Apoteket Lejonet (The Lion Pharmacy). Malmö’s oldest pharmacy dates from 1571; they have antique apothecary jars lining shelves that go up to the high wood ceiling carved with lion heads. They carry lip balms commissioned by the Swedish ski team and the renowned salty hard licorice drops. While the drops might not be the most appetizing confection when you’re not feeling well, they have menthol or some other secret ingredient that blows the congestion out of your head like an atomic bomb. (By the way, the Swedish word for “a cold” is förkylning, which kinda sounds like what I say in English when I’m sick and swearing about it.)
Where to stay. Hotel Temperance is a Clarion boutique hotel located in the historic section of the city called “Old West.” The area off the lobby has exposed brick and a funky look, serving complimentary “fika” – Swedes’ beloved coffee break. The rooms are modern with a warm touch. Their morning breakfast buffet features herring, local eggs and a very tasty tuna salad that had peas and red peppers like chicken a la king.
Where to eat. Salt & Brygga prides itself on its seasonal, organic fare. Though they have lots of Neil Young playing in the background, it’s not a hippie café. In fact, it’s a sophisticated bistro on the water; you can see the bridge to Denmark out the window. They’re part of the local slow food movement. They don't serve endangered fish or things of that nature. The bottled water they serve is a local mineral water: Malmberg. It's crisp and brisk, almost minty.
For an entrée, I had pheasant breast with gratin of root vegetables, lardons, leeks and red cabbage. The pheasant was garnished with berries. It was very tender and flavorful, and the whole dish was spot-on seasonal for fall.
Passing a medieval manhole cover...
On one of Malmö’s intact, winding cobblestone streets from the Middle Ages is Bastard. Bastard is all about head-to-tail eating, plus wine pairing with your meal. The space is large and low-gaslamp lit at night, but winds like the streets outside so that your own section feels intimate.
One of the first things you can't help but notice is the phenomenally good-looking waitstaff. This isn't the common U.S. hat trick of employing a cute-ish bartender or hostess – I'm talking about an entire group of servers who could hop off the plane at NYC and have an amazing modeling career.
When you order from the tasting menu, they like to serve you a variety of flavors from land, sky and sea. I started with venison tartare. I vowed to myself that when I was in Sweden, I would eat things with antlers when given the opportunity. I can tell you that they really do a good job here, if you've had an off experience in the States. The meat was mild – somewhere between beef and mild pork flavor. It was seasoned with sweet herbs like cardamom, onion bits, egg yolk and watercress. The egg yolk added a welcome richness, since venison is usually pretty lean.