Sweden: A Visit to Ven
Visiting Ven, Swedish Island of Stargazers and Bicycles
It’s known as Ven in Swedish and Hven in Danish
By Jane Graham
After disembarking from the boat at Hven’s port of Bäckviken, (passengers only) you can opt to board the waiting green bus—the second-most preferred transport option—or climb the steep hill to partake of its first: the bike.
At the summit, Hven’s sole cycle hire business does a roaring trade all summer long, and the sight of 1200 yellow-framed bicycles standing waiting in neat lines makes one of the initial impressions on every visitor to this small island perched in the Øresund channel between Denmark and Sweden, and with ties to both.
Enticed by the late summer sunshine of a quite marvellous August afternoon, we politely dismissed the friendly woman offering us assistance in folding our stroller up into the boot of the crowded, soon-to-be departing bus, and marched resolutely up the hill and into the island. A picture of idyll, corn blew gently in the surrounding fields and birds whistled cheerfully.
From Bäckviken, one solitary road takes you north up the island, measuring less than three miles from top to bottom. An 8-mile cycle route around the island’s coastline can be done in an hour, but you’ll want to linger.
Exactly in the middle—mathematician and astronomer Tycho Brahe was very precise in his planning—is what most day-trippers come to see: the Tycho Brahe Museum. The museum is located on the site of Brahe’s castle domain Urianienborg and underground observatory Stjerneborg, both dating from the 1500s.
Written as Ven in Swedish and as Hven in Danish—the ‘h’ is silent—this humble isle is part of modern-day Sweden but retains many historical ties to Denmark as the property of Tycho Brahe, a 16th-century Danish astronomer credited as the first to accurately map the solar system using precise measurements. Brahe was given Hven by the Danish King Frederik II in 1576 as the site for his much coveted observatory, thus keeping him in Scandinavia: During the Renaissance, the greatest minds of northern Europe were often poached by the prestigious universities of their southern neighbors.
Something of a sociopath, Brahe agreed, choosing to hide away on his own private island with science as company—and sometimes his kid sister Sofie, whose brilliant mind and aptitude to scientific research he respected—rather than having to deal with other people. He was still smarting from an ill-fated duel, the result of a dinner party disagreement with a fellow mathematician in Rostock in 1566, which left Brahe with a permanently disfigured nose.
Ven Has Charm and Attractions
In contrast to its former lord, Hven has enough charm and attraction to make it worth staying at least one night.
We opted for bed and breakfast at a ‘stuga’ (the Swedish word for a small cottage or chalet) in a renovated barn in Tuna By, a pretty settlement on the north side of the island with a small village green and children’s playground.
A cold breakfast is provided by the owner, who lives next door, and left in the small kitchenette in tupperware pots to serve at your leisure on the terrace—so long as you don’t mind being watched by the neighboring herd of friendly goats.
The first half of the 1900s saw the number of residents on Hven rise to 2000, fuelled by a thriving tile factory, but by the end of the century the factory had closed and the population quickly declined. Today, there are just 360 all year residents on the island, a figure supplemented by hundreds of day tourists during summer months.
These hundreds of day-trippers support an unpretentious tourist industry of farm shops, cafes and restaurants that booms throughout July and August. The local pub restaurant claimed it had “run out of food” by the time we arrived, at dusk, hoping the best Oliver Twist impression from our hungry children would keep the kitchen open a half hour longer.
Restaurant kitchens tend to close around 9pm in Scandinavia, and as that hour was fast approaching, we gathered our flagging brood together for one last effort at finding food. Determined, we walked hungrily down a dark road towards the coast to the sleepy Kyrkbacken harbor, where gourmet restaurant Hamnkrogen beckoned invitingly at the bottom of the hill, its outside tables and chairs supplemented with snug blankets.
A Loud Swedish Party
We could hear even before entering the room that a loud Swedish party was taking place. The kitchen ought really to have already closed, but the dining group was keeping all the staff occupied, and the waitress gave a resigned smile in response to our enquiry for food and found us a table. “Look,” said our nine year-old daughter in surprise. “They’re grown-ups – and they’re making more noise than us!”
She wasn’t wrong. Swedish dinner parties can be loud, raucous—but generally good-natured—affairs. Accompanied by the crescendo of animated toasts behind our table, we tucked gratefully into our beautifully arranged plates of fresh fish and plankebof—a Swedish specialty—while the baby slept peacefully in her buggy. Like many upmarket restaurants in Scandinavia, Hamnkrogen’s culinary high standards are combined with friendly charm and a decided lack of snobbishness.
Luckily for us, the restaurant took credit cards—but as there’s no bank or ATM machine on Ven, do remember to bring cash in Swedish currency.
Tycho Brahe Museum
The next day was cloudy, but the threat of imminent rain didn’t stop us heading towards the island’s main draw, the Tycho Brahe Museum. An absorbing preface to the museum—and one that can be enjoyed without buying an entrance ticket— is its ingenious playground, a grassy area that’s part exhibit, part play area and showcases some of the games popular in Brahe’s time.
Most of these seemed to involve balancing on wooden bars or throwing rings, and many of them still exist, in slightly updated versions, as pub games throughout Europe.
A ticket to the museum does include its contribution to the digital age, a multimedia exhibit in what remains of subterranean observatory Stjerneborg, located across the road from the rest of the museum behind what looked like the door to an old WWII bunker.
We waited patiently in the drizzle outside to be admitted into the vaults for our English presentation, which was rolling exclusively for us. With grand classical music, a light show of constellations and a gripping voiceover, the impact is dramatic. Speaking as Tycho Brahe, the classical actor’s voice lamented over “the mass of humanity” and sought solace in the miles of sea that separated him from them, reminding us that Brahe, like so many geniuses, was not really much of a people person.
Ferry company Ventatrafiken operates a regular route from Landskrona in Sweden to (H)Ven with at least eight departures a day during high season. The return trip costs SEK 45 for one adult, with family tickets also available. Foot passengers only. In summer months, Spar Shipping also operates a passenger ferry between Copenhagen and Ven.
A native of Yorkshire, England, Jane Graham settled in Denmark after visiting much of Europe, and a few other countries as well, during her twenties. An experienced travel writer and guidebook consultant on her new home Copenhagen, she now makes brief forays into the world of independent travel with her large family that includes four lively bilingual children.
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