Words and photography by Ben Abbott

I am very aware of the Swedish stereotypes. To some degree the tall, blonde, super-friendly men eating meatballs and listening to ABBA part is true, but it is an overwhelming exaggeration. Decades of Swedish open-mindedness means that Sweden is actually a melting pot, bringing a multi-cultural mix of influences from all around the world.

But I was determined to seek out a quintessentially Swedish experience, so I headed to Malmö, which is also the gateway to Skåne – where Swedish life and traditions fuse beautifully with the modern day. Here’s a photo travelogue of my journey.

GET HOT AND COLD

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There’s only one way to initiate into the ways of the Swedes. And that’s to get completely naked, go to the public sauna, hang out nude while making small talk with locals then jumping into the cold sea for a swim. At Malmö’s Ribersborgs Kallbadhus they have been doing this since 1898.

FIKA

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Time stops, several times a day for this Swedish ‘art’ of coffee and cake. It’s all about spending time with people, getting to know one another and understanding each other as a result. Here are some of the best places in Malmö to try it.

AFTER WORK

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After work drinks is a big thing in Malmö – their own term for Happy Hour. Malmö’s Lila Torg comes alive as bars and cafes jostle for business for this daily, evening event. For gay afterwork, try the city’s hetero-friendly space, Bee Bar.

DESIGN

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Scandinavian design has always been top-drawer – and particularly in Malmö – it takes a slightly different twist to the rest of Sweden with its close proximity to Denmark. Home from home for this break was Clarion Hotel Malmö Live, set in a futurist Schmidt Hammer complex

ART

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Art in Malmö, both public and in galleries are world-class, the city has a long reputation for the Arts. In summer, the streets become galleries themselves, with public and street-art on show and in winter, the city’s top-notch museums like the Moderna Museet out on quite a show.

SUSTAINABILITY

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Malmö plans to be completely energy self-suffiecient by 2030 – and the area in the Western Harbour, home to the iconic Turning Torso is a model to prove that it will be done.

GARDEN OF SWEDEN

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Skåne is Sweden’s agricultural centre and the freshest ingredients are born here. There is therefore alot of Swedish farm-to-table cooking where the emphasis is all about locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, from the land and sea. Lunch at Horte Brygga was divine and a perfect example of Swedish internationalism fuses with a sense of being local.

HARVEST

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My visit to Skåne coincided with apple harvesting season at Källagården where visitors can come an experience agri-tourism. Here we made our own apple juice.

HASHTAG

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Even in the deepest part of the Swedish countryside, farmers are still “social”.

FARM HOTELS

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I stayed a night in one of Skåne’s many “Farm Hotels” – a great way to get at one with the nature here. Drakamöllan is a great option and Ingalin, the owner is one of the many who gave up a corporate life to create a beautiful bolthole in the countryside.

AGRICULTURAL ART

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Remember what I said about art in Malmö? That’s all the rage in Skåne too!

CHOCOHOLICS

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Swedes love coffee, but they also love chocolate, but imported raw materials, but harks from their days as seafarers exploring distant lands. The Osterland Choklad Fabrik is home to one of the few “Made in Sweden” chocolatiers.

HAPPY FARMS12-angavallen

The farmers of Skåne are don’t just harp on their agricultural traditions, but they look at innovative techniques too. At Ängavallen they tend to their animals in an amazing way that you won’t want to eat meat slaughtered in any other way ever again. Sunday brunch here is also particularly infamous.

For more about Malmö, visit malmotown.com and for Skåne, log on to visitskane.com/en

Be inspired by gay-friendly Sweden at visitswedenlgbt.com or join the conversation at #SwedenYoureWelcome.