Surrounded by bright shades of orange, green and pink, I sit alone at the picnic table drinking elderflower-lemon kombucha and listening to a steady stream of electronic-meets-uplifting, soulful tunes. Disco balls adorn the outdoor space and everyone around me is engaged in animated conversation. Their skin glows. That is because Café Fluss, a bar, restaurant and club in Gothenburg, Sweden, is where to go after a visit to the adjacent, free-to-the-public sauna in the Frihamnen neighbourhood.
Located in the park Jubileumsparken, just across the Gota Alv river from the city centre, the sauna is a sculptural oasis largely crafted from reusable materials. The changing room, for example, is comprised of some 12,000 recycled bottles. Between relaxing in the sauna, swimming in the chlorine-free public pool that’s also on site and hangouts at Café Fluss, Frihamnen is equal parts calming and invigorating. It epitomizes the socially and environmentally responsible spirit of Gothenburg.
In an era when plastic straws are verboten, words such as organic, sustainable and eco-conscious, while overused, have cultural currency. More people want to live better, more conscientiously. I am one of them, so that is why I am drawn to Gothenburg. Sweden’s second-largest city has, for the past three years, earned the highest score on the Global Destination Sustainability Index, ahead of neighbours Copenhagen and Reykjavik. Charming Gothenburg, once a ship-building hub, has transitioned into a healthy haven of green with waste-fired heat and power plants.
The home of Volvo, Gothenburg has a layered industrial past and innovation is very much a part of its identity. It is the first city in the world to issue green bonds, allowing investors to help finance sustainability issues at no cost. About 65 per cent of public transit is powered by renewable energy, and its airport has been award the highest level of environmental accreditation since 2011. Even one of the city’s more mainstream attractions, the circa-1920s Liseberg amusement park, is 100-per-cent wind powered.
Almost all of the hotels in the city have “environmental diplomas," and so I choose to stay at Hotel Eggers, a fixture since the 1800s that is steps from Central Station. I am smitten with the overall retro allure of this property: the curving staircase, the jewel-toned wallpaper in elaborate patterns, the jazz piped into corridors. But for a hotel with such a deeply entrenched history, I am also impressed by its forward-thinking mindset, running on electricity from a wind turbine that powers its two sister hotels as well.
Sustainability in Gothenburg is neither boasted of nor gimmicky in approach I quickly realize. It’s genuine – an ethos, something intrinsic to the city that I observe quietly throughout the day, while riding on one of the charming blue-and-white electric trams, for example, or stepping inside the Palmhuset, the glass- and cast-iron palm house that has stood inside Tradgardsforeningen, the Horticultural Society, since the late 19th century. A moment of reflection in the company of all those tropical blooms inside is exhilarating.
This feeling also arises in certain shops. Nudie Jeans is known around the world, but it all began in Gothenburg in the 2000s, turning out stylish and affordable jeans spun from 100-per-cent organic cotton denim. Encouraging their customers to hold on to their jeans a bit longer before splurging on a new pair, the brick-fronted Vallatgan store offers free repairs.
That welcoming vibe is also on display at Thrive – Conscious Fashion. It’s located in quaint Haga, the neighbourhood known for its cobblestone streets and cafes that invite a fika break, Sweden’s beloved ritual of pausing twice a day for coffee and a sweet treat. Perusing the airy store, I encounter new-to-me labels, such as Germany’s Lovjoi, Denmark’s Underprotection and England’s Komodo.
Gothenburg’s food scene is increasingly robust, with many restaurants loyal to local produce and putting vegetables at the forefront. In the morning, it doesn’t get simpler, or more satisfying, than a cardamom bun, say, from Cum Pane. Every ingredient this bakery uses is organic. Likewise, at Alvar & Ivar, the backbone of this bakery is locally made organic flour. Bakers kneading dough greet me at both places, lending a cozy, old-fashioned feel to them.
Feskekorka, the fish market hall dating from 1874 that resembles a church, is where locals convene to shop for that night’s dinner. Upstairs is Restaurant Gabriel and it’s the spot to be at lunchtime for its devotion to sustainable catches that translate to daily specials. Patrons are in the always-packed space devouring Swedish oysters, herring with mashed potatoes and lingonberry or hefty warm shrimp sandwiches.
At the upbeat organic restaurant Natur, my beans with goat cheese, onions and pickled garlic, followed by a superior rendition of steak tartare with smoked egg yolk and a blueberry-meringue creation for dessert, are all accompanied by wines such as Kalkspitz Pet Nat from Austria, Italy’s La Staffa and Le Temps Fait Tout from France.
A similar reverence for ingredients is on display at Koka. Less rock ‘n’ roll and more polished in ambience, it’s where to indulge in a modern-day fine-dining experience, with natural wine such as Hanami from France’s Loire Valley paving the way to grilled carrot, goats curd and marigold, or cod with yellow-pea miso and mushrooms.
I visit La Lune for a spontaneous nightcap, and inside this wee bar I encounter owner Oskar Ahlvin, a sommelier with years of restaurant experience under his belt. There is nothing pretentious about La Lune, just a place where you’ll see a bottle of Calvados next to a Rowan’s Creek bourbon whiskey on the shelf and listen to the Brian Jonestown Massacre while sipping your glass of biodynamic Miss Terre Domaine de la Sénéchalière alongside a slice of ethereal strawberry-elderberry-rhubarb cake. A lighthearted conversation about natural wine is likely to ensue. I want to be a regular.
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