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Our time riding Marstrand Island in Sweden may go down in the books as one of the most unique mountain bike experiences of my life.

Riders: Leo Ranta, Greg Heil. Photo: Natasja Jovic.

Riders: Leo Ranta, Greg Heil. Photo: Natasja Jovic.

Marstrand is located in the northern island archipelago, and is only accessible via ferry. And you’ll have to leave your car on the mainland: Marstrand is one of several islands that only allows foot and bicycle traffic. While some islands are less developed than others,  Marstrand is one of the more touristy destinations near Gothenburg. Local Swedes flock to the island to explore the ancient village (established in the 1100s) and historic castle (built in the 1600s) on day trips, along with tourists from abroad making this one of their key stops in West Sweden.

The island isn’t large, and a trail encircles the entire land mass, with several other sections of singletrack forming shortcuts across the center. All told, there’s maybe 6-8 miles of trail on the island, which means it’s not a long ride.

But it’s still so worth doing.

Riders: Greg Heil, Leo Ranta. Photo: Natasja Jovic.

Riders: Greg Heil, Leo Ranta. Photo: Natasja Jovic.

After ferrying across the channel, a chill wind whipping over the water, we slow-pedaled our way through the cobblestone streets of the village, heading for the singletrack. The trail began as a mostly paved, narrow path winding through rocks and scraggly trees, before bursting out of the forest onto the coast facing the open ocean.

Rider: Leo Ranta. Photo: Greg Heil.

Rider: Leo Ranta. Photo: Greg Heil.

As we pedaled our way along, the path turned more challenging with steep slickrock climbs and descents, and stair sections that had been carved into some of the rocks. As we stopped to shoot photos with the fortress in the background in one direction and the lighthouse the other, Leo and I scouted lines down the rocks, playing around on our bikes like kids, limited only by our imaginations.

Rider: Leo Ranta. Photo: Greg Heil.

Rider: Leo Ranta. Photo: Greg Heil.

Really and truly, riding up and down the rounded slickrock was immensely like riding slickrock in Moab–only even more magical. Instead of baking in the desert heat, the sun sinking into the ocean to the west warmed our backs as a cool ocean breeze kept the sweat off. Instead of the sizzle of sun on rock, crashing waves mere feet below us pounded the rocky coast, adding a natural soundtrack to our slickrock explorations.

While the trail itself is short, we played on the rocks for hours, exploring lines, shooting photos, and trying not to slip on the rocks closest to the surf.

Check out this video to get a taste of what this epic experience was like:

Day 3, Part 2 – Marstrand Island, Sweden from HillsideCycling on Vimeo.

After tiring ourselves (and my injured ankle) out, we cut across the island, stopping to check out Carlsten Fortress along the way.

Carlsten Fortress. Photo: Greg Heil.

Carlsten Fortress. Photo: Greg Heil.

The Swedes refer to Carlsten as a “fortress,” since it was built in 1658 as a military installation to protect against the Danes. Now we don’t have real fortresses or castles in the States to compare to, but with a massive wall, a moat and drawbridge, and a massive fortified keep complete with turrets and cannons, I’d personally call this a “castle.”

While Carlsten is open for tours on occaison, it wasn’t open this evening, but we were able to pedal inside the wall, through the outer courtyards, and up to a jaw-dropping overlook of the northern end of Kattegat Bay, where it meets the open North Sea. Yeah, I could see why this would have made for a strong military installation.

Cannon overlooking the village below. Photo: Greg Heil.

Cannon overlooking the village below. Photo: Greg Heil.

After taking in the view and trying to wrap my head around the history of the place, we bombed down the steep hillside into town to grab dinner at the Grand Hotel Restaurant. While obviously you could stay at the historic Grand Hotel (built in 1892) if you so desired, we were just there for the food–and it was delicious! This wasn’t our first seafood meal of the trip, and it wouldn’t be the last: the Grand served perfectly-prepared crayfish as the catch of the day, along with some delicious starters.

If you’re looking to log long miles on the bike, Marstrand probably isn’t the place for you. But if you want to play in the most unique slickrock playground you’ve probably ever seen, Marstrand is a must-do!

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