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Kalmar Captures Charm of the Baltics, Lack of Crowds a Highlight Says Cruise Baltic’s Klaus Bondam

The first attraction on the whistle stop tour was Butik Museum, home to the largest gun from warship Kronan which sank off the east coast of Öland in 1676 in one of Sweden’s biggest catastrophes. Now, it is ‘an archaeological treasure’ with the vessel ‘one of the biggest technological achievements of its time,’ according to Lars Einarsson, an archaeologist at the musuem who has made 2,000 dives to the wreck and was part of the team that discovered Sweden’s biggest collection of gold coins at the site.

Lars Einarsson with Melanie Lewis Carsjens, director of shore excursion operations and product development, Holland America Group and Charlotte Krantz, product development – shore excursion, Ponant

The former Navy diver, whose work is dedicated to the Kronan project, showed the fam trip participants skeletons recovered from the vessel and various artefacts from the shipwreck, including the oldest violin in Sweden, muskets, wooden sculptures, lice brushes, shoes, wine bottles, medical chest and private letters.

In addition, the building houses Sweden’s largest maritime silver treasure made up of 6200 coins and unearthed from Kronin in 2005.

A video recreates the tragedy, as well as the process to recover its 60 guns.

‘It’s a very complicated excavation area,’ shared Einarsson. Passengers can listen to the archaeologist recount his firsthand experiences going 26mtr to the bottom of the sea to the wreck. Exclusive tours of up to 15 passengers can enter the laboratory where research and analysis of the excavated items takes place at the museum, to see some of the invaluable artefacts or for ‘a smell of the 17th century,’ as Einarsson described a bottle filled with alcohol retrieved from the ship.

Per person, entry costs 500kr for adults, 400kr for students/pensioners or 600kr for a family ticket. The audio guide is accessed by mobile phone and does not require downloading. From next year, the guide will be in three languages – English, French and German – and headphones can be provided.

The museum is yards from the tender port and open year-round – and with longer opening hours from mid-June to mid-August. It has a gift shop, is wheelchair accessible and fitted with an elevator.

Walking tour

Next, a walking tour with guide Ann Kristine from Destination Kalmar. ‘It doesn’t matter what season it is, as long as you have good clothes and shoes. Kalmar is beautiful in rain and in snow, it’s a good place to go at any time,’ she informed the group.

As well as unique houses, ‘We have restaurants and cafes where you can sit and relax or have something to eat and drink…You can very well spend two days here.’

Walking along the 17th century city wall, Kristine shared stories of Kalmar’s Viking heritage and the city’s history, before reaching the Old Square to see a cluster of houses dating to 1660. A number of glass plaques can be found on houses explaining their history in Swedish, English and German text. As for the main square, it contains elegant buildings with decorative facades, as well as a cathedral consecrated in 1682 and completed in 1703.

Fashionable retail stores, eateries and cafes give way to quaint and rustic shops selling ceramics and art. Walking tours are the most popular category of shore excursion, with all major sights in close walking distance from each another.

‘Sometimes it’s a bit noisy here,’ said the guide, depending on the time of year and whether a concert or market is being held in the city centre.

A stone path leads onto Kalmar’s main city gate. Three are the eight historic gates are intact, and some of a fourth gate.

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The main city gate in Kalmar

A stroll along Western Long Street followed, lined with colourful 19th century wooden houses, before a walk through the graveyard to see the spot where a church once stood – part of the Medieval city that was once situated there.

Built around 1900, the water tower, today made up of rental apartments, is a major landmark but not accessible to non-tenants.

Kalmar Castle

‘This castle has the most preserved art from the 16th century’ and is ‘one of most well preserved renaissance palaces in all the Nordic region,’ stated Adam Bernhardson, a castle guide, as he lead the group on a tour dressed in traditional attire.

The earliest remains of the castle date from the 12th century, its foundations hidden beneath the existing castle which retains its 16th century appearance.

Bernhardson presented Kalmar Castle’s medieval history, pointing out King Erik XIV’s rich and uniquely decorated quarters, the queen’s quarters, dungeon, banquet room and women’s prison, while touching on the threat of pirates that once existed and highlighting important figures from the past.

Highlights include the queen’s richly decorated bed of oak dating to 1628 – the only surviving piece of furniture at Kalmar Castle and a war bounty from Denmark. The chapel dates to the 17th century and has sea views, while the coffering in the king’s quarters dates to 1577 – among the earliest examples in Europe.

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Coffering in the king’s quarters dating to 1577

‘We are very proud of this castle, it’s a treasure of the city,’ said Stefan Johnson, tourism manager at Destination Kalmar, while Klaus Bondam, director of Cruise Baltic, said, ‘This is a very good example of what the region has to offer – and not as crowded as the Winter Palace is’ [in Saint Petersburg, Russia.]

He added, ‘In Kalmar, it’s so easy to go from place to place.’

A tour of the castle can be completed in as little as 45 minutes, or 1.5 hours for a more enriching experience. Passengers can explore the castle independently, with text written in Swedish, English and German, or a group tour is possible with up to 50 passengers, approximately.

Temporary exhibitions are also hosted inside the castle: A Monet exhibition takes visitors on a visual and auditory journey through the artist’s works, as they are digitally projected onto screens filling a vast hall, as classsical music plays in the background.

The King’s Kitchen exhibition can be accessed through the castle courtyard, to see where the royal household‘s food was prepared.

The castle holds ghost tours led by actors, an exclusive ‘hidden passageways’ tour where parts of the castle not on display to the public can be accessed, and in December, a four-day-long market is held in the grounds selling locally produced food, artisanal items and handicrafts.

An elevator is installed in the castle allowing for good accessibility, but there are shallow steps when entering some rooms.

Glassblowing experience

The journey ended at Målerås Glassworks (Målerås Glasbruk) where members of the fam trip tried their hand at glassblowing, learned about the methods and equipment used, before seeing firsthand a master glassblower at work.

Melanie Lewis Carsjens, director of shore excursion operations and product development, Holland America Group tries her hand at glassblowing

Målerås has a long tradition of working with glass, its first glassworks founded in 1890. Excavation of the old glassworks was completed in 2012 and archaeological remains of old window glass and bottles were found. The present glassworks was built in 1917, but has been renovated and expanded several times over the years. The modern history of the glassworks begins in the late 1970’s, when the community raised funds to prevent its destruction and present the age old tradition.

‘This is the biggest private owned glass factory in Sweden,’ asserted a glass smith at the factory. ‘We can take quite big group,’ they added. Children are also welcome.

Today, Målerås Glassworks’ artists take inspiration from the building’s forest location to create the one of kind items, which can be purchased in a well-stocked gift shop, which also sells jewellery and other trinkets containing hand blown glass. A number of show-stopping pieces can be seen within its gallery.

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Målerås Glassworks giftshop

Port/destination facts

Kalmar received eight calls in 2023 – the last one of the season from Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2 on October 1 – and it has five calls booked for next year.

In order to be sustainable and avoid crowding, in particular at Kalmar Castle, its policy is to accept one cruise ship at a time, either at anchor or alongside, and not more than 1,500 passengers.

It is a 20-minute journey to tender in, with capacity for two tenders alongside simultaneously, while the berth can accommodate a 150mtr vessel and has a seven-metre depth.

An information point is erected at the 2022-built pier for every call.

The bridge to Öland, under which cruise ships pass, is 36mtr at its highest point.

As for the most popular shore excursions, the first is the castle, together with a scenic walk through the city centre. The second, a three- to four-hour long coach tour that starts in the centre of the city and moves to the island of Öland 20 minutes away by road, known for its biodiversity and for being the location of the Swedish royal family’s summer residence.

Of the passengers that disembark in Kalmar, a significant number are of German nationality. Currently, the destination has 15 guides – half German and English speaking, and half English speaking only. Johnson is hoping to find more people who speak German as a first language to conduct tours.

While the destination has access to ‘hundreds of buses,’ Johnson explained that Kalmar has a lack of E-bikes and recognised a need to develop outdoor tourism, with Kalmar just 10km away from nature where there can be found hiking trails and beaches.

Source : Seatrade Cruise News