By Ana Kinsella
I was lucky enough to spend several summers in my twenties working in Stockholm. The Swedish capital at that time of year is lovely: bright and sunny; long days, short nights. The city streets tend to be quiet and peaceful. Many offices close in mid-July, allowing employees to take off for summer houses in the countryside. I was surprised to learn how many Swedes have access to a forest cabin or a lakeside cottage. It felt like another perk in Sweden’s social democratic system.
For all my summers in Stockholm, I never managed to escape to the Swedish countryside myself. Perhaps that’s why the house in Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film Persona, on the remote Baltic island of Fårö, holds such an appeal for me. In the movie, it’s where Elisabet Volger, a troubled stage actress played by Liv Ullman (pictured above), convalesces with her nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson). Against the backdrop of the beachfront house — and the island of Färo more generally — the pair go a little mad, slowly disintegrating into each other.
I don’t find myself in Sweden so often nowadays. I spend my summers the same way I do the rest of the year: working at my desk in my rented flat in London. When the days get longer and the evening sunlight pours in through the window, making it hard to see my screen, my mind begins to wander. I find myself thinking of a beachfront property in the stark white sunshine of Bergman’s film on that faraway Swedish island.
As island retreats go, Fårö is an unusual choice. Unlike the wooded archipelagos closer to Stockholm, the landscape is harsh; alternately boggy and rocky. The beach is lined with dramatic limestone sea stacks. The island itself is isolated — getting there requires a bus, a ferry and then another bus. But Fårö so enchanted Bergman that he shot several of his films here during the 1960s, including Through a Glass Darkly, Shame and The Passion of Anna, and it was during the making of Persona that he decided to build a house on the island.
Today, it’s more than a house: the Bergman Estate is a collection of buildings that honour the director’s legacy by hosting residencies for artists, scholars and writers. For a life-long city dweller like me, the arduous journey and the harsh landscape constitute part of the island’s allure. “The distances on Fårö are longer than you might think” warns the Estate’s website. “There is no grocery store within walking distance [of] the houses.” To me, that sounds perfect.
Bergman’s property may not be available to buy but I can see myself packing my bags and heading off to this summer house on Skarpkälsö, in the archipelago of Norrtälje. The property is on the market for SKr9mn ($912,000). It’s a slightly less gruelling journey to the island than to Fårö — a couple of hours’ drive from Stockholm — but once there, the conditions look ideal for my dream summer escape. “If you enjoy restaurants,” the listing says, “a 30-minute boat ride will take you to Östhammar.” But I’m not coming here to socialise. Like the two women in Persona, I’m looking for a picturesque retreat where I can go slightly mad if I want to.
Photography: Alamy Stock Photo; Christie's International Real Estate