Reed Travel Features executive editor Joe Rosen recently
toured Sweden's Crystal Kingdom. His report follows:
VAXJO, Sweden - The opportunity to visit Sweden's famous Crystal
Kingdom filled my mind with Oz-like premonitions of a shimmering
glass palace protected by fluted turrets and a mirrored moat, and
within a glittering royal couple shooing away the peasants with
disdainful spritzes of Windex.
Well, reality meet fantasy.
The kingdom exists, all right, but it is a pine-forested domain
cut out of hard-scrabble, boulder-strewn soil that remains the bane
It is a place where high-minded artists and hard-working
artisans collaborate in furnace-hot foundries to produce singular
works of crystalline beauty for connoisseurs and consumers
The Crystal Kingdom is found in Sweden's southern province of
Smaland, the home of 15 glassworks. You probably know the names.
Kosta Boda, Orrefors, Bergdala, among others. I visited those
three. I bought a few things there and now wish I had bought
My trip started with an hour-and-40-minute flight aboard an SAS
Fokker 50 turboprop commuter from Copenhagen, Denmark, by way of
the Baltic coastal town of Kalmar, Sweden, to Vaxjo.
Vaxjo (pronounced vek-sheh) is a town with enough to recommend
it for overnight guests about to follow the yellow glass road to
the Crystal Kingdom an hour away by car.
I was put up at the Hotel Royal Corner (rack rate: single room,
$130; double, $160), an unremarkable Best Western smack in the
heart of Vaxjo and a short walk to the town's most notable
institutions: the Emigrants House and the Swedish Glass Museum.
The Utvandrarnas Hus, or Emigrants House, tells the tale of
"America Fever," when more than a million Swedes, most of them from
Smaland, abandoned their homeland to escape famine starting in the
"It is said that by the turn of the century, one of every six
Swedes lived in the U.S.," Agneta Skoglund, who conducts a lively
and informative tour of the facility, said. "Not surprisingly, U.S.
travel agents might find a number of clients with Swedish blood who
want to return here to discover their roots."
In addition to housing Europe's largest archive and library of
emigration, the museum offers two floors of fascinating exhibits,
including several that are interactive. Key among them are the
reconstructed cottage in which Wilhelm Moberg wrote the trilogy
"The Emigrants," "Onto a Good Land" and "The Last Letter Home," and
personal effects such as a good-luck charm and a watch recovered
from "Body No. 72," a 31-year-old Swedish carpenter on the maiden
voyage of the Titanic.
Adjacent to the Emigrants House is the Swedish Glass Museum,
some of whose displays date to 1792. Renovated and extended two
years ago - the oldest part of the facility was erected in 1885 -
the museum traces five centuries of Swedish glassmaking, including
examples of historical and contemporary stemware, bowls and works
Also on display here are textiles, archaeological finds, a
numismatic collection and an exhibit called "Industrious Smaland,"
which details how the serendipitous supply of raw materials such as
coal, wood, ore and water led to the establishment of iron and,
later, glass foundries in southern Sweden.
As for Vaxjo itself, it makes for a pleasant walk-around, with
plenty of shopping, a few old churches and a quaint cemetery with a
somber and imposing burial bell.
To reach the glassmaking factories from Vaxjo, I motored east 20
or so miles on roads that cut through pine forests, unforgiving
farm country and past lakes and streams that are a fisherman's
The glassworks in Bergdala are set in a clearing in a spruce
forest. Here, craftsmen working around a centrally placed oven
heated to 2066 F, create a varied assortment of stemware, bowls and
tableware best known for their decorative cobalt-blue edging or
The time-honored production system here turns out to be typical:
First an artisan called a gatherer shapes a blob of molten,
lava-like glass formed at the end of a metal blowpipe (the
mouthpiece of which remains remarkably cool to the touch, I
discovered in a vain attempt to blow a blob into a beer glass).
Next, the gatherer blows the glowing mass into a mold to form,
say, a glass goblet.
At that point, a gaffer shapes the glass's stem with a device
called a pucella. Now, it's time for the stem maker, who attaches
his own blob of molten glass to the goblet and shapes the object's
foot. When the glass has cooled, it is polished and then cut,
engraved, painted or otherwise decorated to meet the conception of
the artist who designed it.
All of the glassworks employ their own small army of designers -
some of whom, like those who design for Kosta Boda, live and work
near the factory - and it is they who give each factory's output
its indelible stamp.
Playing the Numbers Game...
VAXJO -- Both museums I visited charge a nominal sum for admission
and are happy to arrange guided tours for groups. For general
information, rates and hours:
Phone: (011) 46-470 201-20
Fax: (011) 46-470 394-16
Swedish Glass Museum
Phone: (011) 46-470 451-45
The three glassworks are visitor-friendly, featuring museums in
which their proudest works are displayed; outlet stores, and guided
factory tours. For more information on hours and tours:
Phone: (011) 46-478 316-50
Fax: (011) 46-478 180-80
Phone: (011) 46-478 345-29
Fax: (011) 46-478 345-01
Phone: (011) 46-481 341-95
For information on operators to the south of Sweden:
The Swedish Tour & Tourism Council
Phone: (212) 885-9700
Fax: (212) 885-9764