April 5, 2013 6:03 pm

Gem of the Baltic

Gotland is enjoying a surge in popularity
Residents dance around a midsummer pole in Gotland©AWL Images

Residents dance around a midsummer pole in Gotland, where house price growth has exceeded that of Stockholm in the past year

The Swedish island of Gotland – the largest island in the Baltic sea – boasts tranquil countryside, beautiful (if sometimes windswept) beaches and a growing reputation as a destination for food lovers. No wonder, then, that it is a favourite second home location, especially for residents of the capital, Stockholm, a 30-minute flight away.

Gotland’s particular popularity with Sweden’s film and media crowd is largely due to film director Ingmar Bergman, who set up home – and also built a private cinema in an old barn – on the island of Fårö, close to Gotland’s northern tip, in the late 1960s. Fårö’s rugged landscape became a hallmark of dramas such as Through a Glass Darkly and Scenes from a Marriage.

Statistics Sweden reported in March that average house prices in Gotland – which has a permanent population of 57,300 people – have increased 3 per cent in the past 12 months. This compares with a 2 per cent rise in Stockholm over the same period.

In the hamlet of Ala near the centre of the island, Skeppsholmen estate agency is offering a renovated two-storey farmhouse built in 1909, with four bedrooms, an artist’s studio and 9,500 sq metres of grounds, for SKr6.75m (£685,000). The property has retained its original beams and wood-fired stoves for heating.

Meanwhile in the seaside village of Burgsvik, close to the southern tip of Gotland, a recently-built three-bedroom, timber-frame home typifies the continental feel that Gotland has in the brief high summer season. It has a separate guest annexe and a spacious deck for al fresco dining and sunbathing, and is on the market for SKr4.95m (£502,500, through the Fastighetsbyrån estate agency).

Map of Gotland

In the late 1990s, Swedish screenwriter Johan Bogaeus bought a compact, 19th-century timber-framed house in southern Gotland. He was attracted by the combination of peace and quiet and an interesting mix of people, especially in the summertime.

“Bergman popularised Fårö and the northern section of the island, but the southern part of Gotland has a special quality of light that has attracted a lot of artists, too,” says Bogaeus. Most years, Gotland enjoys more sunshine than anywhere else in Sweden.

“I often get the chance to chat with producers, directors and actors. A lot of creative people come here, and the great thing is that you end up bumping into people in a way that you don’t in a big city like Stockholm.”

Horse-riding, golf, walks in the flat, often lush countryside, and windsurfing are all popular pastimes on Gotland. Visby, the island’s diminutive and partly medieval capital, is also popular with Stockholm’s young party crowd and can get raucous in the summer. Although Visby has a marina, sailing is a less popular pursuit than in the archipelago around Stockholm, for instance, as – apart from Fårö – there are few other islands nearby to visit.

An 88 sq metre, two-bedroom apartment in Visby’s pretty old town, with a fitted kitchen and parquet floors, is on the market with Mäklarhuset estate agency for SKr2.3m (£233,500).

None of the island’s restaurants has yet been awarded a Michelin star, but a number of them have embraced new Nordic cuisine. Foraging for berries and truffles is a longstanding Gotland pastime, and a spring food festival gives the island’s chefs the chance to show off their skills with local lamb, leek and asparagus.

According to Fredrik Lindahl, who specialises in the Gotland market at the Skeppsholmen estate agency (a Sotheby’s associate), house prices will “grow in line with the rest of the Swedish market – or outperform it”.

“Prices are still low compared with the Stockholm property market – like-for-like homes are approximately half the price of those in the capital – and Gotland’s popularity is on the rise.”

Lindahl expects the first SKr10m house purchase to take place this year. The current record, he says, is approximately SKr9.2m (£934,000) for a home that changed hands two years ago.

house in Burgsvik

A three-bedroom house in Burgsvik, for sale at SKr4.95m

This year could be a perfect storm for Gotland’s property market. House prices in Stockholm and other urban centres are at their highest ever, with frequent bidding wars and homes often selling in less than a week. Sweden’s economy is generally robust compared with many other European countries, with 1.2 per cent growth expected this year, according to its central bank, and the island’s distinctive lifestyle is proving a marketing success.

A concerted campaign by Gotland’s regional government to attract more mainland Swedes to settle on the island – the local council aims to increase the population to 65,000 by 2025 – could drive prices further upwards.

Until now, few overseas buyers have purchased homes on the island, which, it has to be said, can feel rather bleak during the long, icy months of winter.

But the profile of the island is rising, thanks to the Bergman connection. Since his death in 2007 and the subsequent sale of the property on Fårö, the Bergman estate has been run as a foundation offering residencies to artists and researchers. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were guests in 2010.

Meanwhile the value of agricultural land on Gotland – its limy soil is perfect for root vegetables – sometimes bloats the value of farmhouses on large, productive estates. A case in point was a property called Skaggs Gard, close to Visby, billed in the Swedish press in 2012 as the country’s priciest manor house, for sale at SKr140m (£14.22m).

In fact, the lion’s share of the asking price was for the 1,400 hectares of prime farmland attached to the handsome 550 sq metre house, which at the time might have fetched SKr4m-SKr5m had it been sold separately, according to Dag Magnusson, the agent who handled the listing.

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Buying guide

● Buyers pay transaction tax of 1.5 per cent

● Notaries are not routinely used for property purchases – the broker is responsible for the legal paperwork

● It is important to arrange an independent survey before you buy (this costs around £1,000), otherwise it is very difficult to claim money back if faults are discovered later

● On Gotland, 39.5 per cent of the housing stock is used as summer cottages. The national average is 19 per cent

● Visby’s 13th-century walled old town is a Unesco World Heritage site

What you can buy for ...

£500,000: A period four-bedroom home with a large garden

£1m: A recently built, five-bedroom house with unobstructed sea views and a budget for interior decoration

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