It began in front of my TV, watching Henning Mankell’s deadpan detective, Wallander, shuffle his way unerringly to the solution of a crime. Wallander’s world was one of strong spirits, heart-warming humour and cold-hearted murders set in the moody landscape of Southern Sweden.
Not content to buy the best-selling Kurt Wallander Mysteries or wait for the second BBC series starring Kenneth Branagh in the New Year, I flew to Copenhagen and crossed the Öresund Bridge to the fertile region of Skåne (pronounced skoener), home to two worldwide hits — Absolut Vodka and Kurt Wallander.
My unassuming fictional hero lives in the cosy seaside town of Ystad, where his fame has transformed the fortunes of this former fishing village into a little Swedish Hollywood. Looking for evidence of his life, I joined the throng of fans on an “In the Footsteps of Wallander” tour.
We looked for him behind the curtains at his apartment at 10 Mariagatan street, where he worries about the latest unsolved mystery of his daughter’s unsuitable boyfriend.
Past cobbled medieval streets of half-timbered houses flanked by lofty hollyhocks, we paused at the local pizzeria filmed in Firewall, questioned locals in Fridolf’s Konditori cafe where Wallander mulls over crimes, coffee and herring, and read film scripts beside a grisly (plastic) severed arm at Cineteket film centre.
Leaving the Wallanderphiles behind, I followed the scent of murder that often leads to cosmopolitan Malmö.
A port and Sweden’s third largest city, you can shop for Swedish fashion and design in smart malls, or roast in the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus single-sex sauna before jumping into the invigorating water overlooking Malmö beach.
My Malmö base was Hotel Duxiana with its cool Swedish design, tiny rooms and supremely comfortable beds. A world away, back in the Skåne countryside, the faded grandeur of Hotel Kronovall Castle offers a bizarre mix of European opulence and shared bathrooms.
I strolled its manicured gardens, got lost in the maze, and drank its home-made bubbly in the musty cellars. It felt as though it was a rich aunt’s rambling mansion — a perfect setting for a murder. Even more remote was Drakamöllan Gårdshotell, a thatched rural idyll, surrounded by heather-filled moorland where Icelandic horses graze.
It was in Skåne’s beech forests and apple orchards and vivid yellow rape fields, and walking its white sandy beaches beside the sparkling Baltic Sea, breathing in the salty air, that the fictional detective seemed most real.
Strolling through Kåseberga fishing village, I passed the herring smoker’s hut with its tempting aroma of kippers and carried on up to the wind-buffeted cliffs to Ales Stenar, the mysterious oval of Viking stones that hug the curve of the coast.
From here, there are just 400 more kilometres of coastline and eight more Wallander mysteries to unravel while exploring them.
Heathrow/Copenhagen from £124 return with SAS (www.flysas.co.uk). Hotel Kronovall Castle (0046 417 197 10; www.kronovall.se) from £141 per night; Drakamöllan hotel (004644 35 10 16; www.drakamollan.se) from £121 ; Hotel Duxiana (0046 40 607 70 00, www.malmo.hotelduxiana.com) from £99