Lopp Till You Drop
For bargains galore and a slice of local culture, look no further than Sweden’s many weird and wonderful flea markets, says “loppis” lover Tatty Good. Photography by Joe Maclay
Since the arrival of a certain flatpack-furniture behemoth across Europe, Swedish design and interiors will forever be associated with industrial-estate megastores, mysterious assembly instructions and a faint whiff of meatballs.
Which is all very well. But, if like me, you’d rather be force-fed pickled herring than spend your Saturday following the herd along the conveyor belt of design doom, there is another way to get a taste of classic Swedish style, without paying Stockholm prices – the flea market.
Loppmarknader, or “loppises” as they’re affectionately known, are a Swedish institution. You’ll find them dotted around the countryside in barns and outhouses, and in towns and cities – some permanent, some for one day only, some piled high with tat, some absolute Aladdin’s caves. Being both half-Swedish and a shameless bargain hunter, spotting a handmade loppis sign by the side of the road will send me veering off unstoppably.
So with a fistful of kronor and an empty suitcase, I landed at Skavsta airport and ignored signs leading straight up the motorway to Stockholm, an hour’s drive away. After a good night’s rest at the brand-new, ultra-modern (and ever so slightly Ikea-ish) airport Connect Hotel, I headed for the town of Nyköping, in Sörmland, to hit the markets.
First up was the Lions Loppis, a flea market tucked away in an underground cellar on Västra Kvarngatan, run by a couple of good old boys for charity. There, browsing among the SEK1 (10-cent) coffee cups, Carl Larsson prints and unidentifiable kitchen implements, I met the strongest man in Nyköping, the shavenheaded and not a little scary, Markus Ekland.
After showing me his fascinating collection of coins that had been squashed flat on railway lines, he told me he would be “the strongest man in the whole of Sweden in two years”, described his fitness and nutrition regime in great detail (7kg of steak a day, three bowel movements, in case you’re wondering), and how only 11 other people in the country had the strength he had in his right hand. I urged him to be careful when peeing, but he assured me “It’s so small it’s not a problem”. It was with some relief that I shook his hand to say goodbye.
A quick coffee and cinnamon bun at the authentically kitsch Princess Café on Bagaregatan were all I needed to regain strength and recover the feeling in my right hand, before hitting Nyköping’s Bis loppis on Östra Kyrkogatan. First impressions weren’t promising, but the first rule of “loppising” is to look, look and then look some more. The second rule is that somewhere, if you look hard enough, you will always find a potato ricer. For those of you not familiar with this obscure piece of kitchen kit, a potato ricer is like a large metal garlic press, into which you place boiled potatoes. Press down and out come squiggly little potato worms, rather like Mr Potato Head’s hair.
Apparently, these were big news back in the day as they make potatoes “go further”. But since most of us can afford a couple of extra potatoes – credit crunch or not – they’re fairly useless, although if you can be bothered, they do make great mash.
After finding not one, but two, I also uncovered some wonderful old Höganäs storage pots for SEK225 (€21) each – as seen on one US antiques website for $200 – as well as some SEK35 (€3) antique waffle irons and SEK55 (€5) heavy enamel casserole dishes that could seriously jeopardise your baggage allowance!
You can try haggling at most loppises, but occasionally you’ll be met with a very Nordic “no”, and at the markets where proceeds go to charity you’ll just look plain mean. One money-saving tip though is to eat out at lunchtime, when most cafés and restaurants offer “dagens rätt” (dish of the day) that can include bread, salad, a drink, coffee and sometimes cake for well under SEK110 (€10).
There was just time for a warm smoked salmon and spinach pie in the green house at Hellmanska Gården, an 18th-century café using organic and locally sourced ingredients, before I headed out to the edge of town to find a recently opened loppis run by a cheery pensioner called Britt. She greeted me with coffee and homemade cardamom cake, telling me how her husband had set up the shop to give her something to do.
“I like to meet people and it helps pass the days,” she beamed. She certainly wasn’t doing it to make her fortune judging by her prices – SEK25 (€2) for a vintage spice jar, compared with SEK40 (€3.50) at an earlier loppis – but her tables were piled high with wonderful finds, including a couple of chairs that, according to Britt, once belonged to a cousin of the Kennedys.
Britt was packing up for the day, so I headed out into the gloaming of the Sörmland countryside. Because of its proximity to the capital and its countless lakes, this region was picked by the bigwigs of the day as the perfect spot for a country house, and is littered with about 400 castles and manor houses. It seemed only right to test one of them out for the night. If you want a taste of seriously classy old-school Swedish style, Södertuna Slott is the place to lord it up. Wood fires, candlelight, original Gustavian interiors, lake views, pike perch and venison for dinner – it’s like finding yourself in a Strindberg play, but without the angst and misery.
The next morning, after breakfast (during which I happily eavesdropped on a heated debate about which Abba songs weren’t included in the Mamma Mia! movie) and with the snow falling gently outside, I headed 10 minutes up the road to Ullevi, where signs lead to a loppis in a huge barn on a ramshackle farm littered with old tractors and machinery. Inside, rag rugs, old records, toys and games reached to the rafters.
I then headed east through rolling farmland to the seaside idyll of Trosa, with its brightly painted wooden houses nestled along the waterside. On the way into town you’ll find Trosa Antik & Prylar, more expensive than your average loppis but a true treasure trove filled with Gustavsberg and Rörstrand porcelain, paintings, battered-leather doctor’s bags, coffee grinders and old linen.
Old linen is a family weakness (heaven knows why, since the ironing board and I are not closely acquainted), so I snapped up a set of linen napkins that happened to be embroidered with my sister’s initials (birthday present sorted), some pillowcases with my husband’s initials (he was not thrilled), and a faded blue-and-white Gustavsberg plate.
I mentally re-packed my suitcase over a bowl of fish soup with aioli at the Sjökrog restaurant down by the harbour, then went for a wander past the chichi interiors shops and art galleries. The thing about shopping in flea markets is that ordinary shops start to seem rather uniform and uninteresting. Where’s the fun in picking one of a dozen factory-made vases off a shelf when you could be rummaging to find a rare 1950s Orrefors vase, oozing with history and possibly even worth a few kronor?
Worth a visit though, is Kutter Konfekt, a fairytale marzipan and chocolate boutique. Watch truffles being made by hand, flavoured with Bowmore single malt and pear cognac, before treating yourself to the queen of hot chocolates, with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and a truffle on the side.
Heading back along the coast road to Nyköping (narrowly avoiding the wandering deer), there was just time to hit one last loppis – JiCe’s Antikt & Begagnat in Stenkulla, run by a wide boy with a shell suit and diamond earring. I looked wistfully at three Arne Norell “Sirocco” leather chairs, which he was selling for SEK4,995 (€465) the lot (one new would set you back SEK11,000 SEK, around €1,025) but my flight home and limited luggage space sent me on to Skavsta.
Deer roaming free, the future strongest man in Sweden, coffee and homemade cardamom cake, 18th-century castles, linen napkins with your sister’s initials on them, potato ricers – you wouldn’t find all these at Ikea.
Planning your visit
Finding a loppis
Although you can find both permanent and ad-hoc loppises all-year round, in summer they spring up all over the Swedish countryside like wild strawberries. The best way to find them is by asking at local tourist information centres (often located in the library in smaller towns), checking out posters and leaflets on supermarket noticeboards and keeping your eyes well peeled for handmade signs as you drive. Take note, loppises often have quite irregular opening hours, so it’s best to call beforehand wherever possible.
Where to stay in Sörmland
Connect Hotel Skavsta (www.connecthotel.se) has budget Quick Sleep rooms from SEK495 (€46), Family Rooms from SEK795 (€74) and Business Rooms from SEK895 (€83), all including breakfast. Södertuna Slott (www.sodertuna.se) offers a fourcourse dinner, bed and breakfast from SEK1,495 (€139) per person in a double room. Car hire from Skavsta airport with Hertz (visit www.hertz.com for more information).