It's common during the Lindblad trips on which I have been fortunate enough to take part that we visit a place so enchanting I promise myself to return someday and explore it more deeply. Nowhere is that more the case than Visby, a town on the Swedish island of Gotland that is so picturesque and inviting I could easily imagine myself spending full summers, if not an entire lifetime, soaking up its charms.
One of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, Visby was once a vibrant commercial center, an essential cog in the Baltic economic machine. In some ways, we should be thankful for Visby's sudden economic decline, as it kept the city largely untouched by modernization. Today, the wall surrounding the historic town center remains almost fully intact, whereas most European cities destroyed their ancient walls to make room for development.
I could spend days wandering Visby's narrow cobblestones streets, admiring its cute wooden houses, perusing its many tasteful shops, and exploring the numerous church ruins scattered throughout the old town. One of those roofless ruins houses a café, its tables nestled amidst crumbling pillars and walls. Its one of my favorite cafes I have ever come across – and I've spent a lot of time trying out the cafes of the world.
Our visit to Visby took place on a crisp yet sunny May morning, before tourists and summer lodgers overrun the island. I took part in a bike excursion that took us along Visby's ancient walls and through nearly empty city streets before heading out to the countryside. Along the way we passed historic windmills, clambered along magnificent limestone cliffs overlooking the sea and enjoyed hot chocolate and sweet cardamom buns at a magnificent mansion that was once a haven for a Swedish princess.
I'm not the only person that has been seduced by Gotland's charms. Astrid Lindgren, the author of the famous Pippi Longstocking stories, made the island her home and the setting for Pippi's adventures. Fans can now enjoy a visit to a Pippi Longstocking theme park on Gotland. Famed Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman also relocated to the area, spending most of his life on the smaller island of Faro just to the north. Many of his classic films were set here, and he chose it as his final resting place. Given its natural beauty and tranquility it's not hard to understand why.
Our visit to Visby was over far too soon, and by early afternoon National Geographic Orion was on its way to Klaipeda, Lithuania. It was hard to say goodbye to Visby so quickly, but I was comforted with visions of future visits. A return to Visby has become the latest addition to my ever-expanding bucket list.