If you’ve ever driven east on Hwy. 8, on your way to someone’s cabin, you’ve probably noticed the cute little town with the coffeepot water tower bearing the greeting “Välkommen till Lindström.”
Lindström, which bills itself as “America’s Little Sweden,” made international headlines this year when it requested, and got, its umlauts back on state roadway signs. Locals insisted that the umlauts are essential for proper pronunciation, but you don’t need umlauts to know you’re on Swedish turf once you walk the charming downtown. Businesses sport Swedish signs as well as English (Insurance = Försäkringar) and you’ll hear people conversing in the “Ya, you betcha” cadence made famous in “Fargo.”
Sally Barott, owner of Country Bed & Breakfast in nearby Shafer, leads tours of Lindström and its seven sibling towns in the Chisago Lakes area (www.swedishcircletours.com). More than one visiting Swede has told her “You’re more Swedish than we are.”
Rise and shine
The Lindström Bakery (12830 Lake Blvd., Lindström) proclaims itself the “Home of the Scandinavian Donut.” If you aren’t sure what makes a doughnut Scandinavian, longtime owner Bernie Coulombe explains that it’s the texture — crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. And the extra eggs, which give the doughnut’s interior a warm, golden hue. Coulombe, who has operated the bakery since 1973, sells four kinds of Scandinavian doughnuts and three kinds of limpa (Swedish rye bread), along with cookies, cakes and pies. Many of the recipes were handed down from her grandmother. Cinnamon toasts (“rusk”) are her No. 1 seller, followed by ginger snaps, both of which she ships all over the country.
Even shopping comes with a Scandinavian accent. For Scandinavian art and gifts, check out Gustaf’s Galleries (13025 Lake Blvd., Lindström, www.gustafsgalleries.com). Along with fine art and artisan crafts by regional and Scandinavian artists, it has a wide selection of Scandinavian-themed children’s books, as well as a “Swedish modern room” filled with contemporary furniture and home decor.
And then there’s Sven’s Clogs (10000 Lake Blvd., Chisago City, www.svensclogs.com). In addition to custom-made, wooden-soled clogs and clog boots, the shop also has a factory outlet, where you can find clogs in a variety of styles and heel heights, and in a rainbow of leathers, from traditional hues to metallics and neon patent leather.
Steeped in history
The Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce (30525 Linden St., Lindström) has brochures and maps for both walking and driving tours of local landmarks — from historic homes to traditional barn-quilt designs on buildings. Statues of Karl Oskar Nilsson and his wife, Kristina, the fictional protagonists of Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg’s “The Emigrants” book series, have a prominent spot downtown. (Moberg visited the area in 1948, interviewing real Swedish immigrants and gathering the research that inspired his books.) Just a short drive south of downtown Lindström is Ki-Chi-Saga park (29061 Glader Blvd.,), site of a restored 1860s cabin (Karl Oskar House, or Nya Duvemåla) that Moberg chose as the “home” for his characters. The antique-furnished pine cabin, along with nearby Glader Cemetery, the oldest Swedish pioneer cemetery in Minnesota, are popular stops for the busloads of Swedish tourists who visit the area every year.
The cabin is open for tours Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m., or you can arrange a tour by calling 651-257-2519 or 651-257-5063. It’s staffed by volunteers like Elaine Robinson, who are committed to preserving the area’s Swedish heritage. “If you don’t share it, it’s gone,” she said.
Other Swedish history sites include the Gustaf Anderson House (13045 Lake Blvd., Lindström, 651-257-5310) and the Gammelgården Museum, a collection of Swedish log buildings (20880 Olinda Trail N., Scandia, 651-433-5053).
Art you can climb on
If you’re day-tripping with kids who are too restless for a history lesson, drive the 7 miles east to the Franconia Sculpture Park (29836 St. Croix Trail, Shafer, www.franconia.org). This outdoor installation, operated by a nonprofit community arts organization, features a rotating display of about 75 contemporary sculptures spread over 43 acres. It’s free and “open dawn to dusk, 365 days a year.” (Free guided tours are offered at 2 p.m. Sundays.) Some of the sculptures are interactive, Rube Goldberg-esque creations that kids can climb on and explore.
In the midst of all this Swedish-ness is a little English-style oasis: Panola Valley Gardens (www.panolavalleygardens.com, 651-257-6072). A couple of miles south of Lindström lies an expansive private garden that looks like it belongs to an English country estate. The curving paths wander past well-tended beds of flowers, foliage and specimen trees, with arbors, fountains, ponds, a waterfall and a pavilion. The setting is pretty enough for a wedding, and, you can rent the gardens for ceremonies and receptions. But owners Mary Ann and Gary Norton also welcome visitors who just want to stroll the grounds. With a little advance notice, the Nortons also serve high tea on the garden terrace, by reservation.
When it’s time for happy hour, head to Winehaven (10020 Deer Garden Lane, Chisago City, www.winehaven.com), a family-owned vineyard and winery. The wine label features a honeybee, a nod to the sweet, honey-based wine the winery first produced and still sells. But Winehaven also offers a wide variety of award-winning reds and whites, many made from Minnesota-hardy grapes. There’s also a gift shop and a tasting bar, where you can sample up to eight wines for $5.
Eats and more
If you’re in the mood for a picnic, you can stock your basket at Eichtens Hidden Acres Cheese and Bison Farm (16440 Lake Blvd., Center City, 651-257-1566). In addition to a cheese shop that offers generous samples of its artisan cheeses and spreads (don’t miss the smoked gouda), you can pick up some bison summer sausage or ground bison meat, and there’s also a full-service bistro. While you’re there, scan the surrounding pastures for the buffalo herd. Or wander next door to Grama’s Barn, filled with home and garden gifts, including fairy-garden supplies.
If you’re lunching in Lindström, make like a local and stop by the Swedish Inn (12678 Lake Blvd., Lindström). Along with traditional diner fare, the menu includes a few signature Swedish delicacies like lefse and lingonberry preserves. I ordered the Swedish meatballs, which weren’t on the menu. But when I asked about them, the waitress cheerfully replied, “ya, sure,” and soon presented me with a plate filled with half a dozen dense, tender meatballs and a mound of mashed potatoes, all covered with a velvety blanket of cream gravy. (Note: If you like your meatballs spicy, this is not your dish; it’s comfort food served Minnesota Mild.)
For dessert, try the Sweet Swede candy shop (12710 Lake Blvd., Lindström), which offers more than a dozen kinds of fudge, from classic to its signature lingonberry chocolate flavor.
Karl Oskar Days, the town’s annual summer festival, is held July 9-12. The old-fashioned, small-town celebration includes a parade, craft fair, classic car show, street dance and fireworks (www.cityoflindstrom.us/parks-KOD.htm).
Spend the night
If you want to make a night of it, the Country Bed & Breakfast (17038 320th St., Shafer, 651-257-4773, www.countrybedandbreakfast.us) is located in an 1870s brick home built by Swedish immigrants. Room rates include a traditional American breakfast, but if you want the real Scandinavian deal, owner Sally Barott will, by request, serve a Swedish breakfast that includes cardamom bread and Swedish coffee.