Caroline Bugler is bewitched by the magical evocation of the fjords, villages and mountains of the Scandinavian landscape artist.
Sweden has over 30,000 islands to visit, and many of them are easily accessible from the capital, Stockholm. Sophia Constant went on a road trip to find out more.
Ask a Swede about his archipelago and he’ll be thrilled with summers spent roaming wild islands, staying on rustic farms, creating nature entertainment, fishing with passion for the evening barbecue and play countless games of Kubb.
Exploring, once a challenge, just got easier. The Swedes encourage visitors to share their way of life and welcome sustainable tourism, preserving the pristine and peaceful allure of the islands. Small companies offer well-run excursions and car ferries now connect the islands, allowing for seamless road journeys.
Hike through pine forests, cross cobalt rivers and explore small-town villages of scarlet wooden cottages; a natural playground for outdoor activities: biking, canoeing, sailing, swimming and fishing – skills necessary for islanders worth their salt.
If you have a long weekend, you can explore three or four of the 30,000 islands; extend it to a week and you can also do Stockholm justice itself. Arlanda airport is one hour from the entrance to the archipelago, where Nacka Strait peaceful shores — home to a yacht club and sophisticated waterside restaurants — offer a luxurious experience. The outer islands are rustic and rural, and all the more enchanting.
Varmdothe largest island, home to artipelag, an extraordinary gallery immersed in the forest on the edge of Baggen’s Bay. The gallery, a work of art inspired by nature, hosts world-class exhibitions, with nature trails leading to outdoor art installations.
Head north to learn about Sweden’s maritime history at Fredriksborg, once the most powerful fortress in Europe. For a typical Swedish sauna and bath in the Baltic Sea, take a water taxi to a private island, Badholmen. Her exclusive floating pontoon includes a sauna, speakers, fridge and sofas.
Travel to Rindo to find a cheese dairy, a craft brewery and Muttley and Jack micro-roasting. Jack hand roasts specialty, sustainably grown coffees and delivers coffees across Europe (his canine sidekick, Muttley, sleeps supportively at his feet). Its tasting workshops are similar to fine wine tastings, always ending with Fika (coffee and pastries) with a view of the Oxdjupets strait.
City of Vaxholm“capital of the archipelago”, has a bustling port, shops, seafood restaurants and Vaxholm Fortress (“jail break” activities are extremely popular). Vaxholm Old Town; an idyllic heritage center of pastel houses, overlooks families wading through the shallows and picnicking on the boardwalk. Charter a boat privately through serene stretches of the archipelago – Catch and relax combine fishing trips with island history and delicious picnic lunches, or return to the owner, Bo’s, for a champagne barbecue on a private dock with views of Vaxholm Castle.
City of Vaxholm is magical in mid-summer, the longest day of the year (June 19-25). This beloved pagan holiday, superior to Christmas, honors nature and light. The communities, crowned with garlands of flowers worthy of Renaissance paintings, flock to the public festivals to enjoy the traditional festivities, imbued with nostalgia. Dressing the Maypole (ancient symbol of fertility) with birch flowers and leaves is a community effort of paramount importance; it forms the centerpiece of the frivolities of the day.
Ring dances are performed by the older generation, weaving around the mast in folk costumes, then the crowd, enthralled by the spirit of the summer solstice, joins hands for the liveliest numbers. For any beginner, the frog dance is mandatory – go around in circles to fit in! Gorging on picnics made with herring is half the excitement, always accompanied by potatoes, sour cream and mountains of dill, followed by fresh strawberries smothered in cream.
The celebrations culminate in late-night family dinners. The sun barely dips below the horizon, weaving the sky pink and blue, marking the peak of summer. Vaxholm B&B owner Linda opens her doors to offer a glimpse, serving drinks under a lantern-lit tree, before a barbecue in a flower-filled greenhouse. Typical of midsummer, a civilized dinner party quickly turns into a merry scene of guests around a cornucopia of schnapps, bellowing folk songs enthusiastically, pounding their fists to the beat of a march, s ’tilting towards each other with rapid fire’Skal!’ and repel blows. This often leads to diving into the Baltic Sea and then dancing to ABBA to warm up. To experience the quintessence of Midsummer, you have to be fully committed…
Travel in midsummer for a great introduction to archipelago life. The rest of the year is decidedly sleepier, when nature can be enjoyed in solitude.
Where to stay, eat and drink
Hotel JNaka Beach
A taste of the archipelago within reach of the capital. Spacious, contemporary rooms with balconies overlook the sea (choose the top floor!). The restaurant is worth a visit even if you’re not staying: it sits on a floating platform that offers a view of the Baltic Sea, overlooking the water taxis that dart from quay to quay. Try the seafood platter.
A charming waterfront hotel connected to a historic fortress (climb the watchtower for a 360′ view!). The military barracks have been transformed into welcoming rooms, with large windows and fireplaces. A 5 bedroom garden cottage with veranda offers spectacular views. Seasonal dishes are served in the garden or the orangery under the fortress, overlooking the sparkling sea – beautiful at sunset.
B&B in VaxholmVaxholm
The Wahlstroms have transformed a traditional wooden villa into a charming B&B, offering homemade picnics, cooking classes and dinners.
This historic hotel in a recently renovated century-old building offers comfortable rooms with sea views and an excellent restaurant, just minutes from the Summer Solstice Parade.
Even if art isn’t on the agenda, the top-floor buffet is the perfect place to indulge in an over-the-top buffet of meat and fish dishes, seasonal vegetables, local cheeses, and fresh breads.
Vaxholm Hembygdsgårdscafe, Vaxholm Old Town
Sit on the deck with a pot of lemon-dipped prawns, watching the boats dance around the harbour.
Credit: Alamy – BTP37Y
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