But while going back to nature has its charms, there are also luxurious ways to enjoy Swedish countryside.
If you want to keep the rustic charm, but give yourself a real treat at the same time, then a trip to Grythyttan should be high on your list.
Nestled in the enchanting Bergslagen district north of Örebro, Grythyttan Gästgiveregård (Grythyttan Inn) has been at the centre of the tiny village of the same name since 1640. It was founded in its present form by flamboyant chef Carl Jan Granqvist (whose full-length costumed portrait adorns the salon, and is not to be missed).
Today the inn provides one of the most wonderful gastronomic experiences you’re likely to find in Sweden. Using plenty of local ingredients, the food blends Swedish meats, vegetables and cheeses – many sourced locally – with southern European flavours.
We were sorely tempted by the tasting menu, offering a stupendous eight courses, which at the time of writing includes tea-marinated breast of duck, oven-baked catfish, and the adventurous-sounding Chocolate Ganache with dark chocolate ice cream, curry sauce and coconut marinated fresh berries.
While it was hard to resist the tasting menu, at 925 kronor for dinner alone we felt a little intimidated, and had decided in advance on the surprisingly good value gourmet package.
This deal, which gives you one night’s lodging, a four course dinner and breakfast, starts at 1,295 kronor per person, and we certainly didn’t feel we were getting the Grythyttan-lite treatment.
Having worked out with the waitress that Lamb Roast Beef on the English-language menu was lamb, not beef (it’s lammrostbiff in Swedish), we plumped for the venison, which was served with polenta, something not often seen in Sweden. A good mix, it turned out to be too, with the venison appearing to have been locally sourced (as it jolly well should be, given the number of Bambis bounding round the forest outside).
The lamb could well have been locally sourced too: local sheep are a popular source of ingredients at Grythyttan, with the locally produced Bredsjö Blå sheep’s cheese being a must-try.
Grythyttan doesn’t skimp on the wine cellar. While the founder of the restaurant is often to be seen promoting cheaper brands in television commercials, Grythyttan’s wine list is one of the best in Sweden outside the major cities.
The basic price for the gourmet package covers a room with bunk beds. We decided on the double room (bunk beds being a little too reminiscent of school trips to youth hostels for my liking), at 1,795 kronor per person, and did not regret it, as while a stay at Grythyttan is very much about the food, the rooms are almost as memorable.
Resisting the modernist style adopted by so many other Swedish hotels, Grythyttan keeps it cosy with antique furniture, old rugs and ornaments in every room – our room had a lovely pair of apparently genuine Staffordshire dogs. It also turned out that our room had once been occupied by none other than King Carl Gustaf himself (it was room 10, for any avid royalists reading).
For my part, the factor that cemented Grythyttan as my all time favourite Swedish hotel was the fact that the bathroom was stocked with Molton Brown toiletries. For anyone who doesn’t know this brand – take my word for it, they alone make a visit to Grythyttan worth the money, and take your bathroom experience as far from the outside toilet and washing-in-the-lake version of a Swedish summer holiday as it is possible to get.
The culinary experience in Grythyttan needn’t stop at the hotel porch – the whole village has taken on something of a foodie atmosphere: the other main attraction there is Måltidens Hus, housed in the pavilion used to house the Swedish exhibition at the 1992 World Expo in Seville. If the Cookbook Museum doesn’t sound like your idea of a good day out (we certainly skipped it), there are a range of foodie activities and courses run there throughout the year.
If all the luxury bathrooms and discreet service at Grtyhyttan make you feel like you’re bit too cocooned from the mud and manure of the genuine Swedish countryside, a short trip up the road to the Bredsjö Blå dairy will take you right back to the rural idyll. It’s also a great chance to support real specialist food being produced locally, on a small scale using traditional methods – there’s nothing more guaranteed to make you feel like an ethical consumer than to see the animal that supplied last night’s cheeseboard running round a field.
We couldn’t resist having another nibble at the cheese, which is sold at a little café on the farm and is delicious with freshly-baked crispbread, although the sample that we brought back to Stockholm with us was just a tiny bit stinky by the time we arrived home.
Another, lower fat, foodie destination in the area is Loka, home to the famous Swedish mineral water. We never made it there, but given that it has a three-hundred year history as a spring and a centre of healing, there are plenty of elegant buildings set among the trees and lakes, and many people in the area recommended we make a diversion.
We drove to Grythyttan, but one of the great things about this relatively isolated little village is that it is well served by the rail and bus network. Two trains a day serve the town, with the journey from Stockholm taking around 4 hours, and the journey from Gothenburg about one hour longer, making it perfectly possible to do in a weekend. There are also buses from Örebro and Karlstad.
Grythyttan Gästgivaregård’s websitewww.grythyttan.com gives information in English about prices, special deals and menus. The Swedish version also contains details of culinary courses on offer at the hotel, and gives directions on how to get there by car and train.
www.grythyttan.se gives information about other attractions in the Grythyttan area.
Måltidens Hus also has an extensive English website.
Information about Bredsjö Blå and the Bredsjö Dairy is available in Swedish at www.bredsjobla.se, or by calling 0587 610 20.
Train details in English are available at www.sj.se