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Recharge with a Swedish winter weekend

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13:02 CET+01:00
The chill of winter may be late in arriving in Sweden, but the darkness is well and truly upon us, giving us a good incentive to leave our cares and woes and recharge our flickering energy reserves. Why wait for spring to have a weekend away? Pack your bag and bring your winter gear, says Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius. No skiing required.

Sweden offers a variety of destinations easily reachable from Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg. For each city we've chosen to feature both a tranquil escape and for those of you requiring a more active option, a slightly livelier destination.

Jumping point: Stockholm

Sandhamn

Sandhamn is the primo summer Stockholm archipelago destination for the yachting fraternity. But its elegant, old-world charm is not wasted on the winter traveller.

Historically the island, known to few by its rightful name, Sandön, traces its origins back to the 13th century. The maritime tradition of professional pilots to safely guide visiting ships through the cluttered archipelago had established itself on the island in the 17th century. Other permanent inhabitants have been custom agents, artists, writers and royalty.

Sandhamn is hectic in summer months, but offers peace and solitude in a natural setting off season. The island doesn't close just because the yacht-set have hoisted their vessels for winter storage.

A short ferry hop service from Stavsnäs lands you at the foot of Sandhamn's pearl, Seglarhotellet . Polished and poised overlooking the harbor, the hotel offers generous weekend specials. These include access to the sizeable swimming pool, relaxation facilities, breakfast and dinner in the magnificent restaurant, which dates back to 1897. Sandhamns Värdshus is an alternative for a cozy meal.

Sigtuna

Vikings once roamed the main thoroughfare of modern Sigtuna. Originally founded in 980AD by King Erik the Victorious, his son, King Olof Skötkungen, established his seat of power in Sigtuna long before Stockholm was even a thought.

Today, Sigtuna has successfully preserved its old time charm with its millennium-old ruins of St. Olof's Church and the cobblestone, wooden house-lined promenade of old-fashioned shops where the visitor sometimes has to crouch to enter.

Set on the shores of Mälaren, Sigtuna can easily reached by conventional transport, but also more unconventionally. In winter, the frozen lake is the entry/exit point for hundreds of eager skaters who use the wind as their sail and make the 40km excursion to or from Stockholm.

Sigtuna Stadshotel offers a variety of weekend specials including a romantic or chocolate weekend. Spa facilities available.

Across the street from the hotel, the Sigtuna Museum depicts the long history and Viking heritage of the town and surrounding areas. Sigtuna's many other attractions, antique shops, quaint cafes and restaurants remain open year-round.

Jumping point: Malmö

Falsterbo/Skanör

The rich and politically infamous summer on the sandy Falsterbo/Skanör peninsula. Unlike many summer hotspots, here the modish galleries, restaurants and cafes keep winter hours too.

But a better reason to skip to the sandy lick of Sweden is to leave behind the bustle of Malmö. Hotel Gasslingen (see picture on contents page) recommends its “vintermys” – the charming hotel's gourmet “cozy winter package. “

If gluttony and coziness go hand in hand, this is the place to be. Food from check-in to check-out is at your fingertips. Before you arrive at your room you are treated to an antipasto buffet. Then, a bottle of bubbly accompanied by snacks awaits in your room while you get ready for the 5-course meal back downstairs. A buffet breakfast will of course greet you as you roll down in the morning.

If you manage to heave yourself away from the dining room, the pool, sauna, whirlpool Jacuzzi come with the package. A massage can be booked as well. If the calories cause you guilt, work it off on the hotel's treadmill or stationary bicycle.

Ystad

Barely an hour from Malmö, Ystad's pulse beats strongly through the winter months. The popularity of its sandy beaches summertime has spun off into chic restaurants and trendy cafes pleasantly lacking the twang of 08—the Stockholm crowd, mid winter.

Home of Inspector Wallander, the best-known character of famed author Henning Mankell, Ystad has embraced its fictitious son. Off season, tracing the footsteps of the Inspector can be done independently with a map conveniently provided by the helpful tourist office (unfortunately only open weekdays 9-5pm in winter). Call ahead (0411 577 681) and request an English brochure to be sent to you.

The making of many of the films at Ystad's film studios has transformed Ystad into Sweden's Hollywood. Cineteket, the film museum, is open daily and tours of the studios go twice daily at 11 and 3pm.

While there are two spa hotels at offer, Ystad is best experienced from two more charismatic and central options. Hotel Continental, bedding its first guests in 1829, is Sweden's oldest hotel. Anno 1793 Sekelgården www.sekelgarden.se might be junior in its role as hotelier, but makes up for lost time in timbered cross-beams and romantic tones.

Jumping point: Gothenburg

Thorskog

Thirty minutes is all it takes to leave the daily grind of winter in Gothenburg. Thorskog Grand Manor offers many of the options of a weekend retreat in the comfort of a castle.

One unique weekend, 3-4 March 2007, they're shooting for something outstanding. Even if you weren't born into the nobility you can try your hand at it shooting skeet amid the stately grounds. Instructors will be available.

When the recoil gets your muscles in a knot, loosen them in the sauna. Once the tension has lifted, carry on with a game of billiard or darts. An aperitif, 4-course meal and breakfast will keep up your strength for you to yell, ”Pull.”

Diving in Lysekil

For those itching to do something more adventurous, winter is the best season for scuba diving because of optimal visibility. Lysekil boasts several quality dive centers which will happily take you out to near tropical dive sites just below the surface.

Gullmars Fjord is a Swedish diver's Mecca. Sea anemone, sand sharks and even soft coral are treasures waiting to be discovered. If you're lucky you'll get a chance to frolic with a curious seal wondering what you're doing down in his depths.

Freezing water may not sound enticing, but the comfort of dry suits allows enjoyable dives. If you haven't dived in a dry suit, try wearing your dinner finest beneath. At the conclusion of your dive you can step out into your dance shoes and make your way downtown to the many hopping restaurants.

No one hotel stands out but a multitude of year-round options is available to choose from that suit a variety of tastes and budgets. The tourist office (0523 - 130 50) can provide a list of options.

Don't let the winter doldrums hinder the opportunity to hop in the car, jump the train or catch a ferry to a destination that will recharge your batteries whether you are in Stockholm, Malmö or Gothenburg.

So many of the popular summer retreats stoke the fire and cozy up to the rare guest with special offers, reduced prices and nearly empty laps of luxury just waiting for you to arrive and let the enjoyment begin. Hurry now to beat the summer rush.

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius

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