Luxe Breaks to Norway and Sweden

Clear air, blue skies and something very different, these two countries are overflowing with visual delights and exploding with culture and history.

From exploring the outdoors and marvelling at the splendours of Mother Nature to soaking up the whole Scandinavian design vibe and fabulous museums.

British Airways fly to Oslo Norway and Sweden
Oslo, Norway

Oslo’s neighbourhoods curve around the hip harbourside of the Oslofjord inlet, and stretch out to the Christmas-card-come-to-life forest of Marka. The ‘City of Tigers’ reputation (a title bestowed by country-bred poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who thought the city dangerous) for fund depletion and frosty weather rings true. The abundant shopping will drain your pockets, but the chill hasn’t slowed the emerging café culture in futuristic developments such as Aker Brygge. And pounding the pavement via main attractions – City Hall Square, the Royal Palace, main-street Karl Johans Gate, the Nobel Peace Centre and Akershus Fortress (all easily reached on foot) – will keep you warm. There’s a multitude of museums, the Sydney Harbour-rivalling opera house and the strange sculptures of Vigelandsparken to take in too; however, the best thing about this chic metropolis is how easy it is to escape it. Take a train to Holmenkollen’s famed ski jump, a torch-lit river walk along Akerselva or go trekking and mountain biking in the forested hills for a perfect, weekend destination for town and country mice alike.

The Thief Oslo, Norway with Smith Hotels (Check Availability)

Oslo’s coolest luxury hotel, The Thief, is a cultivated hangout, with Sir Peter Blake pieces in-suite, Julian Opie artworks in the lift and Warhols in fine-dining restaurant Fru K. It’s not quite the second-coming of the Factory, but a pop art paradise nonetheless, thanks to input from the Astrup Fearnley gallery next door. Sultry navy blue and sienna rooms, a disco suite (designed by supergroup Apparatjik) and balcony views of the surrounding fjords set a high standard for nouveau Nordic chic, and the concrete-lined spa is set for stolen moments.

Oslo has plenty to keep you occupied come rain, shine or snow (a fairly regular occurrence). Across the road from the Thief is the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (+47 2293 6060), a must-see if you’re taken with the hotel’s art collection (entry is free for Thief guests). International art stars, such as Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney and Jeff Koons pop up in their permanent collection alongside notable Norwegian painters and sculptors. Afterwards, take a stroll along Tjuvholmen’s attractive waterways, while admiring the area’s idiosyncratic architecture, before ending up at Aker Brygge, a shopping, dining and gathering hub. Here you can browse lesser-known Norwegian brands, splash about by the temporary beach (in summer) or catch one of the concerts or food and drink festivals, staged throughout the year. Get a bird’s eye view from the top of Lookout Tower Tjuv Titten (+47 81 56 86 66), which spirals upwards like a Bauhaus beanstalk: the view from the top spans Tjuvolholmen’s quirky layout, and the famed beauty of the Norwegian coast. Head towards central Oslo to learn about Norway’s peace-keeping efforts with a tour of the Nobel Peace Centre (+47 48 30 10 00), and Scandinavia’s less-peaceful enterprises at the Viking Ship Museum (+47 22 13 52 80).


Gotland, Sweden

A dramatic limestone isle 90 kilometres off the Swedish mainland, Gotland is wild and cosy by turns, with wuthering moorland and jagged sea stacks for the photo album, and welcoming villages and a jolly little port, Visby, to supply the creature comforts. A major player in the Viking and mediaeval eras, the island is scattered with history: ancient barrows, stony ruins, Middle-Age houses and a glut of 12th- and 13th-century churches are found all over the flat green land, but today, you’re more likely to come across sunbathers, cyclists and golfers than seafaring merchants stopping off en route to Russia. Tofta and Hundfria Strands are the best and busiest beaches in summer, and Visby, a Unesco World Heritage city, is a cobbled fairytale town ringed with fortified walls, crowned with a triple-spired cathedral, and dotted with boutiques selling Gotland’s famous lambskins, and some superb seafood restaurants.

Hotel Stelor Gotland, Sweden with Smith Hotels (Check Availability)

The couple behind Hotel Stelor have taken an 18th-century farmstead and turned it into haven of offbeat rusticity, eccentricity and out-and-out charm on the sandy coast of Sweden’s largest island. Dine on classic Swedish dishes in the converted barn, cosy up by the open fire in the lounge, and set out to explore Gotland’s rugged coast.

Hotel Stelor is a great base for exploring the outdoors. The two-acre gardens are perfect for a picnic, but if you want to venture further, there’s a nature reserve next door for rambling (Sweden has a very permissive right to roam – you can essentially wander anywhere you like that isn’t someone’s garden), and an enchantingly secluded little beach within a five-minute walk. There are tennis courts close by, too, although the biggest sporting draw is Visby Golf Klubb over the road from Stelor ( The 27-hole course is one of Sweden’s most popular – probably thanks to the panoramic views and seaside setting.

The team at Stelor know the island inside out, so if there’s something you fancy doing, just let them know: they can book you onto horse-riding trips, point you to Viking barrows and historic churches (Gotland’s known for them), hook you up with local fishermen, or just arrange a bike for you to pedal off to Tofta Beach, 15 minutes away. This stretch of sand is Gotland’s largest, and one of the reasons why the island’s population quadruples in summer.

Norrbotten County, Sweden

Norrbotten County – in Swedish Lapland – sits in uppermost Norrland, edging into the frosty climes of the Arctic Circle. Its lakes are sparkling and swimmable (including Sweden’s deepest, Lake Hornavan), its mountains promise camera-baiting pinnacle views (including the country’s tallest, 2,107m-high Kebnekaise), and in the east, its rugged coastline spills out into pretty archipelagos. You’re more likely to see grazing reindeer, moose – or perhaps the odd bear – than a fellow human being, while trekking, biking, riding or snowshoe-walking through its seasonally chameleonic landscape, but a smattering of Sámi (native Lapp) villages preserve a traditional way of life, and you’ll infrequently unearth encampments and petite municipalities. In winter, visitors can see the natural fireworks of the Northern Lights, and go dog-sledding or ski in the snow; come summer, the midnight sun makes brings ‘white nights’, and creates a magical mood for late-night horse rides.

Treehotel Norrbotten County, Sweden with Smith Hotels (CheckAvailability)

Adults who say they’ve outgrown treehouses are lying… Show them the six, stylish branch-hung dens at Sweden’s Treehotel, and they’ll scramble up the ladders and floating walkways with unbridled glee. Romantic breaks at this eco-friendly hotel are lo-fi; rooms are shower-free, but mind-boggling mirror-cube and bird’s nest designs, and Scandinavian-chic interiors ensure you’re not exactly roughing it. There’s much to love here at the Smith Awards 2017's Best Family Hotel: treks through lush boreal forest, husky-drawn sled rides, rustic Nordic cuisine, and a possible peek at the Northern Lights; but really, what more could you want when you’re staying in the world’s coolest treetop dens?

Norrbotten County is wonderfully wild, with vast stretches of tundra, mountains and forests. Guests can tour the Sámi (native Lapp) village in Flakaberg – 80km away from the hotel – or meet the Disney-film’s worth of furred creatures that graze in Treehotel’s forest surrounds: sociable reindeer and the odd moose or arctic fox. Britta and Kent can organise excursions that let you explore the great outdoors in full-throttle fashion. Hop on a husky or horse-drawn sled; go for a midnight-sun ride; bike, trek, ride a Segway or snowshoe-walk through the countryside; cross the Arctic Circle and scan the sky for glints of the Northern Lights, or strap on a pair of skis – the very brave can go skijoring, where a horse pulls you along. Snap-happy guests can join a Northern Lights photography tour too. Kayak, or go white-water rafting and ice fishing (until April) in the Lule river, and in summer the lakes close by are the ideal temperature for swimming in. The hotel has a zipline on site, with speedy sections for the accustomed. Take a day trip to the waterfall at Storforsen, where the water runs even when the banks are icy; and in December, it’s worth heading into Boden – an hour’s drive away – to visit the Christmas Market, where you can sip warming mulled wine and pick up some crafty souvenirs and ironic knitwear. Alternatively, relax in the tree sauna or hot tub onsite. From October 2015, guests can visit the Arctic bath, an eight-minute drive away near Bodtraskfors, which has refreshing cold baths, saunas and massage treatments in a building that resembles frozen kindling. Then again, you could simply sit on your terrace with a suitably outdoorsy tome – may we suggest Walden, or perhaps Cheryl Strayed’s Wild – and fantasise about starting a new life in loftier climes.

Stockholm, Sweden

Graffiti is classified as ‘street art’, frumpy or clunky design is a rarity, and the city is as safe and clean as it is hip and cosmopolitan. You’ll come back poorer, but cooler and more chilled – skål!

Ett Hem Stockholm, Sweden with Smith Hotels (Check Availability)

A seductively stylish red brick townhouse in Stockholm’s upmarket Lärkstaden neighbourhood, hotel Ett Hem couldn’t have chosen a more fitting moniker: it simply means ‘a home’ in Swedish. Owner Jeanette Mix has scoured Europe for the design staples and vintage finds that have transformed this luxurious Arts and Crafts residence, opening it up to be used as guests see fit. Help yourself to wine from the fridge, pinch a book from the library and settle in for a cosy afternoon in the glasshouse: this is the new benchmark for laid-back Swedish hospitality.

On the corner of a quiet residential street and a pleasant neighbourhood park, Ett Helm is the ultimate Östermalm des res. Set out on foot for a spot of shopping on Bibliotekstan, lined with tempting boutiques stocked with cutting-edge Scandinavian labels. Make a pit stop at Östermalm Saluhall, an impeccably preserved 1880s food hall stacked with Swedish delicacies destined for the smörgåsbord. Look out for Bünsow House by the waterfront on Strandvägen, an elegant feast of turrets, dormers and exposed brick that set the tone for much of Sweden’s turn-of-the-century architecture.

Lydmar Hotel Stockholm, Sweden with Smith Hotels (Check Availability)

With its dark slate roof, city-centre position and picturesque harbour views, Lydmar Hotel is a quintessential Stockholm stay. Behind its grand white stone façade, this urban boutique bolthole has laid on a smörgåsbord of cosseting comforts: expect luxe rooms in chic muted tones, a classic brasserie beloved by locals and a terrace with live music to while away those endless summer days.

Stockholm’s upmarket financial district Norrmalm lures trendsetting Swedes with sophisticated bars and restaurants. The Lydmar is enviably central, just across the river from the old town, a 10-minute walk from Djurgården and Skeppsholmen islands. Pick up covetable furnishings in design shop Nordiska Galeriet (+46 (0)8 442 8360) on Nybrogatan, and wardrobe staples in Gallerian (+46 (0)8 5333 7300) and NK (+46 8 762 80 00) malls, both on Hamngatan. Stroll along cobbled streets and alleyways in the old town, and keep your camera to hand for Storkyrkan and Riddarholm churches, and the Renaissance-revival-style  18th-century Royal Palace (+46 (0)8 402 6130) – where Sweden’s monarchy reside to this day – then pop in to tour its lavish state rooms. There are seasonal exhibitions at the Nobel Museum (+46 (0)8 5348 1800) close by, where the best and brightest in science and art flock for the awards and banquet on 10 November each year. The Vasa Museum ( +46 (0)8 5195 4800) on Djurgården has the world’s only fully intact 17th-century warship; close by ABBA The Museum (+46 (0)8 1213 2860) is a little less highbrow, but toe-tappingly fun. The Museum of Modern Art (+46 (0)8 5195 5200) on Skeppsholmen have an impressive role call of artists to ogle in their permanent collection and exhibitions by up-and-coming Swedish artists.
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