SWEDEN: LAND OF FIRE & IKEA

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A wise man once said life is something that happens when you can’t get to sleep. He also coined the perfect slogan for a visit to Sweden, Land of the Midnight Sun…and nocturnal fun.

Even wilderness-hardened Laplanders in the northern reaches struggle to get decent shuteye during the two months that the countryside is bathed in non-stop, 24-hour sunlight. So while the rest of Europe sleeps soundly in bed, the Swedes come out to play. Round-the-clock hiking, kayaking and alfresco partying are the order of the day.

From baltic to balmy

Celebrations begin on Walpurgis Night (April 30) with choirs and pyres to mark the end of the cruel Scandinavian winter. Sweden’s wild bonfire night takes its name from medieval English missionary, Saint Walburga. But the party has little to do with religion.

It is an expression of joy at a temperature swing from extremes of -40C in the Baltic winter to a balmy 30C at the height of summer. This sunny outlook is helping to make Sweden the number one summer hotspot for discerning travellers looking for an alternative to a fortnight on the Med.

A visit to Sweden should begin and end in Stockholm. The stunning capital is an archipelago of fourteen islands, each fizzing with individuality. Its patchwork of boroughs linked by a network of bridges, easy to navigate ferries and the ubiquitous kayaks, dinghies and small craft that criss-cross the brackish waterways where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea.

A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM

Stockholm is a walking city and no trip would be complete without a stroll through the perfectly-preserved medieval streets of Gamla stan. The Old Town is a living museum of cobbled Swedish cool. It’s home to the 13th century Storkyrkan, or Great Church, the baroque Royal Palace and the world’s oldest restaurant, Den Gyldene Freden – more or less unchanged since it opened in 1722.

Swedes have no time for the frantic worker bee mentality of most Western Europeans. So get in tune with the locals by learning to observe the ritual of Fika. More than a simple coffee break, it is about setting aside quality time to enjoy a hot drink, warm cinnamon buns and heated conversation.

The best place to enjoy Fika and watch the world go by is among the beautiful people and funky shops on Götgatsbacken leading up the hill from the Old Town.

One should also be prepared for the national obsession that Swedes share with Brits…talking about the weather.

Once visitors swap the sophistication of Stockholm for the wild, open spaces beyond, the fun really starts. Sweden’s love affair with the great outdoors is enshrined in law with the brilliant Right of Public Access, or Allemansrätten. Nature is seen as something to be enjoyed and not owned – private property is an alien concept.

THE FINAL FRONTIER

There is total freedom to roam across another’s land, swim or sail in their waters and pick mushrooms and berries in their forest. It works on the understanding that visitors are only passing through.

Sweden has roughly the same population as Greater London living in a country more than twice the size of the UK. So there’s no need to squabble over a particular patch of turf and you never have far to go to enjoy total, blissful isolation.

FINE DINING –

Swedes love a feast, which is probably why they invented the Smörgåsbord. Dining out is expensive, but always fabulous. Evidence of their resistance to average food is that despite worldwide ubiquity, KFC had to wait until this year before opening its first franchise in Stockholm.

ADVENTURE SPORTS

Whether river rafting in the Jämtland mountains, going for a late night swim in one of the country’s 97,500 lakes or camping on a deserted island, Sweden is all about the outdoors. Come rain, come shine, come wintery blizzard, there is an activity to match that will get your heart pumping.

ONE FOR THE ROAD

The cost of a drink in Sweden is legendary – a bottle of house red can set you back in excess of £60 at a Stockholm restaurant. This is driven by the state-owned alcohol monopoly. Stocking up on drink for your BBQ takes military planning and a visit to one of the 400 government liquor stores.

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