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Sweden is more than a country of minimalist design, people-minded social infrastructure, and hot Skårsgards. The Scandinavian behemoth is also famous for its miles of misty forests, crystalline lakes, and ample opportunity for outdoor recreation, whether its hiking, camping, or cycling. As gorpcore continues its rise alongside a renewed enthusiasm for the great outdoors, you’d be wise to consider Sweden on your short list of places to truly experience the breadth of what nature has to offer — especially if you hone in on the scenic Southern region of Småland. Home to ABBA, Ikea, and more, this iconic part of the country deserves a slot on your summer vacation itinerary. Below, find NYLON’s comprehensive guide to getting the most out of Sweden’s Småland, from its most unique accommodations, places to eat, and, of course, what to do when it comes to get down and dirty with mother nature.
Where To stay
Ditch the plethora of B&Bs, chain hotels, and AirBnBs, and go with a more eccentric accommodation for your stay like the infamous Hotel Västanå Slott, one of the best preserved castle estates in the heart of Småland. The castle, first built in 1590, is a medieval-era treasure that feels like a mix of both a museum and a hotel, colliding its cavernous historical stone interiors with luxe, modern facilities, like a stellar eat-in restaurant and a huge adjoining golf course. Walk in and be greeted by a framed photo of Paul McCartney and his family, who once stayed there — then get cozy in a lavishly decorated room draped in furs and other plush textiles. I personally enjoyed the real copper sink and lion claw bathtub in my bathroom — and the way it was absolutely pin-drop silent come nightfall (though some supernatural occurrences have been sighted).
An equally incomparable experience can be had at the recently opened (and very exclusive) Trakt Forest Hotel, which houses only five individually standing suites plopped in the middle of a forest. If you love the outdoors, you’ll greatly appreciate Trakt, whose rooms will allow you to sleep under the stars (with just a thin pane of glass separating you from the elements). Its facilities are modern but minimalist, and everything from the furniture to the food is sourced from farms and artisans. But it’s really mother nature that’s the star: though it was raining during most of my stay there, the clouds briefly drew apart in the middle of the night to unveil a glittering sky of stars, still the biggest highlight from my trip.
Where To Eat
With its rolling hills and miles of verdant land, Småland is a cornucopia of edible delights. One of the most special meals I had was at Asa Herrgård, a sprawling hotel and farm complex located about a 40 minute drive away from the city Växjö. Here, a few miles past its main station and just inside the belly of a neighboring forest, lies a long wooden table nestled in the moss, which visitors can book to experience DIY fine dining. It’s DIY because you get the delight of foraging for some of the meals’ main ingredients in the surrounding forest, including different kinds of mushrooms, lingonberries, herbs, and clovers, before bringing them back to the table for a chef, or you, to cook up — a wholly unique experience. I had a sumptuous plate of golden chanterelle mushrooms sautéed in butter on toast when I was there, but larger, three-course spreads are available. Either way, you’ll never look at picnics the same after this.
Those with bougier sensibilities will appreciate PM & Vanner Hotel and its one Michelin-starred restaurant, which spins local produce and meat into something delectable. For a cheaper but equally great option, its bistro turns out moose/elk, veal, and other Småland delicacies into delicious dishes.
Finally, if you’re looking to sate your sweet tooth, swing by the quaint lakeside town of Gränna, home to Sweden’s infamous Polkagris candy. The red-and-white swirled candy cane stick is said to have been invented here in 1859 by a local widow, Amalia Erikkson, and a statue of her stands in the town square today just beyond a slew of candy shops, like Polka Prinsen (or “Polka Prince”), still churning out those sugary confections. Today, there are dozens of flavors to chew on besides the traditional peppermint, including one based around Swedish fika.
What to do
Outdoor activity is king in Småland, and trails, forests, and lakes are pretty much everywhere. But if you’re up for something more unique, head north to see — and trek — Skurugata, a stunning geological phenomenon that’s definitively more rare. The 800-meter long gorge is a jaw-dropper and takes about an hour to hike. Along the way, you get to climb over boulders and admire a bunch of unique species of moss and other foliage (so they say). But if you ask me, it’s the magnificent vista point overseeing miles of the surrounding nature reserve at the end that makes the excursion, elevated by a hot cup of coffee. If you’re fiending for more, Ramoa Adventure Village, about an hour’s drive away, slots nicely on the itinerary. Run by the very kind Janne, this 360 outdoor facility has paddle boating, kayaking, dirt biking, and more — with the option to stay overnight in one of their unique under-the-stars accommodations.
In Sweden, even the spas are outside, but the spa at the 1800s manor-house-turned-boutique-hotel Toftaholm is the only one that sits on a lake overlooking a small island, populated by a flock of sheep and castle ruins. The night I stayed here, a boisterous party had taken over the saunas and were intermittently breaking up their stints in the steam with quick dips in the cold lake, before surfacing for some champagne. Try getting away with that in the States.
Finally, you can’t leave Sweden without facing Ikea. If you didn’t know, the globally beloved furniture store began in Småland in Åmhult, and you can visit its very first-ever store today, though it’s now been turned into a museum. The comprehensive compound is quite fascinating as far as furniture museums go, full of interactive exhibits about the brand’s history, but most notably, a lot of archival pieces from past collection. But let’s face it — it’s the gift shop, which stocks goodies you can’t find anywhere else in the world, that’s most worth the trip.