It's ridiculous-o-clock on a cold December morning
and I'm sitting in the back of an Uber on my way to Heathrow. The
radio is playing all the Christmas classics, but I couldn't feel
less festive if I tried. I swipe through my work emails,
remembering all the work I have to do, and sigh. Sweden has its
work cut out with this particular Grinch.
It makes a valiant effort. Stepping out of the
airport into the crisp cold of Gothenburg, I'm greeted by yule
goats made from sprigs of pine trees and decorated with red
ribbons, and I feel the stresses of London life melt away as we
drive an hour north of the city, to Klädesholmen Island.
Klädesholmen is one of 8,000 islands dotted along the
Bohuslän Coast, an 160m stretch from Gothenburg to Norway.
Described as one of the country's most enchanting and alluring
regions, it's love at first sight as I find myself captivated by
the stunning views. Fog hangs low over sprawling fields dotted with
windmills and red wooden houses, and for a minute I wonder if I'm
in some kind of Christmas Nordic noir, before the car comes to a
stop and I'm snapped back to reality by the sounds of the
Our guide, Emelie, has brought us to Salt and Sill, a
restaurant famous for its seafood and their many varieties of
pickled herring. I try several, all of which are delicious, but my
favourite is their whisky and mustard variety. I'm given a chance
to make my own with a lesson from their chef. It's not quite Salt
and Sill standard, but it definitely cuts the mustard!
After lunch, and a tour of the adjoining
floating hotel, we take a short drive to the other side to watch
the sunset. Pink, purples and reds dance off the water as waves
crash dramatically off the ragged cliffs, and I realise it's been
hours since I thought about deadlines.
We hop back in the car, and drive another hour to
Orust island, where we'll be spending the night at Lådfabriken.
Once a factory producing fish crates, Lådfabriken has been
completely transformed by owners Johan Buskqvist and Marcel van der
Eng, and is now a gorgeous boutique B&B and without a doubt the
most wonderful place I've ever had the pleasure of
staying. The couple, and their lovely dogs Bruno and
Curro, welcome us with homemade Christmas cake and glögg, and we
after being in the door less than an hour I know I never want to
After a quick change, dinner is served, and I'm blown
away by the feast Johan and Marcel have prepared for us. Their take
on the traditional Swedish "Christmas table" is a veritable
banquet- or smörgåsbord - of local seafood. We're
served a delicious mussel soup while our eyes drink in the
offerings on the table, which includes crab claws, lobster,
langoustines and oysters, the latter of which I have never tried.
Johan offers some friendly advice as I consider these odd-looking
specimens suspiciously, even offering to fetch me a bucket if they
don't agree with me, but there's no need as I greedily slurp it
down and reach for another.
We eat and eat until we can hardly move, but there's
always room for desert, and Johan and Marcel serve up some
wonderful poached pears that taste just like Christmas. The pair
sit with us and chat about festive traditions in Sweden, while
keeping our glasses topped up with wine and schnapps, and in the
cosy surroundings, I feel a pang of Christmas spirit. Well, I
Soon, I make my way to bed, with a full belly and a
happy heart, and sleep more soundly than I have in
The next morning, we're up bright and early for
another smörgåsbord - this time of the
breakfast variety. There's homemade bread and 10 different types of
homemade marmalade (the peach was my favourite) as well as fresh
fruit, granola, meats and cheeses, and plenty of fresh coffee.
Heaven. Once our appetites have been sated, we head out for a
stroll, taking in the splendour of the coastal surroundings and the
nearby village of Edshulthall, where Johan shows us the house his
grandmother was born in. On our return to Lådfabriken, we're
greeted by the waft of gingerbread, and find Marcel has been busy
in the kitchen. We're each tasked with building a gingerbread
house, a traditional Christmas activity for Swedish families, and
feel like children again as we set to work.
There's just time for wander down to the water before
we have to pack our bags and say farewell to our wonderful hosts,
who make me promise to come back and bring my wife, which I do so
gladly. But before we go, Marcel dashes into the kitchen and
returns with two oyster shells which he has washed; a memento
to remember the time I lost my oyster-virginity. I'm
sad to leave, but I know I will be back.
In less than an hour, we're in bustling Gothenburg,
and ready to experience a completely different kind of Christmas.
After a quick check in at the gorgeous Hotel
Bellora, slap bang in the city centre, we set off for a spot of
lunch at Bee
Bar, a friendly bar and restaurant which cheekily describes
itself as "straight friendly". Sweden has a reputation for being on
the expensive side, but here was very reasonable and the food was
After lunch, we stroll lazily through the city,
before taking a "fika" at Da Matteo, famed for being one of the best
coffee stops in the city. I couldn't argue with that, as the flat
white I ordered was one of the best I have had. And my cinnamon bun
was delicious, too!
By then, the sun was starting to set, and we made our
way to the canal for a Christmas Paddan Tour - a lovely way to see the city.
The mulled wine on offer may have been cold by the time we boarded,
and it was hard to hear our guide's history lesson over the sound
of the ice cracking underneath us, but it was great fun
nevertheless, and our arrival at Liseberg -
Sweden's largest Christmas market - took my breath away as five
million lights sparkled above us.
I'm not kidding about those lights. Liseberg really
is huge, but here are some numbers that might help you gauge the
scale - 1,262 Christmas trees, 5km of Christmas, 27 attractions and
75 stalls and shops make up this incredible spectacle - and there's
something here for everyone, whatever Christmas means for you. We
wander around the Traditional Christmas Market and up into Swedish
Lapland to meet Santa, but the queue is long, and I'm hit by a wave
of guilt should I deprive a child of his or her dream. So instead
we make our way to the Design market, a perfect place for
gift-buying, before making our way to see something truly special -
The Nutcracker on ice. Sofie, from the tourist office, has secured
as the best seats in the house on a balcony overlooking the show,
and though it's so cold we can't feel our toes, it was absolutely
fantastic. A real Christmas treat.
For dinner, we head to nearby restaurant The Green Room, and warm up with some more
glögg before feasting on a veggie version of the
Christmas buffet, including roasted spuds and celeriac, sprouts and
that Swedish classic - meatballs. And then we wrap up warm again,
and head out into the chilly night to find Gretas, famed as the oldest gay bar in
Gothenburg. It's early when we arrive - 10.30 maybe - but the dance
floor is already packed and I'm pleasantly surprised to find its
majority women. The crowd is friendly, the music is great, but the
drinks are pricey - even during happy hour - so we don't stay for
long. Instead, we stumble back to Bellora, and for the second night
in a row, I sleep like a baby.
The next morning, I arrange to meet
my friend Pete who moved to Gothenburg seven years ago. He arrives
with his three children, who are the definition of adorable in
their little snow suits, and we set off on an adventure to Härlanda tjärn, a picturesque lake in the
eastern part of the city. A popular swimming spot in the summer,
the lake is now mostly frozen over, and the kids squeal in mock
horror as Pete walks on the ice. "Be careful, Papa!" they shout in
Swedish. We walk for a while, before tucking into our picnic of
bananas and cinnamon buns, as the kids patiently teach me Swedish
words and laugh at my pronunciation.
They have a sleepover planned for
later, so Pete drops me off back in the city centre, and I make the
most of the fading light by taking out one of the city bikes.
Similar to London's "Boris Bikes", Styr and
Ställ have stations throughout the city, and you can use them
free if you have a Gothenburg City Card. Easy to use, I'm soon
cycling down the canal and through the city's many green spaces,
stopping for another fika at Da Matteo and to take pictures of
another incredible sunset.
Sadly, my Swedish dream is almost
over, so I pick up my bags and head to the airport. The five
million lights of Liseberg twinkle as we speed past on the bus to
Gothenburg-Landvetter. But I take with me a jar of my pickled
herring, oyster shells, lovely memories, and a jingle in my bells
that London is going to have to wrestle out of me.
Enjoy your own winter wonderland in
West Sweden this Christmas, with flights starting from London to
Gothenburg starting at around £50.
More like this
Sweden: You're welcome
5 things to experience in Sweden in 2017
Have a gay old time in Gothenburg
Experience the Northern Lights in Swedish
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