“Scandinavia is so cool!” one of my son’s recent Sunday lunch guests told us enthusiastically, “but in such an understated way! And of course their design is just so clean and modern, they care about form and function…” Her mini-lecture continued, a wonderful example of the young discovering the world and imagining it was they who’re seeing things for the first time.
My son’s eyes twinkled and, sitting on my ‘Wishbone’ chair, designed in 1949 by Hans J. Wegner, under our spectacular PH Artichoke lamp, also designed sometime in the 50s, I wondered if this was a rather clunky attempt to win my husband’s favour by opening the floor to one of his favourite topics: “Scandinavia and its Design Icons”.
When we were young the very first place we travelled to together was Copenhagen, pre-children we attended every production of Ibsen that ever came to London, and when we had saved up enough to buy our first place together, instead of fitting out the entire flat my husband convinced me that all we really needed was a rug by Märta Måås-Fjetterström!
Over the washing up I casually asked my son if his friend was actually Danish? To which he laughed and said he hoped Dad hadn’t seen through it. I imagine from the epic lecture my husband offered in return to her mini one, that he hadn’t, and now seemed something like an older man falling victim to the ingénue charms of a younger woman. Or maybe he had seen through it, and was just pleased to be able to feel like the young Scandiphile he once was, holding cocktail party court on our rug while I made-do-and-mended the rest around him. But it must be nice for him to hear that apparently he’s cool again too!
Here are some Scandinavian ‘hot spots’, I will laughingly call them, which have, of course, always been fantastic places to visit, but which some of the attendees of those cocktail parties from the early days are finally starting to travel to. I’m certainly not ‘cool’ enough to know where to stay, though, I left that up to the Hotel Guru.
Copenhagen is wonderful. It’s walkable and utterly, utterly charming. Much more colourful than you might expect, and built around water with plenty of green pockets. And of course a wealth of superb museums, including the ultimate Scandinavian design Mecca, the Designmuseum. And now Copenhagen has 15 Michelin starred restaurants!
Where to Stay?
Nobis Copenhagen is a wonderful example of Scandinavian design at its finest. This is a supremely elegant hotel, with 75 beautifully decorated rooms in a range of shapes and sizes, but all with high ceilings, block colouring and minimalist furniture. The restaurant serves French Nordic fusion and there’s an elegant bar and a small spa too. Rooms start from around £300 per night.
Or for a more affordable option, I also like the look of the Copenhagen Strand Hotel which is in an excellent spot, both central and right by the water. The rooms are along the same lines as the Nobis, with pale blue tones, wood floors and plenty of natural light. They serve breakfast in their cafe, but there’s no restaurant, which doesn’t really matter as you’re surrounded by great places to eat. They will hire you a bike, though. And rooms start from just over £130 per night.
Practical Details: Copenhagen is a fantastically easy city to get to. The airport is well connected and it’s only about 15 minutes on a very regular, very pleasant train, to get into central station. Copenhagen is lovely all year round, but this is Scandinavia, so it is cold and dark in winter, though achingly pretty and nostalgic at Christmas.
Stockholm is also cool, glacially cool. Painted in warm shades of yellow and orange, and surrounded by the 24,000 or so islands of its sparkling archipelago, it’s got to be one of the world’s most beautiful capitals.
Where to Stay?
The Grand Hotel Stockholm is a large, grand dame of a hotel directly overlooking the harbour and royal palace. The decor is elegant, in Scandinavian colours, and some of the rooms and suites could probably be classed as magnificent. There’s also a two Michelin starred restaurant, and two other restaurants too, if you fancy something simple, plus a Nordic spa. This is where you stay if you win a Nobel prize! Rooms start from around £185 per night.
Practical Details: Stockholm Arlanda Airport is served by BA, SAS and Norwegian, which is convenient if you’re travelling from the UK. There’s a bus called the Arlanda Express which takes you from the airport into the centre of town in 20 minutes. Don’t let me put you off Stockholm in the winter, it really is spectacular, but it’s fantastic in the warmer months too, where the days are longer.
Never let it be suggested that Oslo might not be as cool as its fellow Scandinavian capitals. It’s very cool. Hemmed in by some spectacular scenery, with incredible forests and even something close to a fjord less than 15 minutes travel from the centre of town, this is an outdoorsy type of town, and it’s just been named the European Green Capital for 2019 . Plus it also has some incredible art galleries – including some of the world’s big name commercial galleries, some fantastic world class museums, and architecture the envy of almost everywhere – that opera house! Oslo is also really fun, which seems a rather empty statement, but it is, it’s fun.
Where to Stay?
The Thief gets its name from its location on Thief Island, and is a 119 room design hotel with some really fantastic artworks by Warhol, Anthony Gormley and Opie, among others. The black and gold interiors are confident and unusual, but not gaudy, and the waterfront views are incredible. There’s also an excellent modern Scandinavian restaurant and a spa. Rooms start from just over £300 per night including breakfast.
Practical Details: Oslo Airport is about 35kms from the centre of town, or 23minutes on the train.
Having covered the capitals I now want to steer away from my cool design theme somewhat and suggest that anyone really wanting to see Scandinavia would definitely need to get out of the cool cities and see the landscape on a vast scale that this part of the world is framed by. Bergen is an obvious choice, being considered the ‘gateway to the fjords’, and framed by seven fjords on one side and seven hills on the other. At its heart is the World Heritage Listed Bryggen district with its food markets and plenty of fantastic bars, restaurants, cafes and music.
Where to Stay?
The Hotel Bergen Bors is a beautifully simple hotel in a fantastic location. The decor is unimpeachable, modern but classic, and the service and restaurant are very good. The imposing building was built as the stock exchange in 1862, in a classically Norwegian style, and that timeless elegance permeates. The 127 rooms start from around £120 per night.
Practical Details: Head for Bergen Airport, but don’t expect to be able to fly direct. And visit in May if you can, it’s a fantastically busy time in the cultural calendar here.
The Hotel Guru has in-the-know hotel recommendations around the world.
Read about Annabel’s break in Copenhagen here