It’s not all murder and political drama in the Scandi lands. Laura Lee Davies discovers four very different experiences in Stockholm, Helsinki, Alesund and Copenhagen that prove it’s far from grim up north.
Artistic expression in Sweden
It’s perhaps no surprise that pop fans are heading to Stockholm now that Abba The Museum is open. However, it’s also a city that draws art lovers who flock to its excellent galleries. A mix of narrow cobbled streets, sleek modern hotels and a waterside setting that makes getting around by ferry a pleasure, Stockholm offers a chance to see great collections without the London crowds. Moderna Museet (www. modernamuseet.se) is a must-visit, with a collection that boasts works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Henri Matisse as well as modern Swedish art. Its major exhibitions equal London’s blockbusters. From February, for example, there’s a retrospective of artist and sculptor Louise Bourgeois. Moderna Museet is located on Skeppsholmen, one of the city’s islands, along with the Architecture and Design Centre (www.arkdes.se). Another of the city’s island highlights is Artipelag, a new arrival on the art scene (www.artipelag.se). Its beautiful design and setting on Värmdö means the landscape is as much a part of
the visuals as the collection itself.
Extreme pampering in Finland
You can fly from Dubai to Helsinki in about six hours, but when you get there, you really sense you’re right at the edge where West meets East. Signs printed in Cyrillic remind you how close Russia is, and there’s plenty of ski action, so it’s perfect for a long weekend to get away from it all. While families from all over the world might be Lapland-bound at this time of the year, the smarter traveller heads for the spa retreats. Get back to nature and experience traditional treatments – yep, you really do get to whip yourself with fresh birch twigs and swim in a frozen lake. Helskini is a city break unlike any other. Do the shopping and culture thing, then break free on the city’s 180km of ski trails, or go for a bracing swim at Hietaniemi Beach. Sound like hard work? There’s luxurious pampering at Helsinki Day Spa (www.dayspa.fi), if you prefer. For full-on natural steam, the Finnish Sauna Society (www.sauna.fi) runs a facility at Vaskiniemi. With gorgeous sea views and masseurs available to smooth out those knotted muscles, it’s hard to resist the call of the wild.
Fireside romance in Norway
The small coastal town of Ålesund is the perfect place to sneak off to if snuggling by firesides in hip hotels and walking and boutique shopping on crisp days are your kind of thing. In 1904 almost the entire town was burnt to the ground and the rebuilding led to its distinctive art nouveau appearance. The ornate pastel-coloured buildings give it an old-world charm, with little winding lanes and galleries to discover, such as the museum at Alnes Lighthouse on Godøy. Located on the tip of a headland, the nearby Geirangerfjord’s beautiful, rocky landscape and dramatic waterfalls make Ålesund a little-known gem of a destination.
Fine dining in Denmark
You can confidently say that chef René Redzepi reinvented Nordic cuisine at his Copenhagen restaurant, Noma. It only hosts 45 diners a day, yet receives nearly 20,000 booking requests a month (try your luck at www.noma.dk). Thankfully, it’s not the only Michelin-starred joint in town. Another favourite is Formel B, and its former sous chef, Frederik Rudkjøbing, has just opened Uformel with a menu of seasonal dishes
(www.uformel.dk). It’s not the only new restaurant-offspring though. No. 2 (www.nummer2.dk) was recently launched by the team behind another Scandi dining phenomenon, AOC. Expect raw ingredients paired with Nordic staples such as cod and smoked cheese. For dining amid a dramatic setting, Tarnet at the top of Christiansborg Palace
(www.taarnet.dk), and Slotskaelderen (www.slotskaelderen.dk) in the cellar of Kokkedal Castle, can’t be beat.