Our first impression upon arriving at Gothenburg airport was very positive. The airport felt remarkably airy with a really interesting design, a welcome change from many airports we travel through and baggage claim featured a wonderful children’s play area, as well as a tree bench rest area powered by 100% green energy.
To get to Gothenburg city center we caught the airport bus, which ran every 20 minutes. It was a pleasant journey, mostly on motorway (unlike the myriad of country roads from Bristol airport!). The bus stopped just outside our hotel, which was housed in a large building called Gothia Towers. We strode towards the check-in desks we could see in front of us, but were quickly redirected to a private lift; we were apparently staying at Upper House, a hotel within the hotel occupying the upper floors! Our reception was up on the the 25th floor, and we were quickly checked in to a wonderful room on the 22nd with a fantastic panoramic view of the city spread out below us. It was a very comfortable room and we got a great night’s sleep that evening.
Breakfast in the morning turned out to be a fantastic spread. We enjoyed a selection of fine local produce from the buffet, which included some great local cheese (which we hadn’t expected, as we didn’t have much familiarity with Swedish cheese). There were also a small selection of dishes cooked to order which we sampled and we were very impressed by both the amazing scrambled eggs and the hot chocolate cake with berries (yes, for breakfast!). Our first stop that day wasn’t far away.. we were visiting the hotel spa two floors below. 🙂
Although complimentary for hotel guests it exceeded our expectations of a hotel ammenity by proving to be a fine and fully featured spa. It contained no less than two indoor pools, as well as one outdoor pool projected off the side of the building, enveloping the glass outside lifts, with a glass floor! In addition there was a steam room, a turkish hamam (with three steam rooms at different temperatures, the largest of which included a huge warmed “belly stone”) and a sauna with floor to ceiling windows looking out across the parkland outside the hotel. We finished in the relaxation room, with soft drinks, including fabulous fruit syrups, fruit and light nibbles (champagne apparently on order; just ring the bell!). What really impressed us was that they provided a free set of spa products together with a suggested treatment sequence; effectively forming a spa ritual. We selected the Swedish product set which included a body scrub, facial mask, moisturiser and body mist using traditional Swedish west coast ingredients like seaweed and lingonberry, and we really enjoyed using this as the focus of our visit. A great idea that we hadn’t come across before.
After enjoying the spa we headed down to the city proper, bought a travel pass and hopped on a tram to the old town (initially in the wrong direction, but that was soon fixed!). We alighted near a street called Haga Nygata, which was one of the original parts of the town and which still boasts predominantly wooden buildings. We enjoyed ambling down this street, which was filled with local shops selling a variety of items including locally made clothes, hats, toys, groceries and food. Greg was particularly taken by the bakery with the gigantic Kanelbuller (cinnamon buns), though we did not succumb to buying one.
From here we headed towards our plan for lunch, and a building the locals call the Feskekôrka (Fish Church). It’s a very distinctive building by the canal which does feel rather religious in design, somewhat like a cathedral. Inside however is a more earthly place – full of fish vendors selling a huge variety of locally caught produce. Greg purchased a splendid prawn and crayfish salad and I found a wonderful hot fish stew (they called it a soup) served with some homemade bread. We sat on the banks of the canal just outside, thoroughly enjoying our lunch in the sun. A fantastic, fairly inexpensive, find – no fuss; just really tasty local seafood
Next up we signed onto a city ‘must do’ tourist experience – the Paddan boat tour. This was an interesting hour long tour of the canal and harbour, showing Gothenburg off from the perspective of the many waterways which form part of the city. Of the many bridges that we passed under one is nick-named the ‘cheese-grater’ and to travel safely underneath you have to get off your seat and crouch down – we then watched as it passed only a few centimetres over the top of seats on the boat! The tour proved to be a great way to see some of the local architecture, including one large building aptly named ‘the lipstick’ (a tall tube, white all the way up except for the top few floors which are bright red).
After the tour we headed to the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens – created in 1923 to celebrate the city’s 300th anniversary – for a quick wander round before closing. We only had about an hour and a half by the time we arrived, which was nowhere near enough time to fully explore what turned out to be a wonderful and vast garden. We started with the green houses, which housed a variety of species and specialised in orchids – with some amazing specimens within the many (over a thousand!) on display. From there we plotted a scenic walk around the greater garden, taking in some notable sections including the border gardens, a fabulous (and very well regarded) rock garden, the waterfall and a wonderful and extensive Japanese glade which rivaled some of the gardens we visited in Japan. The size of the gardens meant that we were often out of site of any other visitors, which added to our sense of exploration. We really were very taken by the place and the impressive botanical garden proper at 40 hectares turns out to only be a small part of a larger green space, as we discovered as we reached the upper end of the garden. It forms a mere corner of the national arboretum – which covers more than 170 hectares (430 acres) in total!
Dinner was at the restaurant at Upper House and on due reflection definitely makes my list of top 3 meals during The40Project, which is no mean feat! There were, as you might expect, many courses and what struck us was the fantastic attention to detail, not just in terms of flavours but also of textures. This included some fun touches, such as an ‘ice-cream’ cone within the cheese course (filled with a goats cream cheese) and a rye flat-bread which was baked at our table. Other courses wowed us with the flavour combinations, and there were very few elements which were weak enough to only be ‘great’. We were also lucky in that the Chef himself served two of our courses, so we were able to thank him personally for the very splendid meal and talk about his herb and vegetable garden on the roof of the hotel. After about 3 hours we finished eating and rolled ourselves downstairs to bed (we had to save the handmade chocolates for the next day as we were too stuffed!).
The next morning we managed a smaller breakfast and again visited the hotel spa. This time we opted for the Asian inspired product set, which has a different ritual associated it – involving an exfoliating scrub atop the belly stone in the steam room – and we were impressed at the different experience that this changed sequence provided us with. After finishing here and checking out, we visited the Cathedral which was unfortunately largely closed as it is undergoing a massive restoration. We were lucky enough to arrive just in time for a small classical music recital with a violinist and a pianist. This led to an unexpected and very relaxing half hour treat.
From the cathedral we caught a tram to the edge of Gothenberg and arrived at the ferry port in order to catch a ferry to one of the islands in the local archipelago (unexpectedly the journey is considered part of the public transport system and thus included in our standard city transport ticket). It took about 30 mins to travel to Styrsö and upon arrival we walked down the only road in sight to a guesthouse where we were staying, overlooking the bay. Styrsö is tiny – with a mere 1400 inhabitants – and we were staying in Pensionat Styrsö Skäret, a delightful small old fashioned bed and breakfast. Upon arrival we were greeted warmly and treated to a pleasant tea with scones on the terrace.
It was still early afternoon with a few hours before dinner, so we decided to take a walk round the island; which is half sparsely inhabited and half nature reserve. This was a fantastic adventure, which felt like we were exploring a mysterious island straight out of a Jules Verne novel or a computer game such as Myst! We passed just three people on our wandering over the next couple of hours, during which we meandered through a wide variety of different landscapes including woodland, coastline with a small beach used for swimming in summer, heathland, grassland – with the odd sheep – and some large rocks to scramble over! Dinner was at the guest house and rather more gourmet than we expected from the somewhat modest setting. The venison was particularly good, as was the local cheese; we were definitely becoming unexpectedly impressed with Swedish cheese.
We awoke late the next day, and enjoyed a smörgåsbord style breakfast complete with freshly squeezed orange juice, cheese, wonderful smokey bacon and a selection of flatbreads. We then spent the morning walking around the more inhabited sections of our island and our direct neighbour Donso – connected by a bridge. There were a surprising number of residential houses on Styrsö – more than we’d expected. I suspect some are holiday lets, but most looked to us to be family homes. There were a couple of other guest houses, but fewer than we would have expected for somewhere visited by tourists. We were also surprised by the lack of shops – compared with similar locales in the UK there were very few gift shops or restaurants (which reminded us a bit of Sark). We saw a couple of galleries and two cafés but not much more.
The island did contain a couple of very small supermarkets and two churches. The larger of the two churches, clearly a fairly old church which dated back to 1782, had a very impressive graveyard where most of the graves were decorated by fresh flowers, which overall made for a very colourful impression. When passing the church again on our return loop it appeared to be gearing up for a wedding, and seated outside it we could see a guitarist with some music, ready to play for the occasion. It also explained the man in a suit who was hurrying down the road ahead of us, together with a smartly dressed lady.
Of the islands Donso was rather more industrial. It has a fishing heritage and still has a large harbour, it seemed to us that the houses were slightly simpler and slightly smaller on average than the ones on Styrsö. We spent about an hour walking around, before heading back to “our” island and returning to the guesthouse to retrieve our luggage.
Our time in Gothenburg seemed to go very quickly, and I really enjoyed our visit there. Some of this was because we’d chosen a number of outdoor activities during our visit, and it was great to explore both the large botanical gardens and the island so accessible from a major city. We both felt at home there and I could easily see us enjoying happy summers in Gothenburg if circumstances allowed.
From there we returned to the mainland and began our journey to city number 36… Stockholm!