Sweden's idyllic sanctuary

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The Hotel Skeppsholmen was designed in 1699 as housing for Sweden’s Royal Marines.
The Hotel Skeppsholmen was designed in 1699 as housing for Sweden’s Royal Marines. Photo Credit: Courtesy of MRNY

For many of us, the perfect vacation starts on an island. After all, what's more alluring than to be surrounded by water while luxuriating in a civilized setting marked by service and natural beauty?

What's even more remarkable is when that idyllic sanctuary exists amid one of the world's more beautiful cities. While each of Stockholm's 14 isles has its own Swedish charms, the sylvan island of Skeppsholmen is arguably the city's most bucolic, especially in summer. Verdant walkways lead to sweeping waterfront vistas of sailboats gliding across the Baltic Sea, and the air is filled with birdsong. The Paradiset sculpture garden features the kaleidoscopic and kinetic sculptures of Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, while Picasso's "Dejeuner sur l'herbe" is perfectly situated on a lushly landscaped lawn.

For years, Skeppsholmen housed various branches of the Swedish military. What is now the Hotel Skeppsholmen was originally designed in 1699 by Nicodemus Tessin Jr., architect of the Royal Palace of Stockholm, as a long row of housing for the Royal Marines.

Built with materials from ruined Swedish castles, the structure is listed by the government as a historical building, which necessitated meticulous renovation before reopening as a four-star member of Design Hotels, with staff outfits designed by Acne Studios.

Maritime influences and the concept of fog were the catalysts for the thoughtful redesign in 2009 by Claesson Koivisto Rune, the celebrated architectural and design group that presented at the Venice Biennale in 2004. Well-trod stone staircases and wooden shutters mingle with contemporary furnishings in an updated, Gustavian style, all presented in a palette of pale grays and sun-bleached pastels.

Each of the hotel's rooms bears a plaque dedicated to the military personnel who had resided there, albeit before the addition of Duxiana beds, Boffi wash basins and rainfall showerheads. Writing desks are positioned along the large, paned windows, as if to provoke literary paeans to the pastoral park and sea views.

Guests at the Hotel Skeppsholmen wander the grounds in a kind of blissful reverie, perhaps induced by the hotel's breakfast buffet of classic Swedish cuisine, which is served on the terrace overlooking the waterfront during good weather. In winter, the property transforms into a winter wonderland of snow-covered trees and white meringue statuary. Just beyond the tennis court rises the Skating Pavilion, a small castle built in 1882 by the Royal Skating Club so that the king of Sweden might be served hot chocolate during ice skating parties and is now available for weddings and special events.

The Moderna Museet museum cafe offers dazzling views of Skeppsholmen’s harbor.
The Moderna Museet museum cafe offers dazzling views of Skeppsholmen’s harbor. Photo Credit: Courtesy of MRNY

An urban oasis of culture and calm, Skeppsholmen is home to a handful of Stockholm's most notable museums including the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design and Moderna Museet, which features a superlative collection of modern art with signature works by Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp and Dorothea Tanning. Nearly as mesmerizing as the art are the waterfront views from the museum's cafe, restaurant and bar. 

Each summer weekend on Skeppsholmen, 30 food trucks and vendors convene alongside the harbor below Moderna Museet for a Swedish-American smorgasbord streetfest known as Matholmen. Skeppsholmen hosts the Stockholm Music & Arts festival, an international event enlivened by food and drink. It takes place July 29 to 31 this year.

Amid such bliss, it might be hard to imagine leaving, but should island fever strike, helicopters and rigid, inflatable boats, known as RIBs, embark from a dock outfitted with a helicopter pad at the foot of the Skating Pavilion. Adrenaline junkies might consider a RIB sightseeing cruise into the Swedish archipelago, which encompasses more than 30,000 islands, skerries and islets; it is one of the archipelago's most extreme boating experiences as the inflatable boats whip across the water.

For a more leisurely water crossing, ferries run frequently, traversing the waters between Skeppsholmen and Djurgarden, home of ABBA: The Museum (where you "Walk in. Dance out.") as well as Skansen, Stockholm's open-air museum, and Grona Lund Tivoli, the city's historical amusement park.

Regardless of where you roam in Stockholm, most likely you'll discover that few places are as restorative as the island of Skeppsholmen.

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