My husband James peers at me over the rim of the ceramic mug holding his cappuccino. We’ve paused our sightseeing long enough for fika, Sweden’s traditional coffee timeout/afternoon breather, and there’s one last bite left on the plate of our shared cinnamon bun, selected at the encouragement of the friendly barista at Café Husaren. She boasted they’re the best in town, but failed to mention they may also be the biggest in all of Sweden. I shake my head and push the plate and its sweet contents toward James: I simply don’t have an empty corner left in me to do it justice.
The café is located in a lovely brick and stone gothic building on the pedestrian street of Haga Nygata in the old Haga neighborhood. Afternoon sunshine lured not only James and I, but also at least a dozen others to the tables set along the cobblestone street patio just outside of the café doors. From here, the views include historic timber houses, vintage shops and bright flowers spilling out of window boxes.
Our Royale room at Hotel Pigalle is an absolute haven, and I’m glad to get back and put up my sightseeing-weary feet. Decorated in velvets and brocades, the space has the distinct air of a 19th-century Paris boudoir, and I adore every corner of it, from the costume jewelry pearls draped over the mirror above the café-style dressing table, to the whimsical, flowery wallpaper and profusion of pillows.
Breakfast is below the long glass roof on the upper floor of the hotel in the Atelier, where a resplendent buffet has been laid. A selection of local honeys and jams accompanies abundant, freshly baked bread choices, along with eggs, meats, smoked fish and fruits. While filling up on creamy yogurt and lingonberries, we scan the dinner menu, where entertainingly named dishes are featured: Plenty of Fish in the Sea (buttered skrei with blue mussels), Snacky Meat from Spain (air-cured and smoked beef selections), and Apple Papple Pirum Parum (apple compote with rum raisin ice cream and baked butter dough topped with cinnamon, browned butter and candied pecans).
After breakfast, we head to the trolley stop across the street from the hotel. We’ve planned an overnight side trip to Styrsö Skäret, one of the small islands in the city’s archipelago. We hop off in Drottningtoget, the main city square, and catch the No. 11 tram to the ferry departure point at Saltholmen. The ferry journey only lasts about a quarter of an hour, but it’s lovely.
From the island landing, it’s a short, scenic walk to our bed & breakfast inn, the Pensionat Styrsö Skäret. The island seems like a separate world. No cars are allowed, and the narrow walking roads wind among historic homes and along the harbor where colorful boats with bright sails dip and rise in the sea.
A short way from the harbor, the creamy yellow exterior of the idyllic Pensionat Styrsö Skäret comes into full view. We walk into a cozy parlor furnished with antiques and marine mementos, where coffee and tea is served at small tables with plush, overstuffed chairs. Innkeepers Ylva Sjöberg and Ola Tulldahl created a space so delightful, the idea of missing the return ferry to the mainland is already flitting through my mind.
As we explore the building, we pass a waist-high, historic ship’s compass in one corner of the stair landing. Before dinner, there’s time for a long stroll on a narrow road bordered on one side by a seaside meadow and on the other by a stretch of ocean dotted with craggy outcrops of rock. Suddenly, a deer bounds from the meadow across the road in front of us, pausing just long enough to register our surprise before leaping into the water. We watch, completely astonished, as the deer swims across a narrow channel and climbs onto a pile of jutting rocks: it never occurred to either of us aquatic deer would be part of our island experience.
After breakfasting from the sumptuous buffet in the lovely, glass-enclosed dining room the next day, we set out for the ferry landing to return to the city. We were instructed by the ferry captain who brought us to the island to raise the semaphore on the pole at the dock, as the ferry only stops when signaled to do so. When the ferry pulls up, the captain smiles and waves us on board, asking if we enjoyed our stay.
We’re back in Gothenburg by mid-morning, with plenty of time to make the short trek to the neoclassical Gunnebo House and Gardens just outside of town. Once the summer villa of local merchant John Hall, the estate is a tranquil lair of landscaped gardens and parks designed by city architect Carl Wilhelm Carlberg.
I’m feeling peckish, and suggest a late lunch at Feskekôrka, the famous fish market hall in city center. Built in 1874, Feskekôrka translates to “fish church,” and it’s where locals come for the freshest seafood offerings in town. The meal is delicious, and provides the energy needed to make the most of the exhibitions at the Gothenburg Museum of Art at Götaplatsen Square. The halls are filled with works by famous artists including Edvard Munch, Carl Larsson and Anders Zorn, and we spend a lazy afternoon enjoying them.
Our last day in Gothenburg takes us to the Gothenburg City Museum. Here, the city’s history is traced back 12,000 years, and an ancient Viking ship is on display. Called the Äskekärrsskeppet, it’s the only Viking ship on view anywhere in Sweden — discovered by accident along the river Göta älv by a local farmer. The museum turns out to be my absolute favorite, with fascinating exhibits from the city’s past that date to Stone Age artifacts.
For our last fika interlude on this trip, we choose Ahlströms Konditori, mostly because we’re both amused the proprietors claim to serve “a dignified cup of tea.” The traditional coffeehouse ambience has been a refuge for caffeine-seekers since 1901. To accompany my excellent tea, I order a slice of the café’s famous Cortina cake, made with a pistachio marzipan center and a creamy almond marzipan topping. Between bites, I practice one of the few Swedish words I’ve mastered over the past week: smaskig, which translates to yummy.