The city of Helsingborg, Sweden, is a lot more charming and laid back than you would imagine Sweden’s busiest fruit port, the place where Nicorette was invented and still made, and the headquarters for Ikea. It’s one of the oldest cities of Sweden – officially since May 21, 1085 – and in the part of the country closest to Denmark. (In fact, Helsingborg used to be part of Denmark.)
Lured by beautiful scenery, culture and history, the best of the best in arts and crafts communities, food producers and high society flock to Helsingborg to live or spend their summers. Bruce Springsteen is said to have a vacation home in the area.
Where to stay. Clarion has a luxury line of hotels and owns the Grand Hotel right in the center of town. The Swedish king and queen must appreciate its vintage, refined atmosphere and stay here when in town. It’s not often that European hotels have bathtubs – but the Clarion’s is extra deep, with bath crystal salts set out each day.
The hotel has a program called “Inspiration” designed to help you find cool things to do when in town. Some of their ideas include classes to make the perfect latte, a personal jewel shopper, getting a total makeover and test-driving a Lamborghini.
Their breakfast buffet includes Swedish specialties like organic yogurt, herrings in mustard and gourmet organic cheeses, as well as items appealing to British tourists like baked beans, soft-boiled eggs and squeeze-yourself orange juice.
Rusthållargården is an ancient resort from the 17th century located in the fishing village of Arild. Private cottages cost the same as staying in the main lodge, and they have private indoor swimming pools. Their cuisine is work of love from an exacting chef, making his own butter and yogurt daily. They have a state-of-the-art spa onsite.
What to do. Magasin 36 is an eclectic, non-touristy collection of artisan boutiques in a former salt-glazing pottery factory selling indie-designed clothing, locally crafted food products, wild housewares, and yes, shiny salt-glazed pottery. Upstairs is a restaurant with lounge sofas, perfect for an early happy hour (they’re only open during the day).
Whether you’re a champion of independent women or covet gorgeous Swedish design, Märta Måås-Fjetterström was a revered carpet maker whose over 700 designs support a cottage industry for women today. With designs always being added – including one by the artistic Queen Margrethe of Denmark – you’ll find rugs ranging from ancient Icelandic sagas to ones representing broadband. Some people fly in from around the globe just to see the rugs being made and pick out their own custom-adjusted design.
If you can plan at least a year ahead of time, you can create quite the VIP experience for yourself at Sweden’s Tennis Open at the Hotel Skansen in Båstad. Its front door opens right onto center court; it’s no wonder that many of the rich and famous are spotted here. Even during non-tennis season, it’s a great place to visit, with its ultra-luxurious spa, tennis for mere mortals and a restaurant well known for its tasty lunch buffet.
Where to eat. As you walk along medieval, winding streets in the shadow of the original town fort, you’ll come across Bistro G. Bistro G serves tempting small plates and gastropub fare in a casual, cool atmosphere.
They serve a traditional Swedish veal dish, "Wallenbergare." It’s a favorite style of preparation of one of the ancient Wallenberg family members, a still-prominent Swedish (and global) banking family. It's kind of what we'd call a Salisbury steak, with eggs and cream mixed into the patty. Raoul Wallenberg was one of its most famous descendants – he saved many Jews during the Holocaust.
Sofiero Castle isn’t merely the former vacation home of the Swedish royal family and an outdoor concert venue favored by the likes of Bob Dylan, it’s also a gourmet restaurant! They take the finest local products and serve them in inventive ways.
I started with duck liver in red wine glaze with pickled chanterelles. It was garnished with edible flowers, microgreens, crushed nuts and shaved carrots. The garnishes lightened and brightened the meaty appetizer in color and flavor. The entrée was venison with "black root," apple cream, blood sauce and grainy mustard.
Game with antlers in general is popular in Sweden. I learned at the palace that in the right hands, game doesn't have to taste "gamey". The flavors of fall were masterfully brought out in the perfectly cooked – moist, not dry – venison. The king and queen of Sweden do occasionally eat here, too, for old times’ sake… so dress up!
You’d think that Sweden, being way up north, wouldn’t have much in the way of tomatoes. Vikantomater has changed that! This family-owned business grows 83 varieties of tomatoes in a sustainable greenhouse that’s open to the public. Celebrity chef Thomas Keller has been begging to be supplied by them, but they want to keep the business manageable.