Today exceptionally I’m taking a break from food-related posts to bring you with me on a summer trip to my beloved Sweden and neighboring Finland.
When I asked a few days ago on Instagram who was tempted by a blog post about summer in the Nordics, I didn’t expect you would be so many to answer yes. You all showed vivid interest about it and I’m beyond excited to share with you a little bit of these beautiful countries of Sweden and Finland.
As you might know, the Nordics are not just a summer vacation for me; I actually spent 7 years of my life in Sweden, learned Swedish, took part of the daily culture, and today I can say that my experience there has a strong impact on who I have become, the way I think about balance in life, enjoying simple pleasures and embracing Mother Nature whatever the seasons.
I never lived in Finland however, but this summer was my 7th time visiting this country, which in many ways resembles to Sweden, and still is completely different in many other aspects.
This year, the purpose of my trip to Sweden (where I usually go once a year since I moved to the US) was a wedding, as two close friends had decided to tie the knot in Grinda, a lovely island of Stockholm archipelago. The island is about 2 hours away from Stockholm by boat and once you get there, you are right in the middle of nature – no cars, nothing from the modern life that can distract you. It’s all about re-connecting to nature and our basic needs. The very best way to relax.
When taking the boat to Grinda, you are sailing within the Stockholm archipelago, discovering its wild rocks and thousands of islands where Swedes usually own a summer house (they call it a stuga). A stuga is nothing fancy most of the time, but instead a lovely rustic red or yellow wooden house, where comfort is very minimal. This time, I was not heading to a summer house but to a hostel of the similar kind – still minimal comfort in a charming old-fashioned wooden house. I had been to Grinda several times before but had never stayed overnight.
The wedding was in the same spirit, taking place in the outdoors, with a strong connection to nature. Wild flowers or berries are always key elements on Swedish islands, as well as grilling food, whatever the weather.
This sumptuous Swedish Midsummer Strawberry Cake (Midsommartårta) below is a typical dessert in Sweden, and people bake it every so often in summer, enjoying sweet strawberries while they are in season. If you would like to discover other Swedish food traditions, I invite you to take a look at my blog post 12+ Classic Swedish Recipes.
A rainy wedding is good luck, according to some traditions. As you might have heard, this past summer has been unusually hot in Europe and the heat wave even touched Nordic countries where summer is normally cool. I had personally never experienced Sweden with such high temperatures and it somehow felt quite good to enjoy the outdoors without thinking of this little cardigan to bring with us for the chilly nights…
But on the wedding day, exceptionally hot and sunny, rain suddenly caught us just before the outdoor dinner, as a reminder of the traditional Swedish weather. Fortunately for us, it didn’t last and we managed to continue the festivities as they had started, grilling and midnight swim included. As Swedes say, there is no bad weather, there are only bad clothes. So you’d better be ready when you go to Sweden!
On the boat trip to and from Grinda, you can either sit outside or inside, most of the time with coffee and also with a Swedish Cinnamon Roll “kanelbulle” (kanelbullar in plural) as well.
The art of coffee with or without a sweet/savory treat on the side is called Fika in Swedish, and it’s indeed a very serious thing. As you can see, I was no exception here, as I am always happy to enjoy one of these delicious sweet treats with either cinnamon or cardamom for the most popular ones.
A trip to Sweden always means to me a few stops in Swedish bakeries where to have fika, and I listed below a few of them you should also consider to try if you head to Stockholm one of these days:
- Fabrique Stenugnsbageri and Bröd & Salt Bageri are my absolute favorites when it comes to the classic Swedish cinnamon rolls “kanelbullar” and their cardamom version “kardemummabullar”
- Café Pascal, Violon Dingue, Gateau are also great places to have fika
- Cafe Saturnus is a stopover if you want to experience the giant kanelbulle and always a great, quiet place for fika.
- Fosch is a personal favorite of mine, and Damien, the owner, is a friend and the one who baked our adorable wedding desserts
- Rosendals Trädgård is a charming place where food and nature connect together. A must try!
I realize that there are actually many other places I would like to add, but I want to keep this list short at the moment. However you are welcome to reach out to me for more info if you wish, I am always happy to share with you my great tips.
If you ever go to Stockholm, remember that wandering around the city by foot or by bike is the best way to discover it. With the 14 islands on which Stockholm is built, nature and water are everywhere and make your experience unique in summer.
Two of my very favorite places for a walk, running or gathering with friends for a picnic are Tantolunden and the south of Södermalm, and also Djurgården. You will also see some charming typical stuga like on the photo below.
Enjoying the exceptional summer weather, I also had a fantastic lunch by Stockholm University (I forgot the name of the place – shame on me!) and a quick swim followed by a picnic in Brunnsviksbadet.
The journey ended up with a wonderful sunset, and full of great summer memories it was then time to say good bye to Stockholm, at least for now.
Hej då, beautiful Sweden, I will be back!
I then spent a long weekend in Finland with friends. Unlike Stockholm, I have never lived in Finland and do not understand a single word of this beautiful but extremely difficult language. However, this was not my first time in Finland, and I somehow find an amusing connection between my 7 years living in Sweden and my 7 trips to Finland, between Helsinki and Turku mostly.
This time, we rented an adorable little cottage a couple of hours away from Helsinki in a charming place named Hollola (is it only me or it also sounds like an island in Hawai to you too?). The cottage was located by the lake, with not one but two saunas (Finnish national recreational activity!) and furnished in an old-fashioned 1980’s style with Finnish touches there and there, with Marimekko tableware for instance.
As fika is a serious thing in Sweden, the art of sauna is equally serious in Finland. Almost every single home is equipped with at least one sauna in their bathroom, often two saunas when it’s a bigger house. On the front end picture of our cottage, the first tiny blue building is indeed the main sauna, while the cottage is the brown house in the background.
Our Finnish friend Mari has been teaching my friends and me the art of sauna for many years now. We usually stay inside for a while (and no, I do not go naked!), then go outside for a quick swim in the lake, then go back inside again. In summer, things are easier than in winter of course, but nothing would stop a Finnish guy from enjoying sauna.
And of course I wouldn’t talk about Finland without mentioning the traditional Karielian pies (or pirogs), made of a rye crust with a filling of rice. Some spread butter, often mixed with chopped-up boiled egg over the hot pies before eating.
It’s more on the savory side than on the sweet side, and it has this little something addictive that makes me come back to it every single time. Would you maybe like the recipe on the blog?
Having our cottage on a small lake in the middle of the woods made us feel completely disconnected from the everyday world. We enjoyed our time to relax, do sauna, swim and eat… The simple pleasures of life!
I also gave myself a ridiculous little challenge of swimming to the other side of the lake and swim back. It’s a silly game I have with myself every time I see an island (would I manage to reach the other side?). The photos of the sunset do not tell much about the size of the lake but yes, I did it!
It was then time to say goodbye to Finland too and go back to my beloved kitchen in the US. I hope you enjoyed the tour! See you soon with even more recipes, always inspired from my trips abroad!