Lusso dons the knitwear for a weekend in the city that gave the world ABBA, loving your kidnappers and the Eugenics movement.


Walking its cobblestones, Gamla Stan in Stockholm looks perfect. Neatness and conformity ooze from every shop window and infiltrate the hipster-strewn streets so that everything looks a bit like real life but with less dysfunction and a better wardrobe. But admittedly we’re here in the middle of May. In winter, the Swedes hurl themselves naked from saunas into snowdrifts and flagellate themselves with birch twigs so perhaps we shouldn’t reach any conclusions yet.

Stockholm’s ‘achingly cool’ mantle is permanently set high but to fully appreciate how high then you should seek out Ett Hem, an arrestingly beautiful hotel in upmarket Lärkstaden. The 100-year-old Arts and Crafts house is shrouded by a leafy courtyard. Meanwhile, inside, it’s a quixotic mix of rich woods, leather and velvet mingled with vintage finds that have all been hand picked by uber-designer Ilse Crawford. Industrial lamps illuminate piles of artfully-scattered books. It feels lived in and effortless (‘ett hem’ means ‘a home’ in Swedish), but nothing’s accidental: every restored antique is box-fresh and the cocooning hues and quiet nooks have been masterfully introduced.

Staying in one of only 12 rooms might be solitude enough but it also effectively insures against awkward excuse me I think you’re sat on my towel moments in the traditional Swedish sauna downstairs. In the gilded white marble bathrooms you can cover yourself in so much Kiehl’s and Penhaligon’s you almost don’t need your afternoon spa treatment.

But the most unique part is Ett Hem’s concept: forward-thinking, in the way only a Scandinavian brain can devise. It isn’t about exclusivity or stuffiness (‘elite’ is a dirty word in Sweden), instead we’re encouraged to use the house as if it’s ours. If we want, we can go rummage in the fridge (we don’t, solely because to a reticent Brit, that feels a bit intrusive), help ourselves to afternoon tea with just-drizzled cake and in the evening pour ourselves an indecently large glass of Burgundy. It’s a very laid-back hospitality – only a mysteriously efficient kind.

Fighting the urge to go directly from our fully-loaded Scandi breakfast to nap time, we navigate the city streets on vintage bikes that we discover are for our personal use. We also discover that things work here. In London, we devise irritating half solutions to our services which means that ‘fun’ must be earned and huffing and queuing are like satisfaction barometers. Suddenly when even tourist-choked sights are easy to navigate, our Anglo-brains get confused. It short-circuits our little internal feedback loops that need to stress before we know we’re actually enjoying ourselves.

We pull up at Östermalms Saluhall food market where the other vintage bikes, all neatly lined up, are unchained and unguarded. For a Londoner, this is a baffling concept but oddly, no one looks alarmed. We chain ours to a lamp post, twice, to be on the safe side.

An island-hop away in Södermalm, you can barely walk a block without noticing the nonchalantly modish blondes and latte-drinking bearded boys, soaking up the sun outside offbeat cafés. We follow a small posse of kooky sweaters and leather jacketed cool types, making their their way to SoFo for some vintage shopping. Decades of closet cast-offs and edgy originals spill invitingly onto pavements. Sifting through racks of crazy gear and 90’s nostalgia, my husband finds some black biker boots: rugged, and just on the right side of scuffed. We ignore the fact new ones from a high street store would cost less, it’s a small sacrifice when your feet have gained new street cred status.

Stockholm is a sizeable city: all 14 islands with their well-defined areas straddle the gateway to the Baltic Sea but moving between neighbourhoods is still effortless. We scoff pizza at Babette, a new restaurant where the atmosphere is relaxed and the marketing is virtually non-existent, but the reputation of its owners is pulling in the crowds. The food is exceptional and the wine cabinet is the largest piece of furniture in the room. Swedish elf/singer Robyn’s blond quiff is looking candy floss-fluffy two tables down from us.

The next morning over a coffee and a kanelbulle, we watch the Sunday morning joggers circumventing Hornstulls park. They look as though they’ve been sponsored by fitness brands. We’re a bit troubled by the double whammy of virtuous activity and precision lycra but we console ourselves with the fact that Swedes also really, really love to fika (the process of dropping everything to get a coffee and a pastry). Eating baked goods is so socially pivotal here it’s almost a religion. Perhaps it’s their daily sugar-rush or the fact we’re not currently in the middle of a Baltic blizzard, but people seem chirpy. And why wouldn’t they be? They need only look to their brightening economy, their extensive welfare benefits and their open and progressive culture to breathe a collective sigh of relief. And they have ABBA. You can’t be unhappy when you have triumphs like those spandex-covered icons of pop.

The vehement cheesiness of the ABBA Museum at Djurgården might not be everyone’s cup of strong coffee, but it’s really hard not to get into the vibe: ABBA’s sugar-coated confections, their pure upness, reams and reams of anthems that stick in your brain like fresh asphalt are the reason the group has sold over 380 million albums and singles worldwide. And besides, there’s a self-playing piano with a direct connection to Benny’s music studio (he’s at the other end controlling the keys), and a red telephone that only the four band members have the number to; they promise occasionally to call and pass the time of day with dumbstruck visitors. We don’t witness this but it still makes me John-Lewis-Christmas-commercial happy.

Having been here for oh, at least 48 hours, living an unblinking idolatry of all things knitted, bearded, rye bread-based and liquorice-laced, we’re now judicial experts on the topic and we love this city. There are downsides, we admit. An enormous one being the state-run alcohol monopoly, the Systembolaget, that demands a 25% tax on your alcoholic fun in restaurants and dispenses booze in individual units through its stores, like strict parents at your 18th birthday party. And there’s no getting around the fact that when winter descends, it comes in an icy grey, skeletal cloud of gloom, for seven months. But we’ll be back for another slice of this utopian paradise, where everyday pedestrians look cut from some Scandi-perfect mould. In summer, though. We’re not idiots.

Ett Hem, Sköldungagatan 2, 114 27 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: +46 8 20 05 90 or visit to make a reservation.