Stockholm-Croatia by train part 7: Venice, Italy to Pula, Croatia

Well, I’m going to start by clarifying that the final part of the Stockholm to Croatia train trip did not involve an actual train. While it’s indeed possible to backtrack from Venice to Austria and Slovenia and get to Croatia that way by rail, we opted for the faster route: by fast ferry across the Adriatic Sea straight from Venice to Pula in Croatia.

There are at least two different ferry companies as of Summer 2023 when we were traveling: Venezia Lines and Adriatic Lines by Kompas. We wanted to travel with Venezia Lines, but ended up with Adriatic Lines since they don’t depart daily to all destinations, and we had locked in our hotel stays before booking ferry tickets. From our research we found that both ferry companies both seemed good enough, but my impression was that Venezia Lines generally got slightly better reviews and had nicer ferries.

Nevertheless, Adriatic Lines it was and our trip started with us catching the water bus from the stop next to the train station. The trip was quite quick and took us to Zattere from where we could walk to San Basilio ferry terminal from where our ferry, the Andela, would depart at 17:30 (5:30 p.m.)

After checking in, we were told to wait a little while before boarding would commence. There are benches and a few vending machines, but apart from that there is not very much to do in the terminal. It did not matter too much for us though as we soon were told to head to the security control and then start to board our ferry.

The Andela was surprisingly modern and nice in my mind. Maybe I only read the negative reviews. There is only one class onboard with comfortable seating, a bar/café and also an outside deck where you could watch some really nice views of Venice from the sea, while we were crusing the lagoon. After reaching open sea and the ferry would speed up, everyone had to go inside again however.

The trip takes about 3,5 hours, and there’s not a whole lot to do while on the open sea. The phone signal/internet worked most of the way but dissappeared for a while as we were far from both the Italian and Croatian coast. We mostly just sat back, relaxed and watched the sea. Some people went to the small bar area, but most seemed to just sit back like us. It was a quite relaxing trip, and pretty much on time, 21:00/9 p.m. we arrived to a dark Pula. Disembarking was fast and as we had pre-booked a shuttle bus (you can do that at the same time as booking), we went to a bus, told a staff member our names and went on. We had booked transfer to Verudela, which is a collective stop for a couple of resorts at the Verudela Peninsula just outside the city of Pula. As the cost was just €6 per person, I thought it was very convenient as we arrived Pula quite late in the evening, and probably similar to what a taxi would’ve costed.

The total price for the entire trip from Venice to Pula, including our transfer and two large bags was €170. Not too bad given it was a quite smooth trip from start to finish with everything working quite well.

After two weeks of traveling through Europe it was now time for almost a week of poolside relaxing before traveling back home again. We stayed at the very nice Park Plaza Verudela which was sort of a combination between hotel rooms and holiday apartments with each room having an equipped small kitchen. The area has several restaurants, bars, a supermarket and swimming pools as well as beaches which was very relaxing. Some days we cooked ourselves but most days we went out trying the different restaurants in the area. Best was Bonaca, a dreamy fine dining sort of restaurant with fantastic views, great ambience and decent (but not amazing) food.

Stockholm-Croatia by train part 6: Villach, Austria to Venice, Italy

After a good nights sleep at the surprisingly nice and modern Harry’s Home hotel we went over to Villach’s station to see if we could find anything to eat as breakfast wasn’t included in our room rate and the station seemingly had no lounge.

Our next train was the sort of famous ÖBB Railjet, which is ÖBB’s most modern high-speed train that travels in speeds up to 230 kilomters per hour. Railjet is also a train where you can upgrade yourself from first class to business class. Yes, you read that right. First class is below business class, but mostly in terms of the seat, which in business class is super large and comfortable. You’re also in your semi-private part of the first class carriage as well as receive a welcome onboard drink. It’s a €15 supplement on top of the first class fare to choose business class, and I think it was worth it.

As we got onboard we were greeted by a stewardess who checked our tickets and took our welcome drink orders. I tried to get sparkling wine, it might have been translation issues, but I was told I could only chose from white or red wine so I opted for the white that was quite nice. I also ordered a schnitzel sandwich that due to some kind of payment connectivity problems took almost an hour to get, but it was tasty nevertheless when it eventually arrived.

We took a little tour of the train and found a bistro with seating if you prefer to eat there. In first class and business class you have the option to order from the onboard staff that picks it up from the bistro and serve it at your seat though.

As with the other train trips in the region, the scenery was great. Mountains, Austrian villages and eventually the ocean passed by outside as we approached Venezia Santa Lucia, Venice’s main railway station.

The trip costed us €223 for two, which I think was really worthwile. The comfort of the seat, the space and the nice touches like the welcome onboard drink. It also quite unbeatable to reach the very center of Venice from the comfort of your leather seat. It’s literally just steps from the train platform to the Grand Canal.

We opted to splurge and stay at the NH Santa Lucia hotel, situated very conveniently just a short walk from the station. Price for a room with a canal view and a small balcony was roughly €350 per night, but the room was spectacular, the location very good and we probably saved a small fortune by being able to buy drinks at the next door Spar supermarket and have them at our balcony watching the life on the canal, instead of forking out for 15 euro cocktails at some waterfront bar.

Stockholm-Croatia by train part 5: Lake Bled to Villach, Austria

After four days in idyllic Lake Bled, it was time to move on. From Lake Bled, the nearest travel hub for trains is Villach in Austria, from where you can catch trains to for instance Vienna, Munich or several cities in Italy. As on the arrival to Bled, we had to catch the train from Lesce-Bled which is about a 5 kilometer taxi or bus ride from Lake Bled. We chose a taxi as we had heavy luggage, and again the fixed price for the trip was €15.

Being the main train station in the area, Lesce-Bled is surprisingly tiny and basic. There were no screens, staff or access to any train information, only a small café and a few benches. As our departure time came and passed we were a little worried that our train had been cancelled. But then we realized we could check our train’s status on ÖBB’s website where we found that it was 30 minutes late. Happy that we would indeed reach Austria (and our next day connection), we just sat on a bench in the sun and waited until the train arrived.

We had booked first class with ÖBB as we wanted seat reservations if the train was busy, and the price difference wasn’t too high compared to second class and two paid for seat reservations. However the train was almost empty so on this short 1 hour trip the first class upgrade wasn’t worth it for us. The train was decently comfortable and first class meant quite ordinary seats in a six seat compartment. We did not check, but I don’t think there was any café or similar onboard. We paid €33 for the two of us, which felt a little steep given the short trip. But as mentioned, that was mostly on us.

The best part of the trip however was the views as we drove past mountains, forest clad hills and beautiful villages on our way to Austria.

Of the few other passengers on the train, many seemed to be bikers, probably taking advantage of the beautiful landscape. Next to the first class compartment we were in was a large bike storage, so this train seems like a good choice if you’re on a bike trip.

30 minutes late, but still quite happy we rolled into Villach HBF which was a quite large train station. We had booked a room in the newly opened Harry’s Home Hotel just across the station. We had planned to eat at a nearby Austrian restaurant, but it was closed and since we both were a little bit sick we eventually ended up having McDonald’s in our hotel room. Oh well.

Stockholm-Croatia by train part 4: Ljubljana to Lake Bled

After a fun night out in Ljubljana, with excellent Istrian fuzi pasta with beef and truffle at restaurant Most, it was time to take a final train to our first proper stop of the trip, the famous Lake Bled. As we stayed quite close to Ljubljana’s train station, we just walked over there a short while before our Slovenian railways train was to depart. We had bought tickets online costing us about €5 each for the 1 hour trip to Lesce-Bled, which is one of two train stations in Bled, and the one that seem to handle long-distance traffic. The other one is Bled Jezero which is closer to Bled town and the lake, but with fewer trains connecting to it.

The train departed on time from one of the farthest away platforms, it’s quite long distances at Ljubljana station, so it’s good to have some extra time with that in mind we realised. The train itself was quite modern with screens showing the next few stops in real time and announcing each stop as we approached. The seats were also comfortable and onboard staff spoke good English. It’s more like a comfortable commuter train than anything else, and it stopped at many places along the way, but it’s still a very smooth way of getting to Bled in under an hour.

In Lesce-Bled we took a pre-booked taxi that we had booked through our hotel to Lake Bled. It costed us €15 for the approximately 10 minute ride, which was quite steep, but on the other hand Lake Bled is surprisingly expensive in general. We also paid the same price for the return booked through another hotel, so I guess it’s just what the price is (was).

Stockholm-Croatia by train part 3: Graz to Ljubljana with ÖBB Eurocity

After checking out beautiful Graz, eating a mediocre schnitzel and getting semi-submerged in a massive Austrian rainfall, it was time to move on once again. We stayed very close to the central station in Graz, so after checking out from the IntercityHotel Graz, we walked the 100 meters or so to the station for our next train, which would take us from Graz to Ljubljana, the small capital of Slovenia.

Since we were travelling in first class on ÖBB we had access to Graz Hauptbanhof’s lounge. After some searching we found it past a few fastfood outlets to the left of the main entrance to the station. We just scanned our tickets at a reader and got automatically let in. The lounge is quite small, but there was seating, a coffee maker, a few snacks and reading materials. We only spent 15 or so minutes there though as it was soon time to find our platform.

The train arrived on time and was quite busy, despite booking online many months ahead, we did not get seated together, but still next to each other with the aisle inbetween us. The leather seats were relatively comfortable, but like the whole train the first class carriage felt a bit old and worn. We had paid around €50 per person for the 3,5 hour trip though, so given that it wasn’t too bad, and views were at times spectacular.

A nice aspect with the train was the onboard restaurant. I’d always wanted to have a schnitzel onboard an ÖBB train, and now it was finally time for that! Unfortunately they did not accept card payments onboard, but we managed to scrape together exactly the 14 euros that was needed. As it was pretty much all cash we had, we could only afford one, and no drinks, but it was quite tasty to be honest, and very exciting to eat while passing by the Austrian and Slovenian countryside outside the window.

After finishing our schnitzel we made our way back to our seats as it was almost time to get off. All in all the ÖBB Eurocity train from Graz to Ljubljana was quite comfortable. Seat was decent, views were great and food quite tasty.

In Ljubljana there is a short walk into town from the central station, and like earlier stops on the trip we stayed quite close to the station at the recently opened Ibis Styles Ljubljana Center.

Stockholm-Croatia by train part 2: Berlin to Graz with ÖBB Nightjet

After a night at the Intercity Hotel Hauptbahnhof it was soon time to get moving again. Although we had a few hours to kill before our 18.45 departure, so since our next train would not have any dining car (but you can order some food to your compartment from the staff), we thought we’d have an early Berlin kebab dinner. We took the S-bahn commuter train a few stops from Berlin’s centrail station to Zoologischer Garten, took a walk to Kurfürstendam and the famous department store KaDeWe, before ending up at Zaddy’s kebab very close to the station as the line was long and that is usually a good sign.

The kebab was actually really good – thin juicy döner kebab meat, pickled red cabbage, lots of onion and pink kräuterßose in a fluffy sesame bun. The place was packed with people, and we had to stand on the sidewalk eating our food, but absolutely worth it in my mind.

Anyway, it was time to get on the S-Bahn train again and go back to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof to catch our next train, namely the sort of famous ÖBB Nightjet.

We rode the Nightjet once before, between Berlin and Zürich in Switzerland on our trip to Malta in 2019 and loved it. Our hopes was that it would at least be much better than our recent experience with SJ on the way to Berlin, but that wouldn’t be too hard to be honest.

We had paid roughly the same for the ÖBB Nightjet trip from Berlin to Graz in Austria as the trip from Stockholm to Berlin, which was roughly €350 for two. This time however we also had our own bathroom and shower in our private sleeper, which of course makes it a whole lot more comfortable.

The train arrived on time, and boarding went smooth. The train we were on had three different destinations; Wroclaw in Poland; Budapest in Hungary, and of course Graz in Austria, where we were going. The train did split up eventually, but all carriages would first go to Wroclaw.

Our sleeper compartment was very clean, quite large and super comfortable. It was especially great to have our own bathroom again. It’s not that bad to have it in the train car of course, but it’s inconvenient in the night for instance, although it definitely is a luxury problem. Another luxury problem is that ÖBB clearly states that a welcome onboard amenity kit is provided, as well as a welcome onboard drink. We did receive one amenity kit, and no drinks without any explanation. We asked about another amenity kit when our tickets were checked but the onboard stuff just shrugged and said they had a shortage. We later heard another passenger ask about the welcome drinks, we did not hear exactly what was answered but it sounded like the warm tiny bottle of water in the amenitiy kit had replaced the cold bottle of prosecco we had our last trip.

But, apart from this, the rest of the trip was immaculate. As we started to leave Berlin, we went to the small compartment from where staff were selling drinks and paid for some Austrian sparkling wine instead. A half bottle, 37,5 centiliters, was priced about €14. We had also bought some snacks at the Rewe supermarket at Berlin HBF, and as we were crossing the border to Poland the train feast was on. Nibbling on olives, pretzels and having a few drinks we went through eastern Poland on the way to our train’s first major stop in Wroclaw.

After stopping at Wroclaw, it was time to get some sleep. The bed was comfortable and we slept okay – but I never sleep that good on trains unfortunately.

We woke up already in Austria with approximately half an hour to breakfast and two hours to Graz where the train was terminating and we were getting off.

We had a go with the onboard shower and I actually think it was quite alright. It wasn’t one of those where you had to sit on the toilet and shower, but you had a small but manageable shower cubicle with both decent pressure and temperature of the water.

After the shower it was time for breakfast. At the ÖBB Nightjet, breakfast is included and what is very nice according to me is that you can order what you want (maximum 6 picks though) from a small selection of different breakfast options.

Altough our selection of gouda cheese had run out, we got both salami, ham and cream cheese as compensation and was happy anyways.

As we rolled through a fantastic mountain-y landscape close to Graz, we enjoyed our breakfast of semmel bread rolls, butter, salami, yoghurt, coffee and juice.

A little while after breakfast we arrived into Graz, Austria’s second largest city. And like in Berlin, walked a few 100 meters from the station to our next Intercity Hotel, this one the IntercityHotel Graz.

It is always super convenient to stay near the train station, especially with bags. But although the hotel was quite nice, the immediate area around the train station wasn’t really that fun. It wasn’t very seedy or anything, but central Graz a kilometer away felt like another world.

Stockholm-Croatia by train part 1: Stockholm to Berlin with SJ Euronight

I’ve grown fond of train travel the last couple of years with train trips from Stockholm where I live, to both Malta in 2019, and to Scotland last year. It’s an incredibly (mostly) comfortable experience compared to flying, you just take your bags to the central station, no lines, no checking in, no waiting, no slow boarding. Just jump onboard and you are already on your way.

This year we wanted to visit Slovenia which we had planned to go to in 2020, but due to a certain pandemic, we had to cancel the trip. When we started to look at ways to get us there, and while studying the map we noticed that Venice, where I’ve never been, but always wanted to go, is quite close, and from Venice there are lots of ferry lines connecting it to Croatia. Our goal was to finish the train travel part of the trip with a week of sun lounger-ing in a nice resort somewhere, and Croatia has a lot of such places.

Okay, so with the route set, it was time to start building the trip. We do not use a travel agency or a rail pass as we usually go by a combination of private sleepers on night trains and then in first class on day trains. Instead we just logged on to each train company’s website and booked straight through them. Mostly we used Austrian ÖBB’s website which is quite easy to work out. The Stockholm to Berlin train we booked on and paid for with credit card.

A reason for the entire trip was that I wanted to try out the new SJ Euronight train, that goes from Stockholm to Hamburg, and during the summer all the way to Berlin. Since a first class sleeper compartment with private bathroom was quite insanely priced at around 6500 sek (~€550), we opted for a second class one, where you have the compartment to yourself, but with shared bathroom and shower in the carriage. For that we paid the still very costly price of 4000 sek (approximately €320).

Before boarding our train, we went on a dinner shopping spree in Stockholm’s central station since there’s no dining car onboard the train, although there’s a small kiosk. In Stockholm’s Centralstation there’s quite a lot of eateries such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Urban Deli’s take out kiosk, and several bakeries from which you can bring take away food. There is also a large COOP supermarket, and proper restaurants such as Luzette and Urban Deli where you can have a sit-down meal. We opted for a mix of McDonald’s cheeseburgers and fries; shrimp salad from Urban Deli; a bag of chocolates and water from COOP and some dinner rolls from Gateau bakery for a train picnic.

Then it was time to board the train, which left right on time just before 18:00 o’clock.

Our second class sleeper was quite dirty when we entered it, crumbs on the floor and also an empty champagne bottle under the bed which we found after a while. It was also quite dusty and when touched, our sofa gave a way a little dust cloud. Not so nice.

Despite this, we had our little train picnic dinner and was still quite happy with being on our way. After a while we heard some clicking noises and suddenly a child appeared in our compartment, seemingly the door lock between ours and our neighbour’s compartment wasn’t too effecient and despite being locked from our side the child could still easily open it. He looked as surprised as we did though, apologized and quickly retreated back to theirs. But not very safe.

After dinner we went to check out if there was any life onboard, remebering a night on the Arctic Circle Train with a dining car full of happy beer drinking tourist on their way to see northern lights. No such luck though, we overheard the staff telling another passenger that they wanted a dining car for the train, but since there are different train tracks in Sweden, Denmark and Germany, they couldn’t find any that worked all the way. My suggestion is take one from Stockholm and leave it in Malmö then, no one’s going to eat after midnight any way. But maybe that delays the trip too much.

What was offered was a small kiosk where staff sold drinks, snacks and I think maybe some kind of light meals. In our compartment ’information folder’ it was stated that staff would come around with a trolley service, but that never happened.

After a quite reasonably priced (for Sweden) €5 cold German beer together with watching the moonlight crossing of the Øresund Bridge to Denmark, it was time to hit the sack. Sleeping quality was standard for a train I’d say. It was quite comfortable and we both slept okay.

The next morning, we had to go out to the kiosk to pick up the breakfast box that was included in our sleeper compartment. It consisted of a bread roll, jam, butter and juice, and you also got free coffee or tea.

At this point, towards the end of the trip, the train looked like a dump unfortunately. The hallways had trash and paper on the floors, and the toilets hadn’t been cleaned and was really, really gross. I’ve sent SJ a complaint about this, but they haven’t yet responded about a month later. We’ll see if they do.

In the end though, we arrived safe and sound, and on time, to Berlin Hauptbanhof, one of my favourite train stations with lots of food, shops and connections. For us it was time for a brief one night stop though in the nearby Intercity Hotel, a few 100 meters from the station.

A tip, if you stay near the Berlin HBF and want to have a proper German dinner, is to visit Zollpackhof restaurant and biergarten. Good prices, full of locals and tasty food. It has both a quite affordable self service part where you pick up you food yourself from a sort of food court concept, or a terrace with table service. We chose the former and were quite happy.

Stockholm’s best negroni?

Living in Stockholm, and being a big negroni lover, and after reading this list about the best negronis in town, I had to pay the number one entry, Ciccio’s, a visit.

Ciccio’s ’Negroni XL’ is, according to their menu, served ”generous”, and additionaly comes with a few included negroni friendly nibbles in the shape of above salami and olives. The price is 185 sek (when we visited in 2023), so it’s a bit steep, but since it’s also quite large, and you get some snacks which is unusual in Stockholm, it’s quite worthwhile in my mind. At least compared to other similar venues.

Ciccio’s brands themselves as an American-Italian restaurant, but they also have a small bar area where you can hang out if you like me only visited for the negroni. The interior is quite rustic and old school, in a good way. And felt like an appropriate place to have a stiff drink like a negroni in.

The negroni came pre-mixed from a container in the bar (you can see it in the background in above picture), but is of course made in-house by mixing gin, campari and vermouth into the drink we all (okay most of us) love.

The negronis were really good to be honest. Nice classic flavour, and excellently complimented by the salami and olive nibbles. It is also sufficiently large so that you can get a good idea of the flavour before it’s already gone, as I’ve experienced with a few smaller negronis through the years.

All in all, Ciccio’s is absolutely both a good bar and a nice place to enjoy a near perfect negroni in Stockholm.

Oklahoma smash burger recipe

This weekend is Walpurgis weekend in Sweden, and it’s also a weekend when most people have their ”grill premiere” after a long Winter. As I live in a small apartment, I have no grill, but was still craving something grilled for dinner. I’ve seen Oklahoma style smash burgers being made across the internet for years, and I thought now might be the time to try.

Ingredients for two

• 1 large yellow onion (or red or white/silver), thinly sliced.

• About 400 grams of minced beef formed into 4 meatballs. Preferably chuck roll or similar with extra high fat content (because flavour and crust).

• 4 slices of cheddar cheese (or as much as you’d like).

• 2-4 burger buns depending on if you prefer one double or two single burgers. I like brioche with sesame seeds.

• 1 dl (~0,4 cups) of mayo, 1 tablespoon mustard, 1 tablespoon ketchup and a splash of hot sauce depending on how much spice you like.

Cooking instructions

1. Heat up a frying pan until very hot. Add one of the meatballs, put a handful of sliced onion on top of it and then use a spatula, a burger smashing thingy or the bottom of a pan (perhaps with baking paper in between) to smash the burger as thin as possible. This is how you smash burgers and why they get so crispy and thin. Don’t keep pressing after it’s initially smashed though as you’ll lose the beef juices.

2. After a minute or two, flip the burger and let fry another minute. Put on the cheese and let melt for a minute before removing the burger from the pan. Repeat with all your burgers.

3. Mix the mayo, ketchup, mustard and hot sauce into a sauce. Toast your breads lightly on the inside.

4. Add sauce to bottom bread, put an Oklahoma smash burger on top, and then the top bun. Serve with fries, pickles and a nice glass of red. I love French red such as those from Crozes-Hermitage, or perhaps a cold IPA style beer with burgers.

4 days in northern Sweden (Åre and Sundsvall) by train from Stockholm

Stockholm-Sundsvall: A night at Elite Hotel Knaust

This Christmas, we found ourselves with a few extra vacation days we needed to spend, and not wanting to spend them entirely on video games and Netflix in the sofa at home, – and prices for flying to the sun in Southern Europe and beyond already steep – we decided to go on a domestic trip.

I’ve always wanted to stay at the famous Hotel Knaust in the northern city of Sundsvall, and finding out that Sundsvall is a perfect first stop to chop up the long train trip to one of Sweden’s most famous ski resorts Åre, where another hotel I haven’t stayed at, but been wanting too for ages as well, is situated, the trip started to take form.

Sweden’s high speed trains are called X2000 and X3000, they are not that highspeed compared to what you find in continental Europe or Asia, but they travel fairly fast in about 200 kms per hour and are decently comfortable, especially in first class. At the moment at least you can’t find one of those going to Åre, but you can take one to Sundsvall in about 3 hours from Stockholm and then continue the trip with a slower train, either with SJ, that also run the high speed trains, or with VY Norrtåg, which is what we did.

Jumping back to Stockholm’s central station, we purchased sandwiches and a Christmassy saffron bun at the bakery outlets of Gateau and Fabrique bakeries as we just missed the before-9 a.m.-free-breakfast with a 9:20 a.m. departure in SJ highspeed train first class. Onboard there’s free coffee and tea, as well as usually some snacks, sweets or fruit.

The train ride was a relaxing and uneventful one, and we arrived Sundsvall on time just before one o’clock. Since we would be back in the same station the next morning for our continued trip, we took extra notes of how to find our way, which was a bit unneccessary as it was close and very easy to find.

At Hotel Knaust, we of course immediately noticed their marble stair case, for which they are most famous. The hotel was opened in 1891, and lots of history has gone through the building. For instance a Thai king got addicted to salmon salad there in the 1890s, according to legend at least. 🙂

Being about a week before Christmas, the hotel was beautifully decorated, and despite being quite tiny we really liked our cozy room.

After a short walk around the mostly empty city center, as this time of the year the sun goes down early, around 2.30 pm, and it was a Sunday with many shops and places closed, we headed back to Knaust for some in-room relaxation followed by dinner. Like the shops, many of Sundsvall’s restaurants was closed due to it being Sunday, but the in-hotel Bishop Arms gastro pub (part of a chain of restaurants all over Sweden) was open.

We tried their club sandwich as well as their fish and chips with lobster mayonnaise, paired with two local craftbeers made by Alnöl, which is a pun of Alnö Island where the production is made, and öl, which is the Swedish word for beer. Pun aside, the beer was tasty and the food delicious. My only complaint is that fries were not included with the club sandwich and had to be ordered extra.

After a good nights sleep, we headed for breakfast in the Knaust mirror hall. The spread was decently large, and quality was good. I did not like the scrambled eggs, but the rest of the buffet was quite good. Especially nice with the possibility to squeeze your own orange juice using fresh oranges, as well as a waffle making station with my favourite luxurious Northern Swedish delicasy cloudberry jam, paired with fresh whipped cream. Mmmmm.

Sundsvall-Åre with VY Norrtåg

After breakfast it was time to check out from Hotel Knaust and make our way back to the train station. The station house it quite clean, and had a Pressbyrån convenience store as well as free restrooms, which is not that common in Sweden, at least not in my experience.

From Sundsvall Central station the plan was to catch VY Norrtåg’s train that starts in Sundsvall all the way to the second to final stop of Åre.

Upon booking we got a little confused as we did not receive any seat numbers on our tickets. Checking on Norrtåg owner VY’s website, it stated that every passenger was assigned one, which stressed us a bit. On the train however we realised that we should have read on Norrtåg’s website instead where it, like the train information screens clearly stated ”free seating and no classes”.

The train trip itself was comfortable enough. There was at-seat electrical sockets so you could charge your phone and the seats were good. In the middle of the train there was a service point where you could purchase snacks, drinks and also food. It wasn’t really a bistro, but as far as I understood it they sold food, we only bought some candy though.

The train is both a long distance and commuter train as it seemed. The further we got from Sundsvall, people jumped on at one tiny rural station, and then off again in the seemingly middle of nowhere. It was really cool to experience this part of northern Sweden with villages, snow-clad forests, icy lakes, and eventually as we progressed towards Åre, taller and taller mountains.

Downtown Åre, a night at Holiday Club and dinner at Hotel Granen

Then, after almost four hours, it was finally time to get off the train as we rolled into Åre station. We had booked our first night at the Holiday Club Åre, a sort of time-share holiday apartment building meets hotel meets shopping center and adventure bath complex. Conveniently it has its own pedestrian bridge from the third floor of the Åre Station building, leading, through a few hallways and stairs, to the lobby. It all sounds very big, which it really isn’t, but still is, I guess, for a sort of tiny ski village.

Despite arriving early, we immediately got our room. It wasn’t fantastic, and a little broken, but despite being on the ground floor it had a fantastic view of a few of Åre’s ski slopes. It was also quite large and could sleep 3 persons using the sofa bed and the curtain to the left in the picture to form a mini-bedroom.

After settling in, we took a 10 minute walk to Systembolaget, the national Swedish liquor monopoly, store to stock up on some local craftbeer from brewer Svartberget as well as some bubbles. After this we headed for dinner at Hotel Granen, a 10 minute uphill walk next to the Åre mountain ’gondola’.

Hotel Granen, translated the fir tree, is owned by Swedish rapper, turned restaurantier and vino, Petter Askegren. Ambience is sort of chic hunting lodge, but very cozy and not overly fancy.

We skipped starters and went straight to main courses. Although we got served a delicious complimentary bread basked with butter to nibble on as we waited for our food. We tried a delicious hand-cut (instead of ground) steak tartare, that came with pickled and blackened leek, parsley mayonnaise, lemon thyme, coarse mustard and a side of BBQ-flavoured smashed potatoes. We also tried the seared rose fish with an emulsion of burnt cream, romanesco, peas and smoked trout roe, served with traditional boiled potatoes with dill.

For dessert, we shared a ”warm doughnut” with apple compote, Brännlands ice wine granité and cardamom ice cream. Like the mains, the dessert was really tasty, and worked well with a glass of Sauternes dessert wine recommended by the staff.

After a good night’s sleep, followed by a decent breakfast, at the Holiday Club Åre, we took a pre-ordered cab with ToppTaxi to our next destination.

24 hours of mountain luxury at Copperhill Mountain Resort

After a fifteen minute drive in almost complete mist, we arrived to the vague contours of a large building – okay, it wasn’t that bad, but almost – on top of Förberget mountain in Åre Björnen.

Copperhill, or Copperhill Mountain Resort was opened in 2008, and is a large 112 room luxury hotel with – normally – tremendous views, and location, next to both nature and ski slopes, as well as being a large chunk of luxurious civilisation on top of a snowy mountaion. It has several restaurants, a decent spa, a giant lobby area with a big fireplace and a bar as well as game rooms and various spots for people to gather and hang out. We learned this as they also have the ungodly checkout time of 10 a.m.

Since we only stayed a night, and since prices weren’t terribly good for standard rooms, but pretty good for suites, we decided on the latter. A small standard room with no window was priced at roughly 1 500 sek per night, while a 50 square meter ”Silver Deluxe” suite with mountain and forest views in at least two directions costed us 2 200 sek a night.

The room, or suite, consisted of a living room part, featuring large windows, which enabled great views over the surroundings (when the mist finally dissappeared), a large bathroom with a pretty, but also slightly hopeless bath tub (do not try to be two persons in it), and a bedroom with a quite large and comfortable bed, mini bar/fridge, another tv, pod coffee maker from Nespresso and a nice forest view from the window.

After checking out our room for a couple of hours it was time for dinner. In contrast to Åre’s just-before-the-start-of-the-season-feeling, Copperhill was quite busy. We had booked a table in the main restaurant, and that was probably a good thing as it was almost full. As usual with hotel restaurants, it’s a little bit tricky to find decent information about them, but at least Copperhill has some menus online that you can study if you’re that inclined (I definitely am) before your visit. Fortunately almost everything sounded delicious, and despite its relatively remote location, I didn’t find the prices overly high. The restaurant also had a nice focus on local produce and northern Swedish flavours, which was exactly what I was after this trip.

We started with Local’s cured moose, which translated into an almost steak tartar-y dish of gin-cured finely cut moose meat with baked egg yolk, dried onion, chive oil and smoked mayonnaise. Very, very tasty. But a little bit on the (too) salty side. We also had an oyster each, which came topped with browned butter, whitefish roe, lemon and chives.

For main course we selected the arctic char from Landön island with apple, cucumber, trout roe, fennel, dill, butter sauce, and potato puree; as well as the grilled venison with black currants, white onion, cabbage, porcini mushroom, a creamy thyme velouté and potato cake. both dishes were absolutely delicious. Good, mild flavours which allowed each detail and ingredient to shine through. Really excellent combination of flavours in both dishes.

For dessert we decided to share a ”Winter apple” with apple cubes, muscovado sugar, vanilla custard, browned butter ice cream, rosemary caramel and roasted almond paste. While still delicious, it wasn’t – as – delicious as the starters and the main, and quite brutally priced at 145 sek.

The following morning we had breakfast in the restaurant. It was served buffet style and was of quite high quality, but nothing out of the ordinary. Eggs (a bit watery), bacon, cheeses, coldcuts, a few local items such as game sausages and cloudberries to be put on for instance yoghurt, fresh fruit and pastries was available. It was quite crowded, and quite busy around 8 a.m. but we managed to feed ourselves before rushing back to the room for some final rest and relaxation before the 10 a.m. checkout time. We tried several times to extend it a bit since our train back to Stockholm was departing at 7.30 p.m. in the evening, but as they were fully booked we were told it was not possible.

Instead, we opted to visit the famous spa, that, at the time of writing this, was complimentary for hotel guests if you visit between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. You had to book ahead via your welcome email that arrived approximately four days before your check in date.

The spa is relatively small, or quite large depending on perspective, or rather if someone else is there. When we arrived we were practically alone with one lap pool, a heated indoor pool (picture above), an outdoor jacuzzi sized pool for maybe 4-6 people, and two saunas (plus there’s small saunas in each locker room as well). But steadily as time approached noon, more people arrived, not terribly many, but enough to make it less relaxing and more of a normal pool area. During our selected time slot, the website stated only adults, but there were several children there, so they might have recently changed the rules or did not enforce them.

All in all it was a pleasant experience, but I’m not sure if I’d be happy if I’d paid the non-guest price of 295-495 sek per person, depending on time of the day. It’s a great perk to include it for guests between 10 a.m.-1 p.m. though.

After the spa, we still had roughly 7 hours to kill before our night train from Åre Station would depart. We took a walk around the area where Copperhill Mountain Resort is located. The weather had turned amazing with blue skies and sun, and we could see several mountain tops from our elevated position just outside the hotel.

After the walk we camped out in the lobby, having a coffee and a pastry from their bar/café/fika counter that was delicious.

At around 3 p.m. we asked front desk if they could call us a cab, and then took it to the Åre train station (~ 350 sek) where we had planned to have dinner at the next door Åre Ölkafé restaurant and beer place. They were however closing at 5 p.m. which did not really work for us and our 7.30 departure, so instead we walked up the slope to Mister French, which is a smaller sibbling to Mister French restaurant in Stockholm, as I was craving mussels and fries (it was my plan to eat that at Åre Ölkafé).

Mussels and fries were good and came with aioli and a few slices of baguette. We also tried their steak tartare that was tasty too.

Taking SJ night train from Åre to Stockholm in a first class compartment

After our meal, we walked the five minutes or so down to the station building. For a small town, Åre’s train station is quite large as earlier mentioned, and apart from being connected by an indoor pedestrian bridge to the Holiday Club complex, it also features a couple of floors of a smallish shopping center, with a quite large ICA supermarket on the bottom one. There’s also restrooms, but you need to pay to use them, which is something I really dislike about Sweden. It was only 5 sek (tap your card on the card reader outside), but it should be free for everyone, especially in a train station. Fortunately we knew there were free public restrooms at the Holiday Club, just across the mentioned indoor bridge, from our stay the day before, so we walked over and used theirs. We finished our time at Åre station with buying some snacks in the supermarket, and pretty much on time – 7.30 p.m. – our SJ night train bound for Stockholm rolled into the station.

There wasn’t that many people getting on, as we had suspected, as it was still a few days before Christmas, and season for going to, not from, Åre was just picking up. At moments it felt a little bit like being alone on the train, as we had booked our own ’first class’ sleeper, and barely heard or saw someone for the entire trip.

First class sleeper onboard SJ it pretty much the same as 2nd class, except for the added convenience of a toilet and shower in the compartment. There were also only two beds instead of three, so if you’re sharing with strangers, it’s slightly less crowded. Bed quality was quite decent, and I always find it extremely cozy to sleep on moving trains, similar to the same in business and first on planes, but that is of course usually much more expensive as 10 hours on a plane will take you slightly longer than Åre-Stockholm.

Sleeping quality itself is another story though, and I didn’t sleep that great. We arrived Stockholm at around 5.30 in the morning, and were told by the conductor that we could stay in the train until ”just before 7”, ”if we didn’t want to wake up in the depot”. Those words and the slightly vague time-frame haunted me, so when they put on the engines again around 6.10 a.m. we sort of panicked a little and rushed off the train. Since it was so early, the train bistro that opens at 6.30 a.m. never opened, which I think entitled us to a free breakfast, as we were in first class, at the Central Station Café Ritazza. We were so tired at this point though, so we just walked straight to the connected subway and went straight home for some extra hours of sleep.