Peeking In on Old Sweden

Despite being only an hour from Stockholm, I had never heard of Mariefred prior to my visit. Home to Gripsholm Slott (Castle), originally built by the father of modern Sweden, Gustav Vasa, Mariefred makes you slow down and enjoy the inviting pastoral setting. I was surprised to find this town a better example of the march of Swedish history than any in Stockholm.

The ornate steps into Lake Mälaren showed how kings and nobles would have arrived—before trains and Volvos made travel to the countryside easy for everyone. The lilacs that are found in abundance are a welcome contrast to urban Stockholm's cobblestones and high rises. The placid appearance of the palace belies the intrigue that once enveloped everyone who lived here.

The Värdshus Hotell in Mariefred, as it enters into its fifth century of business, quietly reveals the march of Swedish history and evolution. The hotel presents a very different take on Swedish design and culture—not easily glimpsed in Stockholm, which is all of a sudden on the cutting edge of the popular Scandinavian aesthetic. I saw ancient tiles, old furnaces, painted walls and other hints of time gone by.

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