Fondly described as the Cotswolds of Sweden, the province of Södermanland lies southwest of Stockholm, bordering Lake Mälaren. A bucolic landscape is enhanced by a plethora of well-preserved houses, estates, and palaces, most of which date from the 17th and 18th centuries. Many are still inhabited by members of the Swedish royal family or by aristocratic families, who have dwelled on the estates for centuries.
Over the course of seven days, and by special arrangement, we meet the young nobles residing in the splendid homes of their ancestors. The current generation of aristocratic families now faces the challenges of balancing modern reality with responsible custodianship of their cultural heritage. Other houses, such as Gripsholm – a former defensive fortress now housing a magnificient state portrait gallery and Gustav III’s spectacular theatre – have been converted into carefully curated museums. Journeying on picturesque country roads and by boat, we travel the avenues and waterways that link the likes of regal Drottningholm with charming country estates.
The modern history of Sweden begins in the early 16th century with the coronation of Gustav Vasa; the stone foundations of numerous properties were laid during his reign. Not quite two centuries later, Gustav III had an enormous influence on cultural tastes that is reflected in the properties of those who could afford to share the predilections of their king. The talents of the most skilled, French- and Italian-trained artists and craftsmen of the late 18th century were widely employed. At Haga and Tullgarn, the sumptuous interiors display marvellous detail created by les frères Masreliez.
The Gustavian period shifted into Regency and Empire styles, with Sweden’s best example of French Empire style having strong Napoleonic links. Having belonged to Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the French general, elected heir-presumptive to the childless Gustav III and who became the first king in Sweden’s current dynasty. As Charles XIV John, Bernadotte created a maison de plaisance that remains almost intact – Rosendal Palace.
Presenting an enticing contrast between Sweden’s lavish royal residences and the serenity of its refined provincial retreats, this delightful tour places in context Sweden’s historic and artistic legacy, from kings to craftsmen, all of whom have left their mark.
Stockholm. Fly at c.11.00am from London Heathrow to Stockholm (British Airways). An afternoon visit to Gustav III’s 18th-century pavilion at Haga, modelled on the Petit Trianon at Versailles and set in an expansive English landscaped park. Designed by Louis Masreliez in a Pompeiian style, the highlight is undeniably The Hall of Mirrors. First of two nights in Stockholm.
Stockholm. Travel by boat from the centre of Stockholm to Drottningholm Palace, summer residence of the Swedish royal family; splendid interiors, wonderful gardens, landscaped park, exquisite Chinoiserie pavilion and theatre museum. After lunch, visit Bernadotte’s summer house on Djurgården. A late afternoon tour of the Royal Palace (1754); a masterpiece in the Roman Baroque style by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger.
Stockholm, Mariefred. After a morning lecture, there is time for independent exploration; perhaps the Nationalmuseum, the city’s National Museum of Fine Arts. The drive to Mariefred, on the shores of Lake Mälaren, gives us our first appreciation of how past royalty travelled from the city to their country houses. Walk from the hotel to the medieval castle of Gripsholm, sitting imposingly across the water from the inn, numerous Swedish kings have been kept prisoner within its walls. Overnight Mariefred.
Norsborg, Katrineholm. Morning visit to the 18th-century manor of Sturehov, best known for its beautiful Marieberg tiled stoves. Arrive in the late afternoon at Ericsberg, one of Sweden’s largest private estates, where two nights are spent. A tour of the grounds before dinner.
Julita, Katrineholm. Guided tour of Julita Manor, built on the site of a 12th-century Cistercian monastery. Its surrounding orchards are part of the national gene bank for apples and hops. Time for independent exploration before continuing to the romantic, neo-Gothic castle of Stora Sundby (1840s, Peter Frederick Robinson). Here we are met by a member of the Klingspor family for a private tour.
Tystberga, Trosa. Drive along the Baltic coastline to Nynäs Manor, which offers an insight into the country lifestyle of the Swedish aristocracy from the late 1600s to the early 20th century. After lunch, Tullgarn Palace, its reflection mirrored in the lake below, has exquisite late 18th-century interiors. Just outside Trosa stands Tureholm Castle, rebuilt after a fire by Carl Hårleman in the 1700s. The owner guides us through his ancestral home, including the blue and white 18th-century kitchen. Overnight Trosa.
Trosa, Stockholm. Return to Stockholm for some free time before visiting Rosersberg, a 17th-century manor gifted to Charles XIII. The decor, including fine silk wall hangings, are surprisingly untouched and unaltered by restoration. Continue to the airport and fly from Stockholm to London Heathrow, arriving c. 7.45pm.
Some of these houses can only be visited by special arrangement and are subject to confirmation in early 2024.
Art historian specialising in the decorative arts, antiques and cultural history in Sweden in the 17th and 18th centuries. She has over twenty years experience as a Museum Educator at the Royal Palaces in Stockholm and also lectures at the Stockholms Auktionsverk, the oldest auction house in Northern Europe. She has lectured internationally and contributed to several French publications and television emissions on the topics of Bernadotte, Rosendal, and the French empire style in Sweden.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,620 or £3,410 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,810 or £3,600 without flights.
Flights with British Airways (economy class, Airbus A319 and A320); travel by private coach for airport transfers and excursions; boat travel as indicated in the itinerary; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 5 dinners with a glass or two of wine, water and coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Kungsträdgården, Stockholm: a 4-star centrally located hotel in a historic building in the Gustavian style. Rooms are bright and comfortable. Gripsholms Värdshus, Mariefred: Sweden’s oldest inn with magnificent views of Gripsholm Castle. Rooms are charming and individually decorated. Ericsbergs Slott, Katrineholm: Rooms, located in the castle grounds, are stylishly decorated. Trosa Stadshotell and Spa, Trosa: a quaint 4-star hotel with a good restaurant. Rooms are modern and comfortable. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is a lot of walking and standing on this tour, and it would not be suitable for anyone who has difficulties with everyday walking or stair-climbing. There is a fair amount of driving. Average coach travel per day: 60 miles.
Are you fit enough to join the tour?
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.
Madrid & Toledo, 10–17 May; Palladian Villas, 14–19 May; Great Houses of the South West, 28 May–4 June 2024.