I’ve read that no trip to Stockholm is complete until you’ve sailed through the archipelago. Far be it for me to give up an excuse to be on water…so it’s off we go.
We navigate out of the city, heading 35 km northeast to Vaxholm, gateway to the island archipelago. It’s surprising how quickly the city is behind us and we are once again amongst foliage.
The hints of autumn we saw a week ago have blossomed into a golden toned display; the trees are well on the way to turning. The silver birches in particular are putting on a beautiful show. There’s still a lot of greenery, autumn colours are most prevalent where the sun hits most. The forest floor though, usually a virdent grassed and ferned green is now all shades of red, amber and gold. So very different to our arrival, so very beautiful.
Vaxholm comes with parking challenges. Small we’re not and the village is. A few laps sees us stumble upon a suitable option – I didn’t think we’d make it for a while. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve missed out on seeing something because we simply could not find a place to stop.
The walk into the village takes us past pretty wooden houses, wild blackberry bushes and a magnificent morello cherry tree. It’s enormous, with the tiny sour fruit that’s so prized in cooking. It has been been picked clean wherever reach is possible, covered in fruit where it is not.
Before our cruise, there’s time for lunch at the Waxholms Hotel. I’m getting very addicted to the open prawn sandwiches here, Chris can’t get past the burger. Both prove good choices. It’s a lazy afternoon ahead.
We’ve opted for a return cruise that takes a little over two and a half hours, through the middle archipelago. There are also north and south options, and an 11 hour one that takes in a good deal more including hikes, along with lunch and dinner.
The islands form a natural barrier, protecting Stockholm from the Baltic Sea. There’s a good deal of debate around how many islands there actually are. Estimates range from 14,000 to 100,000 with 24,000 being the rough consensus. I note though, that the local guide states there are 30,000. It’s a nice problem to have, debating the number of islands you have.
We could not have picked a more beautiful day. The sun is out, waters and skies are impossibly blue and there’s only a wisp of wind. Perfect cruising weather.
Our boat, the Riddarfjarden, so named for the fjord, is an old girl in fabulous condition, built in 1936. We set out mid afternoon and settle on the back deck to watch the archipelago sail by.
The islands come in all sizes, from tiny to impressively large. Many are in perfect rambling acre block size and indeed have a cozy holiday cottage perched atop and a private jetty. Others, larger, have two or three nestled in the forest and many are bare of anything bar forest. All rise sharply from the sea, there are no beaches. Many have a pink granite stone base. It’s such a beautiful setting and a great way to laze away an afternoon.
We pass every imaginable water pleasure craft: kyacks, jet skis, motor boats, gorgeous yachts of all sizes and of course the occasion ferries.
Unlike the cruise before ours, we only have a handful of passengers on board. One couple is clearly off to their holiday cottage, they brought bags of groceries on board and a LPG cylinder. One by one they alight at the various stops until we’re left with the boat to ourselves. This is a treat – I’m free to run from side to side to capture the perfect shot, go upstairs or down, inside or out as wind picks up or settles. Rather love having our own private boat.
Along with the islands and many watercraft we’re treated to a display of water landings by all manner of gulls, shags and cormorants. The enormous black backed gulls put on the best displays, balancing on the wind then landing elegantly on their snowy white breasts with barely a splash. One island, a rare white rock outcrop, is covered in black shags – literally, shags on rocks. I’m still giggling.
It’s so lovely, to be still for a while, with nothing more pressing to do than admire the view and reach for the camera when so inspired. It’s over far too soon.
On our return we walk Vaxholm’s pretty cobblestone streets, gelatos in hand. It’s a very charming spot and everyone is out enjoying the warmth.
Chris still has energy to burn and decides that we will drive on to our next stop, the Drottningholm palace, some 40 km away. It proves a good decision. We arrive in the very late afternoon and find we can stay the night in the grounds, nestled in the endless garden, alongside a river.
With the sun low in the sky, we walk the gardens and maze, a geometrically trimmed delight, full of black and white ducks who clearly see this as home. The grounds are set with long chestnut and oak avenues, each in various stages of turning for winter leaving a layer of leaves to crunch underfoot. The palace is alit in the background; the lighting is utterly perfect for photography and I make the best of it.
On the way home, Chris sees a long skinny snake zip across the path then slither into the river. Nearby, a toddler feeding ducks, at first charmed, soon terrified when a large white one (an escapee from somewhere-he’s the only one) targets and chases him. The duck is as big as he is – no wonder he’s terrified.
People walk their dogs in the late afternoon sun. I love the way Scandinavia opens its palace grounds to the people. Beautiful places deserve to be enjoyed.