Someone had warned me that the Swedes can be cool and appear slightly aloof. This, unfortunately, was borne out by the reception staff, who were indifferent and largely unsmiling as we checked in. Their attitude left us feeling more like a temporary burden than a welcome addition to the guest list. To be fair, they warmed up later in our stay and dropped some of the attitude, but the first impression is often what counts and what guests remember most.
What the hotel lacked in reception warmth it made up for in location. It claims a fairly substantial plot on Skeppsholmen Island, one of the hundreds of wooded islets in the watery estuary on which Stockholm sits. The view from our window was of apple trees and lush lawns leading to the waterfront and, occasionally, the bulk of a white ferry as it glided off into the Baltic Sea. From the hotel it's an easy stroll into the city centre and around the harbour. Within a few hundred metres of the hotel is the Museum of Modern Art (Moderna Museet), the Swedish Museum of Architecture and a stop for the cruise boat that criss-crosses the harbour.
While the Skeppsholmen is certainly stylish, it is not a five-star city pad swimming with waiters and porters and people to tie your shoelaces. It is more homely than that and, as a result, attracts a less-snooty and more down-to-earth crowd. It's big with middle-aged couples and small families and - judging by the corralling of tables at breakfast - groups of old friends convening for birthdays and reunions.
The hotel was packed so we could only book one of the smaller rooms (technically a "single seaview"). If you are used to a king-size bed, this room can be a squeeze but it's really not a problem, as long as you don't bring 15 Louis Vuitton cases with you. The rooms have original wooden floors, modern lamps and furniture and contemporary interiors created by the local design house Claesson Koivisto Rune. The rooms also have those lovely window seats that are typical of Scandinavia and from which you can gaze at the cityscape outside. The dark stone bathroom is compact and boasts a rainforest shower and a designer sink that resembles a large, smooth, white river stone.
Guests should not expect to be waited on hand-and-foot at the Skeppsholmen - that's not the hotel's style. There is, of course, a room service menu, housekeeping and restaurant staff and our front-desk friends to book taxis and the like, but overall the ambience is tranquil and low key. Breakfast is self-service - which means you do not have to wait to be seated or served - and you do not feel rushed or hassled by bustling waiters. During our stay a charming and helpful waitress was on duty to keep an eye on things, request replenishments from the kitchen and satisfy the odd special request, such as finding gluten-free bread for my wife. In summer you can eat outside under the apple and pear trees, which, by any measure, is a good start to the day.
Breakfast includes fresh breads and jams as well as plenty of hot food and cool, fresh juices (the apple juice tastes like it has come straight from the trees outside). Traditional Swedish meatballs are a must for any visitor and the Skeppsholmen does them to perfection on its lunch menu, served with mashed potatoes, cucumber and tangy lingonberries (155 Swedish krona; Dh88). Evening meal dishes include poached cured cod (285 krona; Dh161), which is almost as good as you get in Iceland (almost). And if that does not deliver enough calories, then drop by between 2 and 5pm for a traditional Swedish afternoon tea, or fika, with shrimp sandwiches (175 krona; Dh99) and cinnamon rolls (20 kronas; Dh11). A cup of tea costs 30 kronas (Dh17).
Sitting on the window-seat in our room and gazing out on a beautiful Nordic scene, eating delicious pickled herrings in the restaurant and walking through the grounds under the apple trees. I also loved the history of the place (the building is a former military barracks and dates to 1699) and the fact that it has been awarded a Nordic Ecolabel for significantly limiting its environmental footprint through energy reduction, etc.
The cold welcome. Check-in is the hotel's handshake and one of the things guests remember most, whether it is good or bad. In a hotel of this standard, failing to engage with guests or make them feel instantly welcome is not acceptable.
It's my pick of Stockholm hotels mainly for the location but also for its homely "guest house" feel. It's like staying at a rather luxurious family home for a very large get-together.
The bottom line
Prices start from 1,537 krona (Dh871) per night, including taxes and breakfast, for a "medium room" with a sea view, booked through www.designhotels.com. Hotel Skeppsholmen, Gröna Gängen 1, Skeppsholmen, SE-111 86, Stockholm, Sweden (www.hotelskeppsholmen.se, 00 46 8 6013 005).