Christian Nielsen visits the university city of Lund in Sweden’s south for a masterclass in late-winter cosiness.
Scandinavians do darkness better than anyone. While the Danes give the cold months a hygge shrug and Norwegians settle into koselig corners for après-ski, Swedes try to bedazzle the dark into submission through folk traditions like Lucia and Valborg (see below).
Tales of gods and mythical winter creatures are woven into the fabric of Nordic heritage. And while larger northern cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen have pockets of winter charm, arguably the best place to capture that experience is in pint-sized cities like Lund. Just 45 minutes by direct train crossing the Öresund Bridge – an engineering marvel on many a bucket list – it is a doable day-trip from the Danish capital or an overnight stay.
Located in Sweden’s Skåne region and dating back to around 990, Lund has a “cosy town centre with cobblestoned streets and medieval layout still visible in many places”, Petra Öhlin Lindeheim, communications manager at Visit Lund, tells Together.
© Visit Lund
Thanks to its world-renowned university, founded in 1668, the city punches above its weight culturally. It is a hub for science and tech start-ups, and hosts two leading European research facilities – the European Spallation Source and Max IV Laboratory.
One of this years’ Noble prize-winners, Paris-born atomic physicist Anne L’Huillier has been living and working in Lund for many years. The university is also the birthplace of Bluetooth® and ultrasound innovations, according to Lindeheim.
Nearly half of its 100,000 population are students and close to a third of those are non-Swedes. Lund welcomes 500,000 overnight visitors a year including 150,000 from abroad, all of which adds to the compact city’s international vibe.
Sights and scenes
Any visit should start with a wander round Kulturen, a vast yet centrally located open-air museum. The University’s main building and library are architectural gems alongside the History Museum and 900-year-old Domkyrkan cathedral. Voted museum of the year in 2022, Visit Lund highly recommends Skissernas for its collection of works from Swedish and international artists, and its unique focus on the “artistic process”.
© Christian Nielsen
Quaint cottages and cobblestoned quarters radiate around Lundagård. A brisk walk in Stadsparken or meander round the Botanical Gardens and its tropical greenhouse are also popular pastimes in winter and spring.
© Noah Nielsen
Eateries and stalls line the snug Saluhallen indoor market. A vast vino collection awaits you upstairs in the Systembolaget state-run alcohol chain. It’s a nanny-state legacy of a period when Swedes were not considered capable of controlling their intake! Several popular restaurants and bars line Mårtenstorget square.
Travel bloggers direct their followers to ‘Instagrammable’ places under such titles as “doors of Lund”, and “best places for fika”, a Swedish tradition of coffee, cake and conversation… not the other thing!
Locals gather in Broder Jakob, an homage to the song and play on the word bröd for bread, and Patisseriet, serving home-baked cakes, salads and open smörgåsor sandwiches. In the evening, the Klostergatan wine bar/resto comes recommended.
More sights and scenes to keep everyone’s spirits up as the winter drags on can be found in Visit Lund’s unbearably catchy Vinterlund programme (visitlund.se).
In grand style…
For a taste of living heritage, the 125 year-old Grand Hotel Lund is worth checking out. According to its CEO Maria Paulsson the hotel is as much a place where locals meet for a drink on a rainy Monday as a venue for Tetra Pak employees to celebrate 25 years at the company. Yes, those iconic brick-like milk and juice cartoons were invented in Lund, too.
International guests are attracted to the hotel’s extensive wine cellar, Paulsson adds: “We are famous for offering some bottles at way lower prices than similar hotel restaurants in world cities like Paris and New York […] including a complete collection of Bordeaux’s Chateau Mouton Rothschild since 1945.”
Considered a “destination hotel”, Grand’s guest registry tells its own story featuring the names of Noble prize-winners, royal family members, and even the Dalai Lama.
© Truls Bärg
When official state visits include time in the south of Sweden, Grand is usually where they stay. Paulsson says the hotel welcomed Nikki Haley, former US Ambassador to the United Nations (and potential presidential candidate) when the UN Security Council visited the country a few years ago.
Grand’s restaurant and bar are open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries – made with a dash of whisky – is a fan favourite. Paulsson says the recipe is based on a tip from Sten Broman, a household name in Sweden and hotel regular.
Honoured seasonal traditions like their Midsummer feast in June create more reasons for guests to return to the hotel. Wine and whisky tastings, cocktail and cooking classes, celebrity chef nights, soul and jazz festivals are just a few of the special events hosted at Grand.
Get out of town
Weather permitting, short cycle tours in and around Lund are worth considering. The nearby seaside town of Bjärred is a gentle ride or quick Uber along country roads. Its famous pier – recently upgraded – is billed as one of Sweden’s longest and hosts a bathhouse and restaurant. You will have to book for both, and it’s recommended to ‘go native’ in the sauna or risk the wrath of the local stalwarts!
Just outside Lund is The Lodge with its calming Hawaiian spa set in the scenic Skåne landscape with marked hiking trails. And Visit Lund’s Lindeheim says the “charming Torna Hällestad Lanthandel is also worth visiting for fika, lunch and local ecological produce”.
Meanwhile, lunching or an overnighter at Norrmans Hotel – part of the 14th century Häckeberga Slott south of Lund – has been described as a “little world of its own”. Rooms include high-end Aesop products and Happy Fluffy Cloud bedding. A croquet lawn and boules terrain, squash court, lakeside pavilion, nature walks… luxuries and unique experiences abound.
While some of the activities are better in spring and summer, the Norrmans team is upbeat all year round offering ‘Sparkling Winter Stay’ packages and other combinations. “If you are not a ski enthusiast, don’t miss out on a lovely winter holiday with walks on the Skåneleden trail,” they say. And you can finish the day with a warm wine by the fire.
All good tips for Together travellers seeking alternatives to the usual sun/ski late winter escapes.
How Lucia and Valborg beat back the brooding shadows … According to Sweden.se, Lucia is a mythical bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters. As day is breaking on 13 December each year, Swedish radio and television broadcast choirs draped in white and singing songs of dark figures treading places unreached by sun. Into this darkness comes Sankta Lucia “bearing lighted candles” to chase the “brooding shadows” away. The day is usually accompanied by saffron lussekatter buns and today marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Meanwhile, Valborg Day on 30 April marks the beginning of spring and is linked to an ancient tradition dating back to the 1700s of scaring away witches and bad spirits by lighting a big bonfire.
visitlund.se / lunduniversity.lu.se / grandilund.se / thenorrmans.se