weekend away - Sigtuna
Written by Brian Johnston
Swedish capital in the 10th century and now a sleepy town with a delightful old-world atmosphere and superb historical buildings, Sigtuna is a picturesque country escape from Stockholm.
Sitting on a scenic arm of meandering Lake Mälaren some 48km northwest of Stockholm, Sigtuna has an illustrious history as both Sweden’s oldest town and its first capital. Founded as a trading post in AD 980 by a Viking tribe known as the Svea, the town has the biggest collection of ancient runic stones in Sweden, dotted about its parks and gardens. Sigtuna Museum has some fine early medieval artefacts, including runic inscriptions, gold rings, and objects traded from as far afield as Byzantium and Russia.
Sigtuna remained the centre for royal and religious power in Sweden for two centuries, as attested by the ruins of several fortress-like churches, such as the foreboding, narrow-windowed St Olof's Church. The oldest brick building is the AD 1247 Maria Church, which displays medieval murals and now hosts summer concerts.
Many of Sigtuna’s fine historical buildings date from later centuries. Stora Gatan lays claim to being Sweden’s oldest street and is today the chief attraction, lined by small artisan and handicraft shops, as well as restaurants. Many of the pretty, pastel-painted buildings still retain their original wooden framework.
Among other notable buildings worth seeking out is the tourist office in Dragon House, formerly an inn and crowned by a writhing dragon sign. An atmospheric 17th century building houses Tant Bruns (Laurentii gränd 3, www.tantbrun-sigtuna.se). The courtyard of this lovely café is just the place for a restorative coffee and, cinnamon bun.
The beautiful countryside along Lake Mälaren invites visitors to ramble through flower-filled meadows and birch and fir forests, passing the occasional farmhouse painted deep red. A fine walk takes you to the tiny hamlet of Viby, whose thatched crofters’ houses are also well preserved, providing another fine slice of old Sweden.
One of Europe’s best baroque museums, Skokloster Castle lies on Lake Mälaren. Commissioned in 1654 by a celebrated field marshal, original stucco interiors are superbly preserved, along with a rich collection of tapestries, armour, paintings, and furniture from Sweden’s golden age. The attached Skokloster Motor Museum has the best collection of vintage cars in the country.
Where to stay
The early 19th century Sigtuna Stads Hotell has an elegantly restored interior that unites sandstone and oak with crisp cottons. Its restaurant provides fine modern Swedish food with matching lake views.