For the ultimate in design inspiration, you can't look much further than the quiet and tranquil part of Sweden that is renowned for its creativity and craftsmanship.
Småland, which literally translates as "small lands", contains the Kingdom of Crystal – an area known for its many glassworks which date back to the 18th century. It's also home to a wealth of furniture designers – Bruno Mathsson was famously based here, and today Gemla Möbler, Sweden's oldest furniture factory, is still creating timeless furniture from beech and ash wood. IKEA was also founded in Småland, in the town of Älmhult.
On a cold and wintry November, we enjoyed a five-day tour of Småland, venturing into the idyllic dense forests of southern Sweden to discover more about the area's cultural and creative heritage. Here, we'll share our recommendations on where to go, where to stay, and what to see and do – starting in Stockholm and ending in wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen.
Day One – Stockholm
You can't visit Sweden without enjoying a day and night in Stockholm. Even if you've been lucky enough to see the Swedish capital before, it's always worth a stay. Fly into Stockholm Arlanda Airport and grab the Arlanda Express for a swift transfer to Stockholm.
Enjoy a cocktail in the bar downstairs (ask for a classic martini – they're the best we've ever had) before heading left out of the hotel to happily wander to Gamla stan, Stockholm's Old Town.
Then venture over to Wood, one of the city's most talked-about restaurants with a farm-to-table philosophy. During the day, it's a furniture store too. Cuisine and craftsmanship in one, and you'll be supporting an independent.
Day Two – Stockholm to Jönköping
Leaving Stockholm on a train to Nässjö, you can hire a car and drive north-west out of the town along route 40 towards Jönköping with a slight detour to Huskvarna to drop into the Husqvarna factory museum.
Once you've browsed the many fascinating exhibits and learnt more about the manufacturer's rich and diverse history (it all started with weapons, don't you know), then grab some lunch in the nearby Slottsvillan, a grand heritage-listed, late 19th-century building with a menu as impressive as its surroundings.
Following lunch, head north along the E4 to Uppgrenna Naturhus, a stunning glasshouse on the shores of Lake Vättern, Sweden's second-largest lake, and the sixth-largest in Europe. Founded by local entrepreneur Bodil Antonsson, it offers yoga classes, a place to unwind and meditate, and it even has its own sunroom where you can enjoy some much-needed (artificial) sunshine during the darker months.
To end the day, drive back down south towards Jönköping and stay at the VOX, a first-class hotel with a focus on design – one that will appeal to those of you who appreciate the finer things in life. Ask for a room with a balcony and view of the lake.
Day Three – Jönköping to Kosta
Day three starts with some serious Swedish furniture inspiration. Leave beautiful Jönköping and head south on the E4 to Källemo, a Swedish furniture manufacturer based in Värnamo.
This is Scandinavian design at its best. Often collaborating with designers such as Anna Kraitz and architects like Vesa Honkonen, Källemo is a regular highlight of the Stockholm Furniture Fair and one to watch. We were lucky to meet Karin Lundh, the daughter of the founder Sven, who talked about the importance of furniture that stands the test of time.
Speaking of which, you should next visit the Bruno Mathsson Center, a museum celebrating the life and works of one of Sweden's most famous designers and architects. The son of a carpenter who grew up in Värnamo, it seemed inevitable that he would follow in his father's footsteps and take a great interest in furniture, in particular – chairs and their form, function, and design.
For lunch, drive to Vandalorum, a beautiful museum for Småland's contemporary art and design. The Restaurant Syltan is worth a visit alone – try the Småländska Isterband, a local delicacy of lightly smoked sausage. Then spend a happy hour wandering around the exhibitions before heading south for Kosta, along route 28.
At Kosta, you must stay at the Kosta Boda Art Hotel, a luxurious hotel set close to the Kingdom of Crystal – the region of Småland renowned for its glassworks. It has three indoor swimming pools, two outdoor pools, and over 100 individually designed rooms, many of which pay homage to local artists and designers.
End the day popping into Kosta Boda Art Gallery, admiring glass artworks by contemporary designers, such as the world-famous Bertil Vallien. And then enjoy an unusual dinner at Hyttsill I Kosta where you can enjoy little Småland delicacies cooked in the cooling glass furnaces. If you're lucky, you might be able to try some glass blowing yourself.
Day Four – Kosta to Växjö
Today is a day of glass. From Kosta, drive to nearby Målerås Glasbruk, a glassworks in Mackamålavägenv that works with well-known designers such as Anna Kraitz who has just created a new range of accessories for IKEA. A guided tour of the factory is a must.
The Glass Factory lies half an hour's drive south, along route 31 and is known locally as a creative meeting place for collaboration, participation and experimentation. The team there are currently working on a huge chandelier for the Nationalmuseum, Sweden's premier museum of art and design.
If you need more glass in your life, then Visit Sweden has plenty more ideas and inspiration.
End the day driving over to Växjö, a lively and attractive small town in southern Sweden that was named the "Greenest City in Europe" by the BBC in 2007 for its efforts to create a sustainable environment for its inhabitants. Here, you'll find PM & Vänner, a stunning hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant and winner of Wine Spectator Grand Award 2017, one of 88 in the world and the first in Sweden.
Day Five – Växjö to Copenhagen
On your final day of touring Småland, we recommend driving south along route 23 to visit Gemla Möbler in Diö, Sweden's oldest furniture factory. Here, you'll see fine craftmanship at play, and understand the process behind creating bent beech and ash wooden furniture.
And then a trip to southern Sweden wouldn't be complete without dedicating some time to the IKEA Museum. Grab some Swedish meatballs at the on-site restaurant (the best you'll ever taste) and then enjoy a tour around the exhibits, learning more about the history and heritage of IKEA. You'll especially love the chance to appear on the cover of IKEA's front catalogue, taking away a printed photograph of you and your friends.
Back on route 23 and E22, drive south to Malmö and to Copenhagen Airport where you can fly home. Or enjoy a few more nights in the Danish capital to finish your epic art and design trail around Småland. (If that's the case, be sure to check out our guide to Copenhagen.)