Category: Travel Writing

Fika! The most civilised of Swedish traditions

* My feature about a family holiday is due out this autumn but, by way of a flavour, this is some accompanying online content about the great Swedish tradition of fika.

Fika is a way of life in Sweden.

The concept is hard to translate but roughly means a mid-morning or mid-afternoon coffee break accompanied by sweet treats.

Traditional fika favourites include cinnamon buns and chocolate truffles; next-generation fika bakers are now turning their hand to new flavours and gluten-free options.

Fika is enjoying a Bake Off-style renaissance in Sweden with West Sweden taking the nation’s longest fika at 27 minutes on average. Young people are extending the fika frenzy, taking up to 30 minutes per fika.

A new fika tour of Alingsas, a historic town some 40 minutes by train from Gothenburg, celebrates the development of the tradition in the fika-heritage capital of Sweden.

The first café was founded in Alingsas in 1733 and, today, the town boasts some 30 cafes —three listed in the prestigious, Michelin-style White Guide.

The guided walking tour takes in cafes around the attractive town centre, sampling local goodies at each stop and explaining the history along the way.

It’s a gentle-paced 90-minute stroll, starting from the Tourist Information Centre, and ideal for kids with a sweat tooth, or parents with a penchant for great coffee.

This is my pick of the best places to try fika in Alingsas:


Set in an old textile warehouse on the square, this friendly, family-run café specialises in a healthy-living take on fika with all-organic ingredients.

The owner, Cecilia Hallen, creates no-sugar recipes, using figs, dates and pumpkin seeds to sweeten recipes, serving them with a range of fruit-infusion teas — try the lemon, strawberry and raspberry brew.

“Fika fosters feelings of contentment and camaraderie,” says Cecilia. “I like to create different fikas for different moods.”


Cinnamon buns are served from the hatch to tables laid out in the sunny courtyard at this relaxed backstreet café.

It specialises in baking gluten-free produce and spices the sugar-frosted buns with cinnamon and cardamom — just as the coffee was when it was first introduced to Sweden from Turkey in the 18th century.


Copenhagen has Noma. Alingsas has Nygrens.

The White Guide to Swedish cafes named this artisan café, run by two young women with Bake Off flair, as the world’s best place to sample fika.

The café, set in a restored grocery store from the 18th century, spills out in a cobbled courtyard in summer.

The changing menu of homemade treats includes crisp breads, gateaux and modern twists on classic Swedish recipes, such as kladdkaka (gooey chocolate cake).

For a lunch stop, try a plate of flatbread topped with quince marmalade and local blue cheese, decorated with local wild flowers.


This historic bakery [pictured above], dating from 1886 and also highly recommended by the White Guide, is an artisan bakery with a range of specialty coffee.

The owner, Mikael Lindeman, roasts and grinds coffee bought directly from a Honduran farming cooperative.

“I always drink good coffee black,” says Mikael. “We only use milk and sugar to disguise the bitterness of inferior quality coffee.”

The bakery also bakes the traditional seven types of cakes and cookies eaten at a traditional Swedish fika, starting with light banana bread and working towards spiced, iced fingers.


This famous old café, founded in 1924, is home to the piece de resistance of a traditional Swedish fika: Princess Cake.

This sugar-hit sensation, comprising layers of raspberry jam, whipped cream and vanilla custard, smothered in a coating of dayglo-green marzipan, marks the grand crescendo of any fika celebration.

Better still, from here, it’s just a short, calorie-burning stroll back to the train station for connections to Gothenburg.

More from; tours April to October and tickets 330 (£28) Kr per person; ask about new family ticket deals.

Staycation holiday parks for Telegraph Travel

Summer holidays, eh?

Family holidays at home save on airport hell but they can be expensive and very weather dependent. We all want a weak in the sun, right?

But, with Brexit chaos ensuring that sterling continues to plummet faster than Theresa May’s credibility, families are looking to UK holiday parks for a non-Euro alternative closer to home.

So which to choose? Well, the Atkinsons [pictured above] have been test driving some of the alternatives to Centre Parcs over the last couple of months.

Our assignment took us from rural North Wales via a wooded Peak District to Butlins in Bognor Regis.

Here’s a flavour:

We spent a morning on the stony beach, skimming stones and collecting shells. A walk along the promenade revealed little shops with buckets and spades and cafes for candy floss and coffee. For someone brought up on seaside holidays in a North Wales, it felt gloriously nostalgic.

The three articles were published this week by Telegraph Travel and you can read all three in full here:

Why a mid-week break at Butlins is the easiest holiday you’ll take this year

The Dutch alternative to Center Parcs has arrived — but is it any good?

The budget alternative to Centre Parcs — but it’s not for softies

The stories were later collected together into the article, Britain’s best holiday camps — which is right for your family?

Have you got a favourite UK holiday park, or an alternative for a post-Brexit break? Please share your comments below.

Nation of Shopkeepers: Chester for the Daily Telegraph

I’m always on the look out for story ideas around Chester. My daughter spotted this antique doll shop and the interview with the owner was fascinating. This story first appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Mo Harding, owner, Dollectable, says:

“I was born in Cheshire and, after running a hotel in Manchester for years, we were looking for a new business based around my love of antique dolls.

I had always loved dolls but my parents told me I was too old for them when I was 12.

We found this Tudor townhouse in Chester, dating from 1621, in the early Eighties. Originally we wanted to make a doll museum upstairs but the building is Grade II listed and needs a lot of work.

As far as we know, it’s the last remaining shop of its kind in the UK.

Early days

I started collecting pre-1930s dolls when my husband, Steve, was working the antique fairs. I still remember my first one. Polly was a German doll from around 1900. She had a lovely face.

Sometimes you look at a doll’s face and it’s just like a painting.

The heyday of doll making was from the 1870 to 1900 with best dolls made in France and Germany. Most of the dolls in the shop are Victorian.

Children played with dolls differently in those days. They brought the dolls out on Sundays and girls learnt to sew by making clothes for them.

Prized possessions

Every doll in the shop has a story. Henrietta is wax doll with beautiful boned underwear; she belonged to a suffragette. We also have some rare items.

The twin French dolls from the 1870s, both with glazed china heads, are worth upwards of £2500 each. A Shirley Temple doll of the American child star, dating from 1934, is one of our few American dolls.

We have travelled the world to international doll fairs and auctions. When you find a rare doll, it’s still an incredible buzz.

I’d sell the house and the car rather than loose my dolls, both the stock for the shop and my private collection at home.

I’m still always searching for the ultimate doll. I’ve wanted a Schmidt, a French doll from around 1870. They would sell at auction for around £18,000.

Future plans

We hope my daughter will take the business forward eventually, maybe creating a website and taking us onto social media.

My granddaughter loves my Victorian doll houses, too. But there are no plans for retirement yet.

I still love decorating the window every Christmas with a themed display and half the fun of running the business is the community of like-minded people at the auctions.

For me, you are either a doll person or not. It’s a way of life.

A doll person would never dream of collecting teddy bears.


Liked this? Try also Move into top gear at Cars and Coffee Chester.

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Cannes Film Festival and Riviera for Telegraph Travel

Cannes. It’s getting to be a habit.

I’ve been three times on assignment in the past year and recently returned from another and very timely sojourn.

The reason? The Cannes International Film Festival opens tomorrow — May 17. This year marks 70 years of cinema heritage [mural pictured above].

I was there to report back on preparations for a feature in this weekend’s Telegraph Travel.

But, joining an escorted tour for a few days, I was also trying to put the glamour of the Riviera into context.

I explored some of the reports, spanning the French-Italian border, frequented by the British gentry long before the likes of Brigitte Bardot [pictured below] arrived with photographers in hot pursuit.

Casino Royale 

Here’s an extract from my first draft, based around a visit to Monte Carlo Casino. 

I’m not a natural high roller.

If I was Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, then I’d be sporting a freshly pressed tuxedo, sipping a martini, shaken not stirred of course, and nonchalantly placing all my chips on black 17.

In reality I’m budget Bond: a Ben Sherman shirt, sipping an espresso and observing the oligarchs at play from a safe distance.

Still, at least I can still admire the Belle Époque ceiling and renaissance frescos in the Europa gaming room of Monte Carlo Casino.

After all, I have paid 17 Euros just to walk inside.

Read more in Telegraph Travel this Saturday.