Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Why take a boat to Sweden? Because it's that much fun!

Why take a boat to Stockholm? Flying will get you there quickly and often very affordably, but boat travel still has its perks...

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No frills airlines, services being continuously cut and ever increasing number of passengers have made sure there isn't much glamour left in travelling these days. In my own fantasy world (spinning with nostalgy) the golden era of travel was definitely that of the ocean liners, carefully packed trunks and 7-course-dinners. Ahhhh.....

Sure, those cheap airlines do come in handy - for instance travel between Helsinki and Stockholm has become a lot more convenient. The flight only takes about an hour and at best the tickets are only  €29. But especially if one is planning on staying for longer, boat travel still reigns supreme. 

I myself have been in an out of the archipelago and couldn't have been more happy with Viking Line's fleet. Here are reasons why you. too, should get on that boat.

No luggage limits

Luggage is always included in the ticket price, so for once there's no need to shove everything into one's carry on, the size of which the airlines just keep cutting back on, anyway. So, throw in one more show-stopping dress, those amazing(ly impractical) heels and every single one of those handbaga you just can't live without. 

No liquid allowance

One key factor that makes life worth living when travelling is the fact I don't need to 
- calculate every drop of lotion and liquid in a bid to decide which one I need more; hair spray or mouth wash? Dry shampoo or moisturizer? Such stupid questions. I'm a woman! I need them all! And then some!
- spend last hours before jetting off squeezing hair conditioner into miniature size tubesit then refuse to come out of.

No humiliating security circus

Now, this is something I just can't get enough of. I hate the security checks at the airport and the humiliating way you're expected to strip off your shoes, belt, accessories and all your jewellery (seriously - what are my pearl earrings or Hermès belt going to do to anybody?), parade the content of your handbag to every 12-year-old clerk on duty, fish out your electronics and zip lock-bagged cosmetics out of that compactly packed suitcase and make sure you remember to get your possessions, now laid out on 17 plastic trays for everyone to see, back too. 

Plus, for some reason I always find myself standing behing that one lone freak who doesn't understand any of the languages known to any of the staff and has somehow managed to live for the past 15 years completely oblivious to the fact that Hell will freeze over sooner than that Coke bottle at the bottom of his suitcase is allowed to make its way onto an airplane.

Instead, this is what you're in for when choosing a boat:


Unlike airports, the ports are always located within walking distace from the city centre, so you instantly avoid spending an hour or so in a crowded bus to the airport... and back.


Depending on the vessel, the cruise can be surprisingly classy experience. My absolute favourite is MS Grace which operates between Turku and Stockholm and she has completely won me over. 

The spa, the sophisticated ambiance, Seamore Champagne Lounge's selection and wonderful staff, Restaurant Oscar... This is the closest you'll get to that ocean liner fantasy travel of mine - in Finland anyway.

Peace and quiet

Spending just a little bit more on a little bit better cabin is an investment that immediately pays itself back. The peace and quiet of one's cabin along with a well slept night are, after all, some of the most important things that contribute to a succesful trip. Boat travel offers, in any case, an accessible and affordable way for anyone to pamper themselves - a premium cabin is always hundreds of euros less than business class flight, for instance. 

And come on - a cabin with its own balcony where to toast with bubbly the staff has reserved in the minifridge of your cabin... who can think of a better way to travel?


Seeing how everything is conveniently located under one roof, the boat trip, with the beautiful sceneries of the archipelago,  is a great mini-break in itself.  An aperitif over here, followed by a something little over there and a main course in that restaurant... And there's no need to worry about weather changing in the middle of your restaurant-hopping either - every place is comfortably indoors and only minutes away from each other. 

And hey - in case you fall in love with the wines you've enjoyed during the dinner, you can buy them to take home with you, right at the restaurant. How's that for convenient?

Tax Free

I have already before raved about Viking Line's own wine import, which alone is a very good reason indeed to get on the boat. They have specialties unavailable in Finland and the selection is particularly good for topping up one's Champagne reserves.

Curated by Essi Avellan, the leading Champagne expert in Finland, the selection is not only interesting, but reasonably priced, too. The Champagne prices are quaranteed to be at least 25% cheaper than they are on shore. 

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve for instance (recently elected as the Champagne of the Year by Viinilehti, #1 wine magazine in Finland) for instance is yours for less than €30. And price for Dom Perignon 2006, released last autumn, is actually the lowest in the whole world (€107,95 compared to €159,90 it costs  in Finland)

My most recent trip took me to Stockholm onboard MS Gabriella, who recently went through an extensive renovation. It's not quite up to Grace's standards, but a huge improvement it is, nonetheless. 

The newly revamped restaurants alone are a great excuse to go check her out. 

I myself ate my way through the 7-course tasting menu at No Name restaurant echoing  the atmosphere of Nordic birch woods. In its summery freshness the menu was a total success.

Foundation lies in seasonal veggies and fish, but they also have a completely vegetarian alternative.

Original, beautiful, and oh, so good. The dreamily intense onion broth that millet risotto (bottom right hand corner) was served with still makes me sigh a bit. 

While I liked everything, what I particularly liked was the way the menu celebrates locally grown produce and lesser used parts of animals (the dish in top right hand corner for instance consists of duck gizzards!)

One of my favourites was potato ice cream (left hand bottom corner) -  every bit as wonderful as it was weird. 

If a tasting menu seems a bit too much, you should check out Bistrotek (specialized in seafood) or Grill, both of which I've checked out already before. 

Start your foodie feast with Bistrotek's grilled octopus escabeche served with romesco sauce (or Viking Line's legendary shellfish platter!) and continue with Grill's meaty delights prepared in an open plan kitchen. 

Try sirloin with their excellent chimichurri or melt in your mouth- tender Iberico pork.

My return trip was spent exploring MS Mariella, which, too, has gone through a culinary reincarnation. 

Restaurant Plate boasts a laid back industrial meets nautical-themed atmosphere and serves a tasting menu (7 or 9 courses), too (€42/ €49).

Service was even smoother than at No Name and the beverage pairings were downright superb. Points for mixing it up nicely by serving Champagne, wines, beer and cider. 

Blessed with ripe fruitiness, that Australian Wild Yeast Chardonnay (€16,90) was an absolute find. Make sure to pick up a bottle (or three!) on your way out.

While it might not look like much, one of the most spectacular dishes  on the menu can be seen in the right hand bottom corner. Wonderfully fluffy, savoury semolina porridge, spiked with some cold smoked reindeer. Blimey. And I don't even like semolina!

My wonderful waitress found time to talk to me about the sceneries and exchange opinions about the wine pairings, too, which made this lone traveller's dinner even more entertaining. 

PS. Don't forget that booking in advance means savings in restaurants as well!

Already prior to my trip I had downloaded a brand new Viking Line App, which proved useful. Not only does it allow its users to stay up to date on everything that's going on around the ship, it also means you can plan your tax free shopping list conveniently ahead. 

And boy, were there squeals of delight as I was studying different ship's selection...

First item to end in my basket was quite obviously this baby, which I fell head over heels in love with at Viking Line's Wine Cruise a couple of years back: Piper Heidsieck Rare Millessime 2002.  

Viking Line's tax free catalogie describes it as "monumental and glorious" and trust me, it is. My own reserves had been depleted, so I did pick up a couple of bottles. Since my last trip the price had gone down to €99, and it most certainly is worth the splurge, seeing how it's been sold out in many online shops already.

And who knows how many reasons to celebrate there are in the horizon... though this particular Champagne is so fabulous that opening a bottle is a celebration in itself. 

Another Champagne worth stocking is Henriot Rosé Millessime (€53,90). Toasty and aromatic, it has become one of my absolute favourite rosés. Don't worry if you can't get your hands on 2005, you'll be fine with 2008, too. Surprisingly versatile companion for culinary purposes as well.

Cat Blogger's favourite is the house's Demi Sec, which at €29,90 is good value for money.

Taittinger's Champagnes are known for their elegant lightness and they are always a good buy. Nocturne (€31,90) is smooth, flirty and fun and great choice for any party.

On MS Grace, you should not forego this Californian beauty. Michael David's 6th sense Syrah is incredible value for money (€14,90) and another gem that is not even available in Finland. 

Tax Free is a great place to go a little crazy for other reasons, too. For each €100 spent, you'll be awarded with a new cruise. So, go on - treat yourself!

As for the morning after, there's no better way to start the day than the generous breakfast buffet at the serene surroundings of Food Garden  (adults €17,50 pp, €16 when purchased in advance).  Perhaps with a glass of bubbly to start with...? 

And before you know it, it's time to take on Stockholm! A great city, especially in the summer. For my favourite addresses in the city, just click on here!

*  In collaboration with Viking Line




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