Small ferries in front of Riddarholmen Island in winter, Stockholm, Sweden

Sweden

CRYSTAL-CLEAR LAKES, VAST FORESTS AND MAYBE A GLIMPSE OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

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The mere mention of Sweden conjures up resonant images: snow-capped peaks, reindeer wandering in deep green forests and the 24-hour daylight of the midnight sun. But beyond the household names of ABBA, IKEA and Volvo, Sweden is relatively unknown. The largest of the Scandinavian countries, with an area twice that of Britain (and roughly that of California), but a population of barely nine million, Sweden has space for everyone: the countryside boasts pine, spruce and birch forest as far as the eye can see and crystal-clear lakes perfect for a summer afternoon dip – not to mention possibly the purest air you’ll ever breathe. The country’s south and west coasts, meanwhile, feature some of the most exquisite beaches in Europe – without the crowds.

In general Sweden is a carefree place where life is relaxed. Indeed, the Swedes’ liberal and open attitude to virtually every aspect of life is certainly one of their most enviable qualities; people are generally left to do their own thing, providing it doesn’t impinge on the rights and freedoms of others. In Sweden, rights go hand in hand with duties, and there’s a strong sense of civic obligation (count how few times you see people dropping litter, for example), which in turn makes for a well-rounded and stable society. Many of the cornerstones of the Swedish welfare state, such as tremendously generous benefits and health-care perks, which Swedes still hold dear today, were laid down during forty years of unbroken rule by the Social Democrats.

Yet, over the years, foreigners have somehow confused the open Swedish attitude to society, including nudity and sexuality, with sex. Contrary to popular belief, Sweden isn’t populated solely with people waiting for any opportunity to tear off their clothes and make passionate love under the midnight sun. It is, though, a country founded on honesty and straight talking – two of Sweden’s most refreshing qualities.

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