By Rhiannon Batten
Relationship experts often suggest that you should go on at least two dates with a would-be suitor (psychopaths aside) before dismissing them altogether. Perhaps the same is true of hotels. Plenty charm guests into falling in love with them at first sight, others quite clearly have the appeal of Freddy Kruger, but occasionally you come across a hotel that deserves a second chance. Such is the case with Marstrands Havshotell, which is situated on the island of Koon, in western Sweden.
Part shiny new youth hostel, part yachtie hangout, it looks more like a ferry terminal than a hostelry from the entrance. The minimalist reception is not so much Scandinavian cool as just plain chilly – a collection of white chairs here, grey floor there and a long, shiny bar that operates both as check-in and saloon. And, while the staff are friendly, on my visit the service was far from perfect; emails went unanswered and the reception desk was understaffed.
The hotel’s website displays images of dreamy seaside holidays from yesteryear: photographs of ladders disappearing into the sea, toes crunching into seaweed and sweet little clapboard houses perched on a stony promontory are set against a soothing dove-grey background. Much is made of “breezes across your pillow” and “winding down with water and warmth”. It all conveys the idea of a peaceful, homely seaside guesthouse, rather than a hangar-like new-build beside a large car park, on a shoreline limb.
All of which creates a similar effect to going on a blind date and discovering that your companion is 10 years older and several pounds heavier than had been expecting.
But resist the urge to shuffle back through the hotel’s revolving door. When the sun breaks through the clouds, the huge waterside terrace has the potential to come alive, particularly when the surrounding harbour is packed with visiting yachts. And, while the hotel’s restaurant, with its lost-in-translation name of Otto’s Kok, is undeniably expensive (129Skr/£12.50 for a small bowl of nettle soup, 206Skr/£19.50 for a warm vegetable salad), the food is very good and the restaurant’s philosophy sound: seasonal, locally sourced, modern Swedish cuisine.
Fresh flowers, chairs that nod to mid-century Danish inspiration, butter served on a little shell, and rope looped around napkins are reminders that Otto cares about the details.
One compelling reason to check in to Marstrands Havshotell is because it’s set right by the ferry service to Marstrand island (you can buy a return ticket for 20Skr/£1.90, at reception). Every 15 minutes or so, boats make the five-minute journey to one of the prettiest towns on Sweden’s west coast: a collection of pastel-painted wooden houses, New England-style interiors shops, sailing outfitters, cafés, bars and leafy squares. Dominating all is a hilltop fort, Carlsten (visible over the water from a few of the hotel’s rooms).
The island town was founded by the Norwegians in the 13th century (the locals are said to have grown rich on herring after the king sought special permission from the Pope to allow them to fish on saints’ days), but the signing of the Roskilde Peace Treaty in 1658 transferred it into Swedish hands. Two hundred or so years later, the fort that King Carl X duly commissioned was completed. Today, tourists are its only invaders. Marstrand is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Gothenburg region (it’s only 45km or so from the city) and has been since society bathers started making a beeline for it in the 19th century.
For those who prefer hiking to history, there are good walks to be had back on the mainland, as well as sailing, diving, kayaking and wildlife-watching trips.
The hotel’s 98 rooms are rather corporate in style, though rendered in a tasteful, Scandinavian fashion. In a nod to the maritime location, the colour schemes are either blue and white or green and white, and the cosy woollen rugs wouldn’t look out of place on a yacht. Bathrooms are kept simple and white. Some rooms come with baths as well as showers, and some have a view of the adjacent harbour, or the fort on Marstrand island. There is also one top-end suite, a frenzy of white leather with shiny black tiles in the bathroom.
Though the comfort rating is high, with great beds, powerful showers and free Wi-Fi, the frills are minimal. When I visited there were no minibars, no kettles or any official form of room service and no in-room information. However, the hotel has since introduced room service to guests who request it.
So it’s a surprise to find a veritable temple to indulgence down in the basement (let’s skip over the distinctly odd “greenhouse” guest lounge that’s been stuffed with plants and iron furniture and planted at the top of the building). In this comprehensive modern spa with driftwood, rope and other nautical design details, you will find an indoor pool, indoor hot tubs, outdoor hot tubs and various saunas and steam rooms. And, with locally inspired spa treatments such as seaweed baths and soaks in salty hot tubs on offer, this is the one feature of the hotel that might attract more than just the conference crowd – or indeed island-hoppers.
Appearances can sometimes be deceptive.
Marstrands Havshotell, Varvskajen 2, Koon Island, Marstrand, Sweden (00 46 303 240 200;marstrandshavshotell.se).