We crossed the leafy square over which Berns hotel presides, and headed straight for the wrong entrance. There are two: a discreet doorway off to the right leads to reception; the exciting-looking glass structure built into the façade is where non-residents flock to drink and disport themselves in Stockholm’s beloved party palace (from dinner in the restaurant to dancing in übertrendy LE).
There’s no lobby as such, but the main bar is big enough to hold a double-decker bus; Berns’ public spaces are on a very grand scale. Hungry, we followed the advice of the beautiful people at reception and wandered up to the Sturehof, a classic brasserie situated on Stureplan, close to leafy Östermalm. There was exuberance in the air (perhaps as it was end-of-the-month payday), and we sat until 1am over five types of Baltic herring and a bottle of rosé, watching the locals go by, and promising each other to whoop it up ourselves the following night.
Boutiquey but big, with 65 rooms, Berns Hotel was originally built as a restaurant in 1863; it got reincarnated 14 years ago as a unique hotel and entertainment palace. Our room was cosy but not tiny, and we loved its style: wood panelling felt both modern and warm, and the groovy cylindrical TV console not only looked great, but also provided me with a screen for undertaking mysterious changes of attire while Mr Smith caught up with current affairs from the comfort of the bed. The modern bathroom was fine, but not as attractive as the room itself, which had the feel of a first-class cabin, without being painfully retro.
In the morning, we explored: the museum-like Red Room and Mirror Room (where we breakfasted sumptuously on, oh, the usual – gravadlax, scrambled eggs, reindeer meat), the ON-bar overlooking Berzelii Park, an upstairs bar that was to get seriously crowded later, an outdoor terrace (a summer institution), and the spectacular main restaurant, which can only be described as Conran goes to the Vienna opera. Mr Smith, jacket junkie, was on a mission to check out Swedish designer Filippa K, find a vintage emporium, and have a rifle through H&M. I was happy to go along with this, since it all had a pleasingly Scandinavian unisex appeal.
We decided to make for Södermalm, a quirkier quarter than the superbly heeled central zone. This took us across Gamla Stan, the mediaeval old town, whose pretty-as-a-picture streets and squares are the big tourist-tat-shop area. In concept boutique c/o Stockholm on Götgatan, we browsed Myla lingerie, vintage sunglasses, Missoni towels, Nuxe and REN products and Lara Bohinc jewellery. In a modern mall, Galleria Bruno, we found the best selection of It jeans we’ve ever seen. Fitted out in new slinky top and manly cropped jacket respectively, we doubled back on ourselves for lunch at Eriks Gondolen, a bridge-like structure high in the air, with the best views in town.
Feeling at home in Södermalm, we headed to Bondegatan, Nytorgsgatan and Skånegatan, where skaters, students and other species of youth hang out in pavement cafes, bars and parks. The scene was beginning to live up to one of my favourite Scandinavian templates: the film Together, where Seventies values and good skin meet thrift-shop chic. We had coffee in an airy, grungey canteen called String, murmured lovingly at some amazingly cheap leather easy chairs, and contented ourselves with some vintage Sanderson wallpaper from one of the secondhand shops on Bondegatan.
We’d forgotten to book for the hotel restaurant, but the front-desk angels saved the evening and got us a table at the last minute. The vast gilded dining hall at Berns Hotel is ornate, grand and lofty, and the staff (like those in every single shop and restaurant we visited) were sweetness itself. Mr Smith had one of the best steaks he’s ever eaten – and he’s had a few – and we drank a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage before heading into Norrmalm.
Hotellet is a packed see-and-be-seen bar, but we preferred the youthful Brasserie Godot, with its reggae soundtrack, great mojitos and bar mural. Bypassing the Footballers’ Wives end of the nightlife scene, we went back to the Berns and were amazed to see our dignified hotel transformed into a heaving continent of dancing, drinking bodies. We sipped schnapps on the terrace, explored the different bars, and escaped by lift back to our room at some point in the small hours, Berns still pulsating away beneath us.
On Sunday morning, we could have done with some salty sea air, but decided that boarding a boat when we had a flight booked late was too ripe for farce. Instead, we walked to Djurgården and spent the rest of our city break in a facsimile of pre-industrial rural Sweden. It’s great: an open-air museum, with reconstructed hovels and playfighting bears. Already sarcastic about my passion for a toy shop in Södermalm (‘Oh, look, a pony with a daisy in its mouth…’), Mr Smith wondered if I was reliving my childhood. Then he discovered the elk enclosure.
Before we left for the airport we found ourselves back at the Sturehof. There’s a café-society feel to the swankier parts of town, and it dawned on me that, as well as bringing out the Bond girl in me, Stockholm was close to fulfiling all the Wallpaper*-fuelled lifestyle fantasies I’d ever nurtured. We sat among the international crowd, all cashmere and ‘ciao’ and tried work out a way of becoming regulars.
Of all the Stockholm clichés we were prepared for – beautiful people, sexy design, social equality, fantastic herring – not all are 100 per cent true: you’ll see the occasional kink in a symmetrically beautiful face; there’s some glum Sixties architecture; and while Mr Smith says he wouldn’t object, apparently Swedish women have to do all the running, dating-wise. Micro-quibbles aside, Stockholm is clean, cultured and cool. And the herring rocks.