Gränna boasts great scenery, but it also suffers from some tacky tourist overlay. Because so many Swedish honeymooners have chosen Gränna for their wedding nights, it is even sometimes referred to as a "baby factory." The sugary nature is in keeping with the town, though. This is the place that invented peppermint candy, after all; the red-and-white candy sticks, or Polkagris, were first made here in 1859 by widow Amalia Eriksson.
Gränna was founded in 1652 by Count Per Brahe, one of the first Swedish counts to be governor of Finland. Nowadays it is mainly a summer town with boutiques, arts and crafts stalls, hot-air ballooning sites, and a harbor area with camping, bathing, and restaurants. In addition, it has great pears: Per Brahe encouraged the planting of pear orchards in the environs, and pears from Gränna are ranked as the finest in Scandinavia today.
To reach the lakeside town, head north from Jönköping along E4. After a distance of 40km (25 miles), you reach Gränna, which lies at a point 280km (174 miles) southwest of Stockholm and 230km (143 miles) east of Gothenburg. The town of Tranås lies 40km (25 miles) from Gränna and is on the main rail route between Stockholm and Malmö. From Tranås, several buses make the final run to Gränna.
You should head first for the Gränna-Visingsö Turistbyrå, Brahegatan 48 (tel. 0390/410-10; www.grm.se/grm/turistinfo), open June to September daily 10am to 6pm. The rest of the year, hours are Monday to Friday 11am to 4pm. Once you tire of wandering the town's cobbled streets, lined with painted wooden houses, you can take a ferry across Gränna harbor to the island of Visingsö.
In this hometown of St. Birgitta (1303-73), patron saint of Sweden, the Middle Ages never died. The world has long passed by this sleepy former pilgrimage center -- and that's precisely why we love it. An evocative town, filled with narrow streets and medieval buildings, Vadstena enjoys a lakeside setting on the eastern shore of Lake Vättern. It's the most nostalgic stop along the Göta Canal -- far less touristy than Gränna.
St. Birgitta's convent and church were once known far and wide, and pilgrims thronged to see the saint's relics. King Gustav Vasa was a regular visitor in the 16th century and built the famous Vadstena castle. In fact, there was a royal palace in Vadstena as early as the 13th century, when Birgitta was a lady-in-waiting, before she went on to found the convent. Today there are still Sisters of St. Birgitta at Vadstena Convent. Vadstena is also known all over Sweden for its handmade lace -- to see samples of this delicate product, walk along Stora Gatan, the main street.
Vadstena lies 256km (159 miles) southwest of Stockholm, 260km (162 miles) northeast of Gothenburg, and 60km (37 miles) north of Gränna. From the last stopover at Gränna, continue north along E4 until you reach the junction with Route 50, at which point you veer off the main highway and continue along 50 until you reach Vadstena. Bus no. 840 runs daily from Jönköping, and bus no. 855 departs from the Central Station in Stockholm, but only on Friday and Sunday. If you're driving here from Stockholm, take E4 southwest; at the junction of Route 206, head northwest.
The tourist bureau, Vadstena Turistbyrå, is located in Vadstena Castle, S-592 80 Vadstena (tel. 0143/315-70; www.vadstena.se). The bureau is open daily 10am to 6pm from June to September; off season hours usually are daily 11am to 4pm.
Before reaching Stockholm, Göta Canal cruises go to Motala. And before reaching the canal, waters of the lake go to a flight of five locks, a dramatic sight that makes Motala one of the highlights of the Göta Canal cruises. Motala was designed by Baltzar von Platen, one of the waterway's creators, and he remains a popular local hero. His grave and statue lie side by side on the canal sidewalk.
On the eastern shore of Lake Vättern, a stone's throw from the Göta Canal, Motala is called the "bicycle town," as it contains 50km (31 miles) of designated bicycle paths, which many local residents use year-round. Every June sees the running of the world's largest bicycle exercise race around Lake Vättern. The town lies 210km (130 miles) southwest of Stockholm, 472km (293 miles) northeast of Helsingborg, and 263km (163 miles) northeast of Gothenburg.
From Vadstena, continue north along Route 8, with Lake Vättern on your right, and you'll come to Motala after a drive of 13km (8 miles). If you're not driving, you can take bus no. 16, which runs along the eastern side of Lake Vättern.
For information about Motala and the surrounding area, call the Motala Turistbyrå, Hamnen (tel. 0141/22-52-54; www.motala.se), open June to August Monday to Friday and Sunday 10am to 6pm, Saturday 10am to 3pm. Off-season hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.
Örebro is a bit of a wallflower town compared to the more popular destinations in the area, such as Vadstena. But there are rewards here for those willing to seek them out. The town lies 60km (37 miles) north of Lake Vättern and is strategically located on the main route from southwest Sweden to the capital city of Stockholm. Sweden's sixth most populous city, it borders the shores of Lake Hjälmaren, the fourth largest lake in the country.
Its castle, Örebro Slott , is one of the most famous in Sweden; it also lies at the River Svartån, which is studded with waterlilies in summer. To the immediate west of the town center is Lake Tysslingen, which is best reached by bike. Many birders come here to view the lake in the spring when thousands upon thousands of whooper swans temporarily settle on the way to Finland from their winter retreats.
Motorists departing from our last stopover at Motala can continue north along Route 50 until they reach the junction with E3, an express highway that will carry them north into the center of Örebro.
You can also visit Örebro directly on a main east-west train from Stockholm (trip time: 2 hr.). For information about the town, contact the visitor center, Destination Örebro, Slottet (in the castle; tel. 019/21-21-21). It is open June to August Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm. Off-season hours are Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 2pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.