The picturesque town of Marstrand lies just 45 minutes northwest of the large Swedish city of Gothenburg. Before arriving in Scandinavia I’d never heard of it. But probably I should have. As well as providing vacation homes for many of Sweden’s wealthiest families, Marstrand is also a Scandinavian yachting capital and the annual venue for the prestigious Match Cup Sweden sailing event. The small island of Marstrandsön is separated from the mainland by a wide channel and is dominated by an imposing 17th-century hilltop fortress.
Marstrand town, a place of around 1,500 inhabitants, extends along both sides of the water. On the drive up from Gothenburg, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I’d been given a personal introduction to a retired Swedish businessman, Ebbe, who had kindly invited to show me around. His enviable summer home on the mainland turned out to have an unimpeded postcard-perfect view of the harbor, a patch of cobalt blue, sprinkled with craft of every kind, surrounded by white-walled, red-roofed houses. After chatting on his terrace for a while, my host suggested a stroll into town, followed by lunch and a glass of wine at one of the numerous quayside restaurants. We waited for the ferry across to the island surrounded by a suntanned crowd, the kind of cheerful, friendly, good-looking people who can be found in sailing ports from Newport, Rhode Island, to Sydney, Australia. It was a perfect summer day, with a cloudless sky, a light breeze and a temperature in the low 70s. A significant proportion of the craft tied up to the jetties were flying German and Norwegian flags, giving the place an agreeably international atmosphere.
Boarding the ferry, we headed to the bow for the best view. Ebbe pointed out a majestic white schooner that he said was a training ship for the Royal Swedish navy. Sleek speedboats cruised past, while a succession of yachts unfurled their sails and headed out for a day on the Skagerrak. It was impossible not to be entranced by the animated and colorful scene, and I wished myself to be nowhere else in the world. Peaceful, prosperous and absurdly pretty, Marstrand seemed at that moment improbably close to perfection.