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In a retreat in Sweden on a small, rocky island – with a 19th century lighthouse

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A boy with bright red hair and perfect English gives me two big stones. “Here, use these to break off the claws,” he says.

I pick them up and start bashing for the prized meat.

The eight of us sit around a long wooden table laden with platters of ice-cold crayfish, shrimp and crab claws, bowls of aioli, seaweed mayonnaise, and cubes of hard, salty local cheese.

Secluded: Harriet Sime resides on the island of Pater Noster (pictured), off Sweden’s west coast, with a 19th-century lighthouse and new hotel

Top-rated boutique hotel opened by a group of local entrepreneurs who lease the island

Top-rated boutique hotel opened by a group of local entrepreneurs who lease the island

One of the bathrooms on the island, with a mix of modern and antique furniture

A range of delicacies in one of the hotel's common areas

Pictured to the left is one of the bathrooms on the island, with a mix of modern and antique furnishings. To the right is some delicacies in one of the hotel’s common areas

My boyfriend and I are the only Brits. The other guys, all Swedish, roll up their sleeves and stop, bash, twist, peel and scoop with a precision that says they’ve done this a few times before.

It’s a dirty business (I even manage to cut myself and have to run out, embarrassingly, for a band-aid), but we quickly forget our British reserve and, with the help of our new friends, devour the whole thing, the salty juice that through our wrists and off our chins.

We stay on Pater Noster, a small rocky island (only 250 meters long and 120 meters wide) five kilometers off the west coast of Sweden, with a 19th-century lighthouse and a newly opened nine-bed hotel.

For more than 150 years, the lighthouse guided sailors through the perilous waters that wrecked 900 boats before its construction in 1868.

The Pater Noster lighthouse was decommissioned in 1977, leaving the island uninhabited for decades

The Pater Noster lighthouse was decommissioned in 1977, leaving the island uninhabited for decades

The hotel on Pater Noster will open in the summer of 2020.  Above is one of the stylish guest rooms

The hotel on Pater Noster will open in the summer of 2020. Above is one of the stylish guest rooms

Most guests travel to the island for

Most guests travel to the island for “a night to play in beautiful isolation,” says Harriet

The island hotel is accessible by a short boat ride from the mainland

The island hotel is accessible by a short boat ride from the mainland

Guests on the island dine communally in the old wooden boathouse 'laced with bright orange fishermen's waders'

Guests on the island dine communally in the old wooden boathouse ‘laced with bright orange fishermen’s waders’

Harriet and her boyfriend are the only Brits on the island during their stay - all other guests are Swedish.

Harriet and her boyfriend are the only Brits on the island during their stay – all other guests are Swedish. “It’s a joy to be entrenched on an island with six extremely friendly natives,” she says

Harriet enjoys a seafood platter full of ice-cold crayfish, shrimp and crab claws

Harriet enjoys a seafood platter full of ice-cold crayfish, shrimp and crab claws

All the lighthouse master and his staff had was the sea; their lives were dictated by the storms and winds that threw salt spray more than 80 feet into the air, often leaving them trapped for months.

The families survived on a diet of seals, crab and boiled seawater; the salty, windy terrain too tough to keep livestock or grow anything.

The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1977, leaving the island deserted until a group of local entrepreneurs signed a lease with the government and opened in the summer of 2020 what is now one of Sweden’s best boutique hotels.

Most guests, just like us, come to play for a night in wonderful isolation. Firm, icy swims in the seven-degree ocean are followed by steamy dives in the saltwater hot tubs overlooking Denmark.

We dine together in the old wooden boathouse clad in bright orange fishermen’s waders and sleep in the red clapboard house, which was once home to the lighthouse master, keeper, servant and their families.

It’s a joy to be holed up on an island with six extraordinarily friendly natives.

The original inhabitants of the lighthouse 'survived on a diet of seals, crabs and boiled seawater', but now the hotel offers more comfort, with luxurious interiors and delicious local delicacies

The original inhabitants of the lighthouse ‘survived on a diet of seals, crabs and boiled seawater’, but now the hotel offers more comfort, with luxurious interiors and delicious local delicacies

Pater Noster is only 250 meters long and 120 meters wide

Pater Noster is only 250 meters long and 120 meters wide

For over 150 years, the lighthouse has guided sailors through the perilous waters that have wrecked 900 boats

For over 150 years, the lighthouse has guided sailors through the perilous waters that have wrecked 900 boats

Over a four-course dinner, we exchange stories and learn how Swedes love coffee (10 cups a day is the norm for some), how every other Swedish family owns a boat, and how their obsession with cinnamon buns is genuine (one guest brought a bag full with her).

Anders — one of the entrepreneurs (they make sure there’s always one on the island) — passionately serves the flowery Riesling, lighthouse tales and seafood, starting with delicious fried bright green seaweed the chef picked on the island just minutes earlier.

As the sun sets and the sky turns pink, the boy with bright red appears playing her violin. We sit in silence, with only the wind interrupting its whipping performance. Some on the table are moved to tears.

Anders tells how he practices in the lighthouse during his breaks, but only plays for guests when he feels like it.

“He likes us, we’re a good group,” says a woman. We smile and nod in silence.

During Harriet's stay, one of the entrepreneurs who runs the island's hotel serves 'lighthouse stories and seafood with passion'

During Harriet’s stay, one of the entrepreneurs who runs the island’s hotel serves ‘lighthouse stories and seafood with passion’

“Small, icy swims in the seven-degree ocean are followed by steamy dips in the saltwater hot tubs,” writes Harriet

“Small, icy swims in the seven-degree ocean are followed by steamy dips in the saltwater hot tubs,” writes Harriet

Regent Holidays offers a five day Gothenburg & Pater Noster Lighthouse Retreat from £2,395 pp

Regent Holidays offers a five day Gothenburg & Pater Noster Lighthouse Retreat from £2,395 pp

The next morning we reluctantly say goodbye and join the short boat ride back to the mainland, passing dozens of chubby seals basking on a nearby small island.

The 40 minute drive to Gothenburg takes us through the beautiful archipelagos; the red-and-yellow clapboard houses appear more regularly on the green, flat landscape until we reach the cobbled center of the town.

We’re determined to experience ‘fika’ – a tradition where Swedes catch up with friends over coffee and cake – so we quickly head to Haga, the old boho quarter of the city. Thrift stores and leather shops pop up on every corner, and doughy cinnamon buns the size of our heads lure weary shoppers.

The afternoon is spent exploring, stopping for cake and coffee that turns into Aperol Spritz and then wine with salted almonds at one of the many trendy bars.

The city (population 500,000) is best explored on foot, but for tired legs, historic blue trams rattle with precise regularity through the streets and along the pretty canals and parks (Gothenburg has the largest tram network in Northern Europe).

After leaving Pater Noster behind, Harriet continues exploring Gothenburg (above)

After leaving Pater Noster behind, Harriet continues exploring Gothenburg (above)

While in Gothenburg, Harriet takes a stroll through the Haga district (above), where she finds thrift stores, leather shops and 'doughy cinnamon buns the size of our heads'

While in Gothenburg, Harriet takes a stroll through the Haga district (above), where she finds thrift stores, leather shops and ‘doughy cinnamon buns the size of our heads’

Seafood is also serious business in Sweden’s second city, thanks to the icy, salty west coast, which is teeming with shellfish.

On our last evening we take the tram to Brasserie Lavette, a fish and grill restaurant in the south of the city. We almost order the crayfish so we can show off our new shell bashing skills.

But instead we choose to reminisce over fish gratin, steak and chablis and take that precious memory with us.

TRAVEL FACTS

Regent holidays (regent-holidays.co.uk) offers a five-day Gothenburg & Pater Noster Lighthouse Retreat from £2,395 pp. Price based on two parts, including return flights, two nights at Pater Noster Lighthouse on full board, two nights at Hotel Pigalle in Gothenburg on a B&B basis and transfers between the two. To see visitsweden.com.

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