The small, pretty lakeside town of MARIESTAD, with its splendid medieval quarter and harbour area, is just over two hours by train from Gothenburg, and an excellent base for a day or two's exploration. It's also worth visiting for the extraordinary range of building styles crammed into its centre – Gustavian, Carolean, Classical, Swiss-chalet style and Art Nouveau – like a living museum of architectural design. Have a look, too, at the cathedral, on the edge of the centre, which was built by Duke Karl (who named the town after his wife, Maria of Pfalz) in an attempt to compete with his brother King Johan III's Klara kyrka in Stockholm.
The hugely popular STF youth hostel (Tel:0501/104 48, Web: www.stfvandrarhemmariestad.se ; book in advance mid-Aug to mid-June; Price: under Kr500) has dorm beds from 140kr. Built after the fire of 1693, the hostel is a former tannery with galleried timber outbuildings and an excellent garden café.
For a hotel, the small Bergs Hotell of 1698, in the old town, at Kyrkogatan 18 (Tel:0501/103 24, Web: www.bergshotel.com ; Price: Kr500-700), is plain, but comfortable enough. Much grander is the classical Stadshotellet overlooking the main square at Nygatan 10 (Tel:0501/138 00, Web: www.stadtshotelletmariestad.com ; Price: Kr900-1200). Other good-value central options include the mundane Hotell Aqva, Viktoriagatan 15 (Tel:0501/195 15, Web: www.aqva.se ; Price: Kr500-700), or the far cosier Hotel Vänerport, Hamngatan 32 (Tel:0501/771 11, Web: www.vanerport.se ; Price: Kr700-900). The nearest campsite is Ekudden, 2km west along the lake (Tel:0501/106 37, Web: www.ekuddenscamping.se ; May– Sept).
Mariestad's trendiest eating place is Café Ströget at Österlånggatan 10. The St. Michel restaurant at Kungsgatan 1 (Tel:0501/199 00) has good views of the river Tidan, and serves some of the best food in town, with main courses starting at 140kr. One possibility for evening fun is at Björnes Magasin, Karlsgatan 2 (Mon– Fri 11am–2.30pm, Tues– Thurs 6–11pm, Fri & Sat 6pm–1am; Tel:0501/180 50), which serves good food all day and hosts weekly club nights – it's an enjoyable place for a 26-plus age group. Reasonable pubs are Buffalo, at Österlånggatan 16, and Hjorten, Nygatan 21.