Dummy h2 dventure with a difference, head for the Saxon border and the original land of toys.
ONE OF Sweden's most famous exports - beyond Abba, of course - is Absolut vodka. Whether slugged, swift and neat, from chipped shot glasses or sipped delicately, along with cranberry juice, in smooth city bars, this particular brand of vodka has become something of a modern institution.

Its less-than-glamorous origins lie with Lars Olsson Smith who, in 1879, started making vodka from distilled potatoes on the island of Reimersholmen, just outside Stockholm. Today, thanks at least in part to some brilliant marketing, the potatoes have been replaced with wheat and absolutely all Absolut vodka is produced in distilleries at Ahus in southern Sweden.

The popularity of Absolut in the West really started in 1979, when, spurred on by the centenary of Smith's initial efforts, the President of the Swedish Wine and Spirits Corporation decided to try a new strategy. First came a new bottle; based on a traditional medicine bottle, with clear glass, silver text, a seal depicting Olsson Smith and the inscription, "Absolut Country of Sweden Vodka".

Next came the ads ("Absolut Perfection", a bottle with a halo, "Absolut Heaven", a bottle with wings, and so on) and then, in 1985, Absolut Art. Andy Warhol's commission, a painting of the Absolut bottle, was an immediate hit and one of his proteges, Keith Haring, was consequently approached to carry out Absolut's second commission. To date, more than 350 artists have made their mark on the bottle and more than 1,200 ads have run.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, take yourself off to Absolut's spiritual home, Ahus, a small seaside resort. Here, 90-minute tours of the Absolut vodka factory (Kopmannag 29 Box 83, 296 22 Ahus, 00 46 44 288 000) run twice a week, cost around pounds 2 per adult and are bookable through the local Tourist Office (0046 44 240 106). And, if this has whetted your appetite, you could continue your trip at the hotel Ahus Strand (00 46 44 289 300) which runs vodka history - and tasting - evenings for groups (around pounds 11 per person, booked 14 days in advance).

The bad news is that Absolut factory tours only run between June and August. The good news is that, until then, you can get into the Swedish spirit closer to home.

Shuffle down to the East Piazza of London's Covent Garden Market between now and 18 December, swirl your stuff on the Absolut bottle-shaped ice rink (pounds 4.50 per hour, over-18s only) and spend the months between now and June saving up for the pounds 78 Ryanair (0541 569 569) return flight from Stansted to Kristianstad, the nearest airport to Ahus. Alternatively, choose the direct route and grab yourself a bottle of Absolut (pounds 13.49 from Oddbins) for medicinal purposes - to blot out the sound of a certain Swedish pop group at all those Christmas parties.

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