Enchanting province    

"Strong colours and images and an enormous range of music, dance, painting, textiles and handicrafts characterize the province of Hälsingland", according to one of several eloquent tourist brochures.

In particular, the myriad rivers, lakes, valleys, mountains, forests and islands are summed up as so many variations on "the shapes, movements, shades and reflections of blue...."

An ongoing campaign to have parts of Hälsingland designated as Sweden's next World Heritage Site focuses on the cultural and historic value of its beautiful farmsteads, in particular the hundreds of 18th and 19th century red-painted timber farmhouses scattered like jewels over the province, that are uniquely distinctive for their unique interior decoration and exquisite carpentry.

But visitors also love the place for its billowing fields of flax (and the artistry in linen they inspire and sustain) and its coastline, jagged with peninsulas – halsar, or "necks" of land from which, by some accounts, this enchanting province might have got its name.

The organizers of Hälsingegårdar – the "Farmhouses of Hälsingland" campaign – describe the objects of their affections as "living cultural heritage, a bearer of identity, and a source of power for the future". Scores of farmhouses, many offering overnight accommodation, are open to visitors.

For a truly unique experience of the province, visitors can follow the Hälsingland Farm Trail, meandering through the villages and districts that are home to the biggest farmhouses, the most magnificent porches and most extravagantly painted interiors in a cultural landscape that is a thousand years old. The 28 km long route stretches from the banks of the Voxna river to the vast northern forests that are home to the farms' summer pastures.

Along the watercourses flowing down from the wooded high country to the river are charming villages and hamlets, often centred around mills of various kinds, or scutcheries, where the flax was beaten in order to detach the valuable fibres from the woody stalks.

Some of the farmsteads have become tourist centres in their own right. Stenegård, for example, in the small town of Järvsö (also known for its ski slope and for its zoo featuring a collection of Nordic species), comprises a number of historic buildings with extensive grounds, an unusual garden, and a barn converted to a theatre. Several shops sell the handicrafts for which the province is famous: specially designed linen and wool clothing, brightly painted furniture and wooden utensils.

It is thought that the abundant fish and game of the province attracted the first settlers thousands of years ago. Timber became an important industry during the 19th century and remains the dominant industry in the province today.

Come dancing
Rustic traditions persist in the form of folk music (virtually every village or hamlet has its fiddlers) and dancing. Hälsingehambon, an annual world championship in the dance known as the hambo, is held in stages at different locations throughout the province, and fiddlers (among many other musicians) descend on Delsbo and Bjuråker every July.

Nature lovers are advised to head for the 120 km long Voxna valley on the border between Hälsingland and Dalarna, for canoeing or rafting, fishing, or simply total immersion in a genuine wilderness. Voxnan, a tributary of the river Ljusnan, is the longest "untouched" stretch of river in the province and a heady combination of still water, rapids and streams, and the largest waterfall in the province. Otter live in the river, and moose, bear and wolves in the surrounding forest.

The elegant east coast city of Söderhamn is renowned as the home of Broberg/Söderhamn, its champion bandy team – bandy, a popular sport in Sweden, is best described as a cross between ice hockey and soccer – and for the Oscarsborg outlook tower, which resembles a fairytale castle. An archipelago of 500 islands including the much-loved fishing village of Skärså, attracts summer visitors in their thousands.

Photo: Håkan Vargas S. / Swedish Travel & Tourism Council
Photo: Jupiterimages
Hälsingland Farm Trail

 Photo: Comstock Images Photo: Ryan McVay
Skiing at Järvsöbacken Nature lovers' paradise Otter thrive in pristine waters.