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Jämtland

"Europe's last wilderness"    

Jämtland county, a conjunction of the two historical provinces of Jämtland and Härjedalen, covers 12 per cent of the total area of the country, but accounts for scarcely 1.5 per cent of the population.

According to the Swedish Tourism Trade Association, this is "Europe's last wilderness" – and the county does contain vast expanses of primeval landscape where mountains and forests stretch to far horizons, broken only by still, small ponds, purling brooks, great lakes and mighty rushing rivers... water so clean that it is drinkable anywhere, and teeming with fish.

In the wide open spaces of the high plateaux you can wander for days from hostel to hostel and never see a car (or indeed a motorized vehicle of any kind}; the Sylarna mountain range, a magnet for alpine skiers, is particularly stunning, and surprisingly accessible.

Take advantage of the unique "Hike and Bike" website (http://www.hikebike.se/), a pioneering service that helps visitors plan a tour along the various trails and footpaths in Jämtland and across the border into Nordic neighbour Norway. There are routes for a wide range of tours on foot or mountain bike through mountainous terrain, forests and/or more cultivated landscapes, classified by length and difficulty, plus a border-crossing digital map and plenty of advice.

Of course, you can discover Jämtland-Härjedalen in any number of ways – on horseback, or dog sled, or paddling down some beautiful river by canoe.

Monster mash
Explore the islands in Storsjön, the Great Lake, the fifth largest in Sweden. Start in the lively little city of Östersund, where you can fish for your dinner in the harbour, and set out in search of the local sea monster. Those who claim to have seen it say it is six to twelve metres long, with humps on its back and a small head – a relative of Scotland's fabled Loch Ness Monster, perhaps?

The county administrative board takes the whole thing seriously enough to have passed a law at one stage prohibiting anyone from "killing, injuring, or trapping a live animal such as the Great Lake Sea Monster" or from "removing or injuring the Great Lake Sea Monster's eggs, roe, or dwelling". Sadly, however, the law was later ruled invalid on the grounds that it is not possible to protect a creature which is not yet known to exist....

Back on dry land, there is no shortage of guides conducting wildlife safaris through the ancient forests, wide valleys and encircling mountains. Near the Norwegian border, the 1200 sq km nature reserve of Vålådalen is ideal for sighting the rare Arctic fox – the county is thought to have the largest population in northern Europe – as well as elk, reindeer and bear. To the north, Strömsund municipality boasts the densest bear population in Sweden and perhaps the world.

Giant playground
In winter, Jämtland-Härjedalen turns into a giant playground, particularly for sports enthusiasts. Östersund has hosted the Biathlon World Championships, and Åre, the leading ski and mountain bike resort which bills itself as "the alpine centre of Scandinavia", the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

Visitors to this area can rent a mountain bike or skis and coast down mount Åreskutan; the more faint-hearted can enjoy dog teams gliding past spruce trees laden with snow, a toboggan race on the slope round the corner from the cabin, a long distance ski trip on well-prepared cross-country tracks... and for afters, a hearty meal and a bit of partying, or just a quiet cup of hot chocolate before bedtime in front of the open fire.

To the west of Åre is Sweden's largest waterfall, Tännforsen, where up to 700 cubic metres of water per second are hurled over a sheer drop of 38 metres from lake Tännsjön down into lake Noren. This spectacular natural performance has fascinated and inspired painters and writers – and tourists – for centuries.

    
 
Photo: Pål Hermansen
 
Photo: Jupiterimages
 
Photo: Björn Kärf Photo: Björn Kärf Photo: Comstock Images
Tännforsen Stor-Blåsjön Winter wonderland
     
 
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