Northern Sweden

Top of the world    

Accounting for more than half of Sweden's territory but barely 15 per cent of its population, Northern Sweden – "Norrland" – is probably best known to visitors as the land of the midnight sun and the northern lights.

High above the Arctic Circle at the top of the world, the northern two-thirds of the country is a magnificent landscape of towering alpine peaks and endless vistas of pine forest, rushing waters, high plateaux, meadows, glaciers and tundra, its eastern reaches fringed by a rolling coastline, peppered with islands and skerries.

Of course, no description of Northern Sweden is complete without mentioning Swedish Lapland, where the Sami reindeer herders roam free. The Sami are Europe's only indigenous people, and one of the smallest in terms of population, numbering only around 75,000, of whom some 20,000 live in Sweden. Hikers can explore the mountains in the company of Sami guides, staying in a traditional Sami tepee while their luggage is carried by reindeer, and eating local and regional delicacies. One typical 22 kilometre walk ends in the mountain village of Kvikkjokk, where hikers climb aboard a boat to continue their excursion down river.

Lovers of the great outdoors will also rejoice in the national parks, where bear, elk, wolverine, golden eagle and the rare Arctic fox have their home. Sweden's own "gold rush" happened here – and the gold mining industry remains active to this day.

The High Coast on the northeastern Baltic shore is a spectacular World Heritage site for its unique and dramatic land and seascape, its rugged coastline and the islands that rise steeply and dramatically from the sea. Further inland, even when spring and summer have returned Sweden's famous Ice Hotel to the river from which it came, visitors still flock to this corner of the far north of Sweden: stressed-out city dwellers wanting to leave it all behind for some marvellous fishing or to warm up in a traditional wood-burning sauna, safely out of range of mobile phone signals and miles from the nearest road, sleeping in wooden cabins accessible only on foot or by boat or raft, where the silence is so profound you can hear the fall of a snowflake....

The 440 km hiking trail between Abisko in the north and Hemavan in the south passes through one of Europe's most unspoilt landscapes. The most popular stretch runs between Abisko and Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest mountain.

Huts along the route provide basic accommodation for hikers. For the less experienced walkers there are plenty of opportunities for one-day excursions from Abisko.

In Kiruna, visitors are fascinated by of Europe's only civilian space centre, from which Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic plans to send the first European space tourists skywards sometime in the near future. Visitors are welcome, and tours of Esrange are easy to organize.

In this part of the world, food takes the shortest possible route to the table, honestly prepared using local ingredients, fresh from the surrounding forests and rivers. The Sami people started developing this cuisine thousands of years ago: their pots simmered over open fires and contained whatever nature could give – reindeer, of course, and elk, fowl such as grouse and capercaillie, and fish – grayling, brown trout, char and whitefish – and the fabulous cloudberry. Many of these ingredients are now in demand in gourmet kitchens the world over; in Sweden they are often served at the Nobel Prize dinner and on other gala occasions.

The average population density in Europe is 118 people per square kilometre: in and around Swedish Lapland it's about two. As a result, people look forward to meeting each other and appreciate each other's company. Socializing is informal and easy-going, and there are many places to meet, from local markets to gatherings in large, modern conference venues with all the latest technology; but after a day of outdoor adventure, the sauna is the traditional meeting place.

Warmth, steam and afterwards, if so inclined, a good stiff drink, help free your thoughts, bringing to mind the old Nordic proverb: "If the sauna, schnapps and tar don't help... it's probably fatal"!

Photo: naturum Färnebofjärden


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