Full of surprises    

Örebro is full of surprises. While sharing with neighbouring counties a typically benign Swedish landscape of flatlands and mountains, forests, lakes and rivers, this miniature gem also boasts some of the region's most beautiful castles, a world-class chamber orchestra, and an absolutely enormous amusement park.

In the charming county town of Örebro, on the shores of lake Hjälmaren, the little river Svartån runs through a townscape of cobblestone streets and municipal parks acclaimed as one of the most beautiful in Sweden. And yet another surprise: this is quite a cosmopolitan city, with something like 150 nationalities represented. With its proximity to Stockholm (200 km), Gothenburg and Oslo (300 km each), Örebro is also a natural logistical centre for much of Scandinavia.

Founded in the 13th century, when a bridge was built over the river, the city became first a centre of the iron trade and then, from the late 19th century the shoe industry: at one stage, half of Sweden's shoe factories were in or around Örebro. Today it is home to several large high-tech companies and one of Sweden's largest universities.

The 700-year-old castle of Örebro, which is situated on an islet in the middle of Svartån, has been extensively enlarged and rebuilt over the centuries. The Swedish Parliament met there in 1529 to decide on the Reformation Act, and again in 1617, when King Gustav II Adolf held a session of the realm. In 1812, it was at this castle that Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, forebear of the present King Carl Gustaf, was crowned. One of Sweden's so-called Vasa castles, it now functions as a conference centre and also houses a tourist office and restaurant – while remaining, of course, a major attraction and historical monument in its own right.

Music has a long history here, stemming from the 17th century when the royal family would call for military musicians from Örebro to play at installations in the capital. Today the city is home to the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1995, which has quickly established itself as one of the most interesting European ensembles, praised for its fresh sound and lively style. Now numbering 38 full-time musicians, the ensemble plays not only the traditional chamber orchestra repertoire, but also pieces usually performed by full-size symphony orchestras.

Brunnsparken, Örebro's amusement park, is a wellknown venue for popular music concerts. With its huge 440 square metre dance floor, small zoo and all the usual amusement park attractions, this is truly a family destination. In another part of town, the island of Stora Holmen, accessible by ferry or bridge, has been developed especially for children, who can take a "Lilliput train" journey round the island or mess about in pedal cars, horse-drawn carriages and playgrounds.

Outdoor activities available to visitors throughout the county are as varied as the landscape: hunting, excursions on mountain bikes, fishing or canoeing in more than 400 lakes and waterways, even a boat trip to Stockholm. Moose and beaver abound in the national parks and nature reserves, which are also magnets for birdwatchers. Järle, one of the bestknown reserves, features numerous waterfalls and rapids, plus some rare plants – not to mention the elusive kingfisher. In Tiveden national park, surrounded by primeval forest and considered by many the most beautiful of them all, a marked trail leads to the little lake of Vitsand and its white sandy beaches; the famous red water lilies of Fagertärn bloom in July and August.

The pretty town of Askersund, centered around a harbour on the northern coast of lake Vättern, styles itself a year-round destination which really comes alive during the summer, when it hosts a traditional jazz festival. Askersund is also "a café and chocolate town", the local authority declares proudly.

Örebro Castle entrance

Örebro Castle Lake Vättern "The Mushroom" - Örebro water tower