A glorious county    

Värmland is renowned for its natural splendours – including Klarälven, Sweden's largest river – and magnificent views in some of Europe's most beautiful wilderness areas. But the county also prides itself on its cultural heritage, of which Lagerlöf is perhaps the prime example. The first woman and the first Swede to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1909, she was born and lived much of her life at Mårbacka, a beautiful estate in the western part of the county, where visitors can enjoy guided tours during the spring and summer.

Lagerlöf's first novel, Gösta Berling's Saga, contains the line: "Oh glorious Värmland, with your shimmering lakes and blue mountains, your dense forests and foaming streams!"

Also open to tourists during the summer are the homes of two leading 19th century literary figures: the poet and notorious bohemian Gustaf Fröding at Alster, just outside Karlstad, and writer, composer and historian Erik Gustaf Geijer at Ransäter.

Karlstad, the main city of Värmland and a perfect starting point for visitors to the region, is strategically situated roughly midway between the Swedish and Norwegian capitals, Stockholm and Oslo, where the river Klarälven meets the northern shore of Lake Vänern. It was here that the Treaty of Karlstad granting Norway its independence from Sweden was signed in 1905: an impressive "peace monument" was erected in 1955 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the event.

Local history and culture come to life at Karlstad's awardwinning Värmlands Museum – housed in two outstanding buildings that are works of art in themselves – and in Mariebergsskogen park, a lively open-air museum and recreation area featuring an exhibition of local natural history plus a sightseeing train, children's zoo, live music, restaurants, and much more.

Picasso's wife
On the shores of Glafsfjorden, a large lake (in fact, an inland fjord), in the western part of the county, the municipality of Arvika is known for its vigorous artistic and handicrafts tradition, and for its annual pop festival, probably the largest event in the area. Kristinehamn, a pleasant little town built around a harbour on lake Vänern, shares with Halmstad to the south the distinction of a statue by Picasso, a 15 metre high tribute to the artist's second wife Jacqueline. By some accounts, Picasso chose the site in the early 1960s because of his friendship with a local artist.

There can be no doubt, however, that the overwhelming appeal of Värmland is, in the words of the local tourist authority, "Swedish nature at its most Swedish" – and in particular the river, "a vein that runs through the landscape". Once a highway for transporting wood to the sawmills in the south, the river is now the centre of a recreational area comprising thousands of lakes, streams and rivers, and occupying a special place in the hearts of many Swedes.

A unique and unforgettable Värmland experience is a lazy trip down the Klarälven on a raft, letting the river itself set the pace as the landscape varies from deepest wilderness to pastoral farmland and back again. The raft is your home and your means of transport; it is on the raft that you cook, eat and sleep; it is from the raft that you, catch your fish, jump in for a swim... or of course tie up anywhere along the way to see the sights or relax over drinks in a local pub.

There are many different kinds of rafts. Some companies will even help you build your own.

Photo: Pål Hermansen
Alsters Herrgård

Photo: Jan Ainali Photo: Pål Hermansen Photo: Brand X Pictures
Värmlands museum by night Midsummer celebration, Högboda Slow water rafting