Dynamic splendour    

Västmanland is proud of its status as one of Sweden's most dynamic industrial counties dating back to the early 14th century, when iron ore was first mined – an activity that continues to this day. But the region is equally noted for its hundreds of splendid fishing lakes and rivers, many of them stocked (including the river Svartån running through Västerås itself), and scores of nature reserves and national parks.

Miracles of nature and human ingenuity converge at Strömsholms canal, one of the county's major tourist attractions: 100 km long with 26 locks. The rise through a series of locks at Hallstahammar is an impressive 50 metres.

The magnificent Färnebofjärden national park is part of the Nedre Dalälven region, a unique stretch of the river where lakes, rapids, wetlands and woods form a mosaic including more than 200 islands, islets and skerries. Part of the important biological boundary with northern Sweden, this beautiful area supports an unusual combination of southern and northern flora. Färnebofjärden is an ideal destination for fishing enthusiasts, birdwatchers and botanists, and for hiking, swimming or canoeing.

Västerås, the county capital, is an immensely popular summer destination in its own right. Attractions include bathing, boating, shopping, golf, pavement cafés and restaurants... all within walking distance of the town centre. There are plenty of parking spaces and several thousand hotel beds, plus youth hostels and campsites nearby.

This city, in short, is a mixture of old and new, the medieval town sitting comfortably with the modern industrial hub – Västerås is known as the birthplace of ASEA, now the global industrial giant ABB, and of the multinational clothing chain H&M, which opened its first shop there in 1947 – and all the more attractive for its setting on the shores of Mälaren, the third-largest lake in Sweden after Vänern and Vättern.

"Sweden's Klondike"
The skyline is dominated by the cathedral, consecrated in 1271; and Västerås Castle with its exhibition of the silver treasure found on the main town square, is a fine reminder of the days when the silver mine at Sala generated enormous wealth, inspiring historians of the county to describe it as "Sweden's Klondike".

Any number of boat trips and sightseeing tours set sail directly from the city harbour to the hundred or so islands in the Västerås archipelago. Östra Holmen, a favourite for bathing, is served by the 107-year-old ferry "Elba". As it happens, Elba is also the name of another island paradise in the archipelago: a romantic place, offering dining and dancing on warm summer evenings and a scenic "love walk". There is of course no connection with the famous Italian island of that name: but surely it is no coincidence that the ferry to and from the Swedish isle of Elba is christened M/S Napoleon!

Just a 30-minute drive from Västerås is Arboga, a town with a rich cultural heritage and a unique town centre environment with many listed buildings and a number of important historical sites from events which have influenced the entire country at various times during the last millennium. Annual events include the lively "Medieval Days", during which Arboga celebrates its historical and cultural heritage with (among other things) a beer fest, as the streets are filled with jesters, jousters, stallholders and revellers in medieval costumes.

The industrial heritage of the county provides some fascinating excursions. Visitors to the silver mine at Sala, once known as "Sweden's treasure trove" and dating from the 16th century, can explore the mine workings deep underground; northwest of Nora, an 18th-century mine shaft leads to a mountain cavern housing a large collection of minerals and mining equipment, while "Oljeön" ("Oil Island"), as the island of Barrön is popularly known, is the site of the world's oldest refinery.

Many of these attractions are in effect tourist centres complete with educational films, restaurants, handicrafts and souvenir shops, etc.

Photo: Lasse Fredriksson, Sala silvermine
Västerås, home of H&M...

Photo: Clifford Shirley Photo: Clifford Shirley Photo JanOlof Åkerlund
...and tourist mecca Famous ferry Victoria Hall, Sala silver mine