Walking and trekking
Sweden sometimes gets unfairly labelled as Norway’s naturally inferior sibling, lacking the fjords and peaks which make its neighbour so illustrious with outdoor lovers. By this reasoning, Sweden must therefore be one of the greatest outdoor secrets in Europe.Bergslagen and Abisko National Park, Gotland Island, Laponia World Heritage site and the ferociously wild Sarek National Park are as good a walking destinations as you can imagine. Sweden also has a total of 4,300 miles of coast which – while perhaps not quite as spectacular as Norway’s – is home to many fjords, inlets and irregular topography which – in the north - make for world-class destinations for anyone who likes to walk in breathtakingly bleak, ethereally-lit places. The ‘high coast’ is on the Gulf of Bothnia, a northern outpost of the Baltic Sea. Shaped by glaciation and the emergence of new land from the sea, the coast is uplifting at higher rate than anywhere in the world, and has been dedicated a UNESCO Heritage Site for its demonstration of glacial forces. The High Coast Trail is one of the highlights of this area.
For the mountain lover, Sweden has a surprising amount, and what is here seems magically remote. There are 12 peaks in Sweden over 2,000m, all of them in the northern tundra of Lappland (yes, it is a real place; a Patagonia-style region of vagueness between Finland and Sweden) eight in Sarek National Park and Stora Sjöfallet National Park, and the other four, including the highest peak of Kebnekaise in its namesake National Park further north. Sweden has an amazing 28 National Parks, most of which are hilly and modest in size, and the largest and more mountainous of which are located in the northern region of the country. The best one experience in Sweden for lovers of mixed, long-distance trekking is definitely the King’s Trail (Kungsleden) - a 425km trail in the far north of Sweden, well into the arctic to Abisko, in Lapland. This trail is without doubt one of the world’s greatest walks, traversing through an expansive landscape of birch forests, glaciers, rivers, and the highest mountains in Sweden. Mountain lovers should head south on this from Nikkaluokta and walk into the Kebnekaise range. Climbing the highest peak requires experience of walking on a glacier and alpine mountaineering, as the mountain is reasonably technical and has an ice cap. In true Scandinavian style, you can climb it all year – but you’ll be ski mountaineering it in winter! Further south, you approach more illustrious mountain regions, in Sarek and Padjelanta National Parks. Despite being largely pristine wilderness (Sarek in particular has few walking trails and is utterly pristine – it is Europe’s largest National Park) along the entire Kungsleden trail there are strategically placed mountain cabins for overnight accommodation and provisions, as well as two youth hostels.
For the lowland walker, there are around 50 marked walking trails that spider through lowland Sweden, all of which are accessible by public transport and easy to get to from the big cities. Well worth a visit is the 140km Åsleden trail in Skåne - part of the 1,000 kilometre-long Skåneleden, itself broken into about 80 day trips – which takes a meandering route through magnificent, primeval pine forests and ravines.
In the Småland region of southeastern Sweden - the “Kingdom of Crystal” - the 60km Lönnebergaleden Trail leads through deep forests and along lakes with beautiful views. Windshelters and platforms can be found on the trail to aid overnight stops. The Swedes love to sleep outdoors: aside from making probably the best tents in the world (Hilleberg), and the home of the midnight sun, Sweden has a public access right (Allemansrätt) which represents a set of laws giving the freedom to explore the country’s nature areas, including the right to camp outdoors – responsibly, of course – all of which adds up to make Sweden one of the best places to be outdoors, anywhere.
Few places balance culture and outdoor splendour quite to enviably as Sweden. Gothenburg and West Sweden is curiously marketing itself as one of the premier destinations in Europe for lovers, and it’s not difficult to see why – fairylight-lit cities, a craggy, cruisable coast at Bohuslän and lush, forested Lake Vahern are beguiling additions to cultural Sweden which should top the list if you want to bookend your walking with - er, wooing.
Sweden is also gastronomically outstanding, particularly on the coast, and especially if you like sea food.
Practically every other outdoor activity is catered for, from rafting (excellent at Klaralven) to – of course! – skiing. Also keep your eyes peeled for wildlife when you are in the far north in the summer – bears and wolverine are two of the rare animals you might be lucky (all being well!) enough to spot, and in winter keep an eye to the sky for aurorae. There’s an Ice Hotel at Jukkasjarvi, on the northern bank of the River Torne, which provides the ice blocks which annually are dug out and built into the hotel. It’s upmarket - but reindeer pelts, ice blocks and a room temperature of -5 deg C - what an experience!
Sweden has one of the highest suicide rates in the world: FALSE. Sweden is actually 15th on the list of suicide-prone countries in Europe (number 1 is Lithuania), the rumour sparked by a speech by US President Eisenhower who described Swedes as revelling in “sin, nudity, drunkenness and suicide” as a result of an over-generous welfare policy.
Must see and do
Wander the Kungsleden the long distance route in the north of Sweden is unquestionably Europe’s greatest expanse of pristine wilderness. And do it under the midnight sun in summer, and it’s fantastically weird, too. http://www.visitsweden.com/VSTemplates/Page____9655.aspx
Take a Swedish sauna though developed in Finland, you can find saunas anywhere in Scandinavia. Traditionally, die-hard Swedes languish in temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the sauna, then jump into something freezing.
Check out the ice hotel there are several in the far north, but the one at Jukkasjarvi is the original.
A unique experience, for sure.