Does it get much more spectacular than Northern Sweden? Boasting a wilderness of vast natural wonder, ultra clean air and a year-round bounty of outdoor-driven delights, Northern Sweden can’t be beat. Here, the Aurora Borealis dances over night skies like emerald lava, and the 24-7 Midnight Sun takes center stage in the summertime.
As the third largest country in Europe, there’s a lot of ground to cover in Sweden, and the vast ‘Norrland’ claims a good share of it. While the Lappland tends to attract the bulk of the tourist flow, as we found on our relatively random trip to a much less advertised nook of Sweden’s chillier climes, it’s pretty difficult to find anything around these parts that won’t take your breath away.
Out and About in Northern Sweden
After a relaxing and stomach-satiating few days traipsing around the stunning capital, Stockholm, we leaped aboard a one hour flight north for a taste of life very much off the beaten track – destination: Luleå. A cute, cozy, well serviced airport town located near the final northern curl of the Gulf of Bothnia, Lulea is just a 90 minute drive from the Finnish border.
While we didn’t get a chance to see much of Luleå itself, the surrounding landscape was magical. Along highways flanked by the brilliant burning reds and ambers of spruce and birch forests in the early stage of autumn, we drove south to sister town, Piteå, an equally quaint hub located right at the mouth of the stunning Pite River.
The October chill that cut through us in Stockholm presented an even crisper bite this far north (and considering we were on the doorstep to the Arctic, it probably shouldn’t have come as much a surprise).
Our accommodation was a delightful attic room at the Penionatet Malmgarten, a collection of bed and breakfast cottages in a heritage neighborhood dating back to the 1840s. The suite’s Edison lamps and scent of the exposed wood bearings enhanced an incredibly cozy couple of nights.
To counter the chill, we did what any good Swede would do: sauna. A favorite Swedish pastime, you’ll find a decent sauna in more or less every nook of any Swedish town. Thankfully, we knew friends and acquaintances close by, and with a chestful of firewood for the hot coals and requisite rounds of Scandinavian birch-infused schnapps, we steamed and sweated like pigs, before diving madly into the freezing waters of the Pite River. Breath shudderingly invigorating.
Things to do in Northern Sweden
On the locals’ recommendation, we returned to the heart of town for a bite at Jarnspisen, aka ‘the Iron Stove’: an excellent restaurant embedded in the revamped grounds of a vintage 1885 brewhouse, the Piteå Ångbryggeri (FYI the fresh halibut, topped with scallops with lobster sauce was a seafood umami eruption, while the reindeer entrée – something you don’t find on your plate at home – was as magnificently tender as the braised and roasted two-way elk. Very highly recommended).
We slept well that night. The brilliant blue sky coated us in rich sun the following morning, and though it wasn’t exactly beach weather, we took the drive out to Badplats Glantan, where incongruous sand greeted a glittering lake – a bona fide Swedish beach, all but hidden from outside tourism (and all but empty this time of year).
The day ahead of us, we zoomed further inland an hour or so to the quaint township of Harads, home of the spectacular Treehotel. The Lappland’s Icehotel (four hours north) tends to enjoy much of the ‘novelty hotel’ spotlight up here, but this young, 5 year old concept hotel is equally a ‘must see’. It sports six ‘treerooms’ designed by some of Europe’s most innovative architects, suspended in 100-year-old spruce trees. Each cabin – from the dragonfly, to the ethereal mirror cube, to the UFO – is a work of art and, needless to say, the view from each is incredible: an enchanting vista of the glorious Lulea Valley and surrounds.
The day still young, our scenic road took us deeper inland, and another hour or so, to the endless spruce forests with flickering light from the 45 degree angle noon sun, we found our way to our next Northern Sweden experience: Storforsen Falls, a raging rapid in the Pite River.
Well prepared with a picnic, we lit a fire at the camping nook just meters from the roaring whitewash. We fried reindeer meat on the hot plate, and felt indulged and blessed to be taking in this divine setting we’d somehow found ourselves in.
Back to Piteå, the night was again cooler, with first signs of seasonal frost on the sidewalks, we enjoyed another night in our rustic getaway. Lungs full of the freshest air on earth, we sat on our balcony, drank wine, ogling in wonder the early wisps of the phantasmal Aurora Borealis, shimmering and glowing across the star filled night.
Written by and photos by Cam Hassard for EuropeUpClose.com