Travel review: Swedish Lapland

The lake at Jokkmokk.
The lake at Jokkmokk.
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Want to catch the Midnight Sun? Head to Swedish Lapland says Clare Jenkins who boards a train to explore the region.

Guninger Wallström is showing us around the tiny, tidy Swedish town of Arjeplog. It’s 10am and she’s only had a few hours sleep – she was gardening until 1.30am, awake again at 5am. “We’re like bears,” she says. “In the winter we like to sleep a lot. But in the summer, we are filled with energy.”

It’s hardly surprising. Here in Swedish Lapland, the winters are long, the summers short. By September, the inhabitants have eight months of darkness ahead of them and temperatures can fall to minus 30. So when the days begin to lengthen, it’s like letting pit ponies loose in the meadows.

“We go fishing in the streams after work – we have top-notch streams,” says Guninger. “We go hiking, and we go mountain chasing, walking over ten mountain tops. Then we go back into work.”

Today, Guninger’s work includes showing us Arjeplog’s main sights: the pretty salmon-pink church, the lake (Sweden’s deepest), and the Silver Museum, with the largest collection of Sami (Swedish Lapp) silver in the world – over 700 items of jewellery, collars, belts, cups, dating back to medieval times.

The museum is a lovely place, with a recreated mid-19th century living-room (complete with faded wall stencils and a hanging wooden baby seat), bedrooms with cosy, hand-painted box beds and rag rugs, a schoolroom with child-size reindeer skin boots hung from the ceiling.

My husband and I were last in Sweden a couple of years ago, to see the Northern Lights. We’re now back to see the midnight sun. And we do see it – along with a full moon one night at 3am.

We’re travelling on the Inlandsbanan – a community-owned, privately run inland railway. In the summer season it runs tours through central Sweden and Swedish Lapland to beyond the Arctic Circle.

The line – more than 800 miles long - is seen as one of Scandinavia’s great rail journeys. It’s certainly one of the most tree-lined. Luckily, fellow passenger Stella Peterson can tell us the difference between birch, larch, pine and aspen.

Stella is a retired landscape architect from Todmorden. She and her friend Sue Stafford, from Lancaster, are spending two weeks touring Sweden, Norway and the Lofoten Islands by public transport. Couldn’t they just have flown?

“Yes, but this is slow travel,” says Stella, as we gaze out at isolated timber houses, fields of wild flowers and cotton-grass, lakes, and mountains.

The pair are heading for Gällivare, 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. A total journey of nearly 18 hours. An onboard ‘host’ takes passengers’ orders for station stop restaurants and rings ahead, so the roast reindeer, moose burger or salmon fillet is waiting when the train arrives.

For the next few hours, we talk trees, Todmorden, intemperate climates and trackside flowers – “That’s purple vetch,” says Stella, “that’s kidney vetch, and that’s dryas octopetala – mountain avens...”

We meet Eva in Jokkmokk, a town just beyond the Arctic Circle; it’s part of a municipality the size of Wales, with just 5,000 people. A “food creator and ballad singer”, Eva gives visitors a taste of Swedish Lapland, serving homemade meadowsweet cakes, pine bark bread spread with juniper butter, dandelion syrup. “I’m like an alchemist,” she laughs. “I can make gold from weed.” And she does, here in the mountain botanical garden, relating her food to the forest and the seasons.

“We have three winters,” she says. “The first is autumn winter, when frost comes but no snow. It’s getting dark, people are slowing down a bit, and the reindeer are gathering. In midwinter, it can be minus 40 degrees. A long, long dawn and long, long dusk.

“Then spring winter is March/April. Although there is still snow, it’s sunny and warm so we all go out, snowboarding, skiing, sunbathing on reindeer skins!”

Eva, from Stockholm, fell in love with Swedish Lapland 30 years ago, and subsequently with a Sami reindeer herder. She says. “In the cities, there are so many distractions. Here, it makes you very calm.”

Back in Östersund, we visit the charming Jamtli open-air museum, with its recreated farmhouses (dating from 1785), late 19th century shops, 1950s Shell petrol station, 1975 bungalows.

The pride of its indoor museum is the Viking Överhogdal tapestries. At their heart is Yggdrasil, the mythical tree of life.

In Swedish Lapland, there’s just no getting away from trees.

GETTING THERE

Clare Jenkins travelled with Swedish Lapland (swedishlapland.com) and Inlandsbanan (0046 771-53 53 53, inlandsbanan.se), which offers a seven-night Taste of Lapland package between June 12 and August 14 (2017) from £1,080 per person. Flights from Britain not included.

British-based Simply Sweden (01427 700115, simplysweden.co.uk) offers this trip as part of a travel inclusive package from the UK – an eight-night break from £1,990 per person that includes flights from the UK and train travel from Stockholm, seats on Inlandsbanan, accommodation, plus some excursions (simplysweden.co.uk/holiday/taste-of-lapland)

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