Every time I mention my travels to the north during the winter, including my recent trip to the Swedish Lapland, most of the people are surprised and wonder what I’m going to do there, other than freeze my feet off and feel depressed in the darkness. *rolls eyes*
Well, I have just come back from a wonderful week in the Swedish Lapland – less known than the Finnish Lapland, but definitely underrated – and what I can say is that I definitely didn’t get bored, and every day I had a different and unique experience. It was such a great trip, even better than I expected. So if you’re planning something similar, here is my experience! Then of course ask away if you need more info.
Where I’ve been
Located in the Västerbotten County, Skellefteå is the nearest city to the Lantliv Lodge of Österjörn, where I was based. This lodge is owned by Italians and it goes without saying that the food they serve is delicious (ok pardon my Italian pride here, but it’s true!). Edoardo is the owner and Eleonora, his daughter, runs the business together with Isabella. They specialize both in Italian and Swedish food, and while I was worried about finding vegetarian options before my trip, I ended up stuffed and fat (and happy). So yeah great vegetarian food too!
Edoardo – full name Edoardo Miola – is an international award-winning photographer and offers photographic workshops for amateurs and professionals. But I’ll speak about this later. He is also an architect and this is why the Lantliv Lodge has been completely renewed with such a tasteful style. Other than the main building, this property also features a camping which is however mostly closed during the winter.
Every day Edoardo and/or Isabella organized a different activity for me and the other guests, and also took care of the transportation driving us directly to our daily destinations. So basically the whole trip was tailor-made. In my case mostly photography-oriented, but it doesn’t have to if you’re not into it.
[I’ve already been asked why I didn’t go for a “self catering” trip which is a good question. The answer is that in this area orientation is really hard because of the landscape which looks basically the same everywhere you look: forests, forests, forests. And straight, icy roads. The weather is unpredictable and I would recommend you to rent a car and drive around only if you are actually used to driving on snow and ice. Otherwise, don’t risk it! Ok? Ok. ]
Being in the area just before Christmas really added a lot to the experience, not because I am a fan of festivities (on the contrary, I am the Grinch) but because the snow, trees covered in white, all those lights in and around the houses make the environment so cozy and warm despite the cold weather. So if the Grinch liked it, you will love it!
How to reach Skellefteå
You can easily reach Skellefteå and other cities in the north of Sweden from Stockholm, either by train (via SJ) or airplane. Neither solution is cheap, but I would recommend choosing according to the most convenient departure time. For instance, when we landed a train was available after a couple of hours directly from the Arlanda airport station, while the next flight was going to be the next morning. Price was almost the same, so we went for the train. Also, the train stops in Jörn which is closer to Österjörn and the Lantliv Lodge than Skellefteå.
Keep in mind the city if you want to do some shopping – in the city you can find shops and a mall as well, but you won’t find anything like that in the surrounding little towns.
Now, to the actual activities! During my stay in the Swedish Lapland, I had the pleasure of taking part in 2 very different photography workshops.
- iPadography if we can say so, the same as iPhoneography but with an iPad. This is just one of the many photography related courses available at the Fotoskolaochgalleri in Boliden, run by photographer Neil Chrighton. Not being an Apple user I must say I was a bit skeptical at first but I learned so many things that apply to Android as well, and I found out about tricks and apps to make my shots super creative. Neil guided us through the forest and just one hour later we already had really interesting shots – remember, just using an iPad Mini! – that I never imagined I would have even thought of. It’s always good and fun to use our creativity in new ways!
Other courses include post-production, dark room, studio photography and so on.
- Outdoors photography workshop. There is so much to see and shoot in the area. It is worth mentioning that, being winter days very short, the sun is never high in the sky and this creates the most beautiful light conditions for photography, with long shadows and a day-long golden hour. The day is short but every moment is good for photos, so you can always end up with great shots even if you only have a few hours.
That said, the beautiful light wouldn’t be enough without the guiding of an experienced, qualified person such as Edoardo Miola, an international award-winning photographer from Italy who traveled the whole world before settling in Sweden.
Other than having the chance of trying professional Nikon equipment, I feel like I learned a lot by going through my post production routine under Edoardo’s supervision. He taught me just a couple of tricks that are already making all the difference in my photography. There may be thousands of tutorials on YouTube and such, but nothing is better than an actual photographer showing you how it’s done and answering your specific questions.
Meet the Sami People
The Samis are one of the last, few indigenous populations in Europe, who still keep a strong cultural identity. Once nomadic, today they live in small towns (even if some of course have moved to the big cities, such as Stockholm!). During our trip we had the privilege of meeting a Sami woman – Sara – and listened to her stories about the Sami people’s culture and habits; one of the Samis’ main activities is reindeer breeding.
Sara met us on a frozen lake’s bank and lit a fire in a wooden shelter. Reindeer skins helped keeping ourselves warm, and together we drank the typical koffakaffe – coffee prepared by boiling it in a coffeepot over fire – and glogg – the typical Scandinavian mulled wine made with spices. Also, reindeer meat was available to taste.
What an atmosphere was created: small humans in the endless forest, huddling around a dot of warmth, listening to Sara singing about Mother Nature. Breathe in, breathe out. Silence all around. I had tears in my eyes, for the happiness and gratefulness.
I’m curious by nature and I kept asking questions to Sara – how does the reindeer meat industry work? I am a vegetarian so this is interesting. What do the Sami people believe in? How about the afterlife? I learned that according to the Sami culture, as we live our life, below our feet we walk in another dimension, where we move when we die. So we never really go away. Our soul will go to paradise, in the form of a beautiful Aurora Borealis. And that’s that. I learned that the Samis have 8 seasons, according to the reindeer’s stages of life. And so on.
Winter activities with animals
Animals always make everything even more beautiful. In the Swedish Lapland there are many opportunities to get in touch with the local fauna – you can bump into reindeers and elks, and you know bears and wolves are always around the corner even if you can’t see them.
However, there are some activities that will put you in contact with some amazingly beautiful animals so that you can interact with them: sleddog and horseback riding.
- Sleddog has always been a dream of mine. I heard many stories before, and my skeptical side never knew if this practice was good or bad for the dogs. First of all, I have to say that I expected the dogs to be unfriendly and more on the “wolf” side of the family. I was so wrong: a few minutes after arriving at the location, all these beautiful, pure Siberian Huskies were accepting our cuddles and licking our hands and faces.
Then, when the owners started attaching some dogs to the sleds, the chosen ones got so excited, and pulled so hard, that real anchors in the snow were needed to keep the sleds in place, or the dogs would have run away with all the equipment but without us!
We had just a few seconds to sit on the sleds and then the ride started. Dogs suddenly stopped the crazy barking and howling, and silence replaced every sound as they started running through the forest.
What an experience! I couldn’t believe I was actually doing that. Beautiful, just beautiful. What else can I say? You need to try this!
- Horseback riding may sound more “ordinary”, but believe me, when you find yourself in the pristine landscape of a Swedish forest covered in snow it won’t be anything less than extraordinary.
Again, silence around us, and fresh snow, and in our case even snowflakes falling from the sky… Then a stop for a coffee made with the river’s water on a fire set at the moment.
Most unfortunately I couldn’t take any photo during the ride as I had to hold the reins, but this added to the experience: it was just me and Winkler, the beautiful, huge Ardennais gelding of 900 kgs that made me look small. For the first time in my life I felt comfortable with a horse, and even touched his face and fed him carrots without being scared. I left a piece of heart with that kind, lazy horse!
I also need to mention that the staff at Horses Adventures are incredibly friendly, helpful and prepared, and in my case I can say they went the extra mile to make me feel comfortable and make sure I enjoyed my experience.
Another “must” of the Swedish Lapland is the snowmobile safari. We had the chance of doing that on an exceptionally warm day, which added to the experience making it very enjoyable. However I strongly recommend very heavy, waterproof clothes.
Each one of us was offered a snowmobile but after trying mine I decided I was too scared to drive myself so I joined my friend on her snowmobile, and while she drove I just enjoyed the ride. We felt so free!
During the safari, if you’re lucky enough you can spot elks, reindeers and various kinds of birds. We also came across a camping site with saunas, shelters and hot pools with an actual slide to another pool! Yes, people do camp there during the winter, how cool is that? I promised myself I will try this next time.
After the snowmobile experience, we went back to the Svansele Wilderness Centre for a delicious lunch grilled at the moment on the fire, and served in typical wooden plates. The venue features a one-of-a-kind wildlife museum with stuffed animals of all kinds, belonging to the local fauna. Of course seeing these beautiful animals dead is not as exciting as seeing them living in the wild, but the good news is that most of the animals of the exhibit arrived thanks to donations, or are victims of road accidents – not hunting or voluntary killing, that is.
The really interesting fact about this exhibition is that each room has different settings and temperatures according to the place and season that is represented. Very good job!
Another classic activity of winter destinations is snowshoeing. This was my first time at it, and to be honest I wasn’t too excited. I thought it was going to be hard and boring. But I am so glad I changed my mind! Now I can’t wait to try this again.
Edoardo guided us through the forest, showing us various animal tracks belonging to rabbits, mice, reindeers and… wolves! The wolves’ tracks were very new and it was super fascinating to think that on that same morning we were preceded by these majestic animals, and that we were in their habitat… and what a wonderful habitat!
Remember, also in this case it is very important to have a guide with a good knowledge of the place, for orientation purposes.
Last but not least, let’s not forget that the winter is the perfect time to see the aurora borealis, aka northern lights, when you’re in the north of the world.
In Sweden, everyone says the best place is Abisko, in the very north of the country. I have never been there (yet) but even at our location the dark, clear skies without light pollution gave us the chance of seeing this wonderful, whimsical show of nature.
So, do you still think the Swedish Lapland is a boring destination during the winter? Well, on the contrary, I really think she has it all!
We all know Scandinavia is not cheap.
For a trip like this, be prepared to spend around € 100 per day per person for accommodation and food, and an average of € 100 for each of the activities mentioned above: this means some are cheaper and some are more expensive. To sum up, budget should be on average around € 200 per day per person including accommodation, transportation and activities. Personal extras of course not included.
Feel free to ask for more details, and to share your thoughts and experiences!