In Sweden, it is your “Right to Roam.” Hiking, biking, canoeing, camping (even on private land) is your constitutional right as a Swede or even a visitor, as long as you follow a few common-sense rules and utter respect for the land. This concept (Allemansrätt in Swedish) seemed unbelievable at first, but after spending five days in Sweden’s pristine wilderness, their deference to mother nature is unquestionable and awe-inspiring for everyone who explores it. As part of our invitation to attend the ATTA World Summit, we had the opportunity to join a five-day Pre-Summit Adventure. There were 23 multi-day excursions on offer, everything from via ferrata to forest bathing, abseiling, timber rafting, wild foraging, to Arctic hut-to-hut backpacking. My mind raced with the possibilities…but when my mouse scrolled to “Wild Sweden: Wolves, Moose & Beaver Safari with a stay the country’s most primitive hotel,” I knew I had found my Swedish calling!
Traveling 100 miles north of Stockholm, I met my group in the forests of Skinnskatteberg. Marcus, the founder of Wild Sweden, walked us to lake lined with granite boulders and tall pines and instructed us to close our eyes for five minutes. After taking in mother nature’s song, running my hands over the mossy ground, and breathing in the earthen air, he explained “Our mission at Wild Sweden is quite simple…Make Sweden a wilder place. How are we accomplishing this? By creating stunning nature experiences, we are encouraging and inspiring people to appreciate and spend more time in the wilderness. Our tours generate income for local guides, restaurant staff, and hotel owners, and when nature provides a sustainable income, it is more likely to be valued and protected.”
Färna Manor & Spa
After our morning exploring the forest and trying our hand at wild foraging (which included me eating no less than a pound of wild mushrooms and at least 200 wild berries), it was time to head to our digs at Färna Manor & Spa. There is something about the juxtaposition of going from complete raw wilderness to a stately hotel. Dating from 1776, the grounds were straight out of a fairytale, and the food…oh man, the food was out of this world. As head chef and sommelier Inga-Lena Eriksson says, “We are passionate about slow food and base the menu on sustainable and seasonal local ingredients” and it came across in every bite of our five-course meal.
Dinner was just a prelude to the evening’s adventures…our safari was about to begin! Note these two beaver-viewing rules #1. Be as quiet as you possibly can, and #2. Never be the first group to head home. It started with a few sightings from a distance, one of a beaver swimming about 30 yards ahead of our zodiac, followed by one sliding off the shore as we approached. After another hour searching without any more action, one boat decided they wanted to head back to Färna Manor (enter Rule #2). Within 10 minutes we had a beaver swim directly towards our boat, roll onto his back, then do a deep dive with a heavy tail slap (so close it got us wet). We thought that was the final goodbye (and we would have been thoroughly satisfied), but a moment later our friend lumbered onshore, 5 yards from our boat, and began to gnaw through a sapling. We sat in wonder, admiring his webbed feet and huge scaly tail, for what felt like an hour (although my photos peg it around 4 minutes). What a night!
Next up on this wilderness photographic safari…the moose! To increase our odds of a sighting, we went out when they are most active (an hour before and after sunset). Though with 400,000 of these guys roaming Sweden (the densest concentration of moose in any country), we didn’t think it would be too hard to spot them…and it wasn’t! Before our safari vehicle hit cruising speed, someone spotted movement and we were breaking out the scope. A bull that must have been 7-feet tall and 1,000 lbs was lumbering through a meadow, and his friends weren’t far behind. Over the course of the evening, we saw 12 moose, including two more males and a few families out for dinner.
Having just written Comfortably Wild; The Best Glamping Destinations in North America, we’ll be the first to say Europe has long been leading the charge when it comes to creative, sustainable outdoor accommodations. Kolarbyn Ecolodge, often referred to as “Sweden’s most primitive hotel”, is a perfect example of how beautiful rustic can be. While the structures were basically wood and earthen huts, the in-room fireplace, animal pelt blankets, and gorgeous natural setting made it top-notch. Honestly, if I had to pick my favorite hotels in the entire world (and Anne and I have reviewed over 300 to date), this would be in my Top 10!
Wild Sweden Bushcraft 101
When mealtime came, we needed to channel (and re-learn) our primal cooking skills. Thankfully, we had Wild Sweden’s bushcraft expert, Jonas Landolsi, to show us how it’s done. He taught us how to start a fire in a survival situation, chop firewood with a pocket knife, and purify water. Then we took our knife-wielding skills to the outdoor kitchen where Malin showed us how to prepare our forest finds for a feast.
Floating Swedish Sauna
The next day our crew headed down to the lake where we canoed to the floating sauna (so dreamy!). Our guide Simon had told us that the proper way to Swedish Sauna was to get really really hot inside, then go jump in a cold lake…then repeat this cycle three times. Challenge accepted!
On our final night Marcus had a surprise in store. He drove us to a clearing deep in the wilderness, and we built a fire (using our newfound bushcraft skills) to enjoy some tea and hot cocoa and admire the starry night. It wasn’t until we heard the first wolves howling that we realized why he brought us to this spot. We followed Marcus’ hand signals and tip-toed closer. He brought us to the top of a rocky hill (those are our streaking headlamps in the photo above) and invited us to find a secluded seat for the symphony. About 20 minutes went by without hearing a word, just the entrancing sound of pups yipping and adults bellowing, then someone in the group said: “Guys, do you realize these wolves are howling at a full moon, and it just struck midnight…on Friday the 13th?” I think a few of us scanned the woods a bit closer after that (for the record there won’t be another full moon on Friday the 13th until 2171) but Mother Nature’s dramatic finale was only fitting.
When you eat delicious food, see majestic creatures in the wild and stay in one-of-a-kind accommodations…that is a vacation. When you also learn new ways to appreciate nature and are inspired to protect it wherever you go…that is a trip of a lifetime!