Europe’s Northern Wilderness
Written: Dec 21, 2008 (Updated Dec 22, 2008)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Ice Hotel, skiing, publicly accessible wilderness, hunting, fishing, Aurora Borealis, Sweden’s wilderness.
Cons:Cold in winter, mosquitoes in summer
The Bottom Line: Norrland is great place to visit for those interested in wildlife. Great places to visit are the Ice Hotel, The High Coast and the National Parks.
Norrland (which means Northern Land) is the northern region of Sweden. It comprises 59% of the total area of Sweden, or about 266 thousand square kilometers, or 104 thousand square miles. Norrland is blessed with beautiful nature, good hunting and fishing, and an abundant wildlife, including thousands of brown bears, wolves, wolverines, Lynx, reindeer, Moose (sometimes called Elk), deer, fox, arctic fox, and much more. There are mountains in the North West, archipelagos with mountains along the coast of Norrland, enormous forests, numerous rivers and lakes, as well as tundra in the northern part of Norrland. The Arctic Circle goes through northern Norrland, which means that during one part of year the sun never rises (December, January) and during another part of the year the sun never sets (June, July). The famous Ice Hotel, a hotel created entirely from Ice, is also located in Norrland (200km north of the Arctic Circle). Since Norrland, northern Finland, and northern Norway form a large area in Scandinavia that has easily accessible wilderness, abundant wildlife, mountains and tundra, an indigenous population (the Sami's), the Arctic Circle, a sparse population, and midnight sun and noon darkness, it is in one sense Europe's Alaska. I can add that up in the Northern part of Norrland you can drive on major roads for tens of miles without seeing one house, one street sign, or one person. Many parts of Norrland are really far away from any civilization.
In Sweden there is something called "Allemans rätten" which means "every man's right". This is a tradition that guarantees that everyone can walk, hike, swim, pick mushrooms and berries, and camp on both public and private property, as long as you don't damage the property or get too close to buildings used for habitation. In other words "No trespassing" signs are not allowed. This is a different concept of land owner ship which is very convenient for the public as well tourists who want to explore the wilderness. All you need to do is head out into the wilderness without worrying about who owns the property. Many Europeans from the continent take advantage of this and go hiking and camping in Northern Sweden in the summer. Many Eastern Europeans come and pick berries for themselves or to sell them. There is one type of berry, which is very popular, that you cannot find in many other places except in Northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland, and that is the Cloudberry. Cloudberries are large reddish-yellow-to-white blackberry shaped berries which grow on small plants close to the ground on Northern wetlands. I have come across large yellow Cloudberry fields that formed 100 acre yellow carpets of berries. It is a special feeling to be alone with a few buckets on such a Cloudberry field. The cloudberries are so easy to pick that if you find a field like that you can fill a couple of 4 gallon buckets in less than an hour. There are also an aborigine people living in Norrland, especially in Lapland, called Sami's or Lapps (Sami is the politically correct name). The Sami's are traditionally nomads. They follow herds of reindeer and live off the reindeer. This type of living began to disappear in the rest of the world more than 12,000 years ago. If you want to find out about the Sami's, Swedish Lapland (in north-west Norrland), Finnish Lapland and the Norwegian Lapland are the right places to visit.
Despite the fact that Norrland is larger than the United Kingdom and almost double as big as New York State there are only a little bit more than one million people living in Norrland. Norrland is sparsely populated and far north but it still not hard to get to from continental Europe. There are several Norrland towns with airports with regular high frequency traffic to and from Stockholm and other cities in Europe. In addition there are plenty of trains and buses going north. In my opinion train is the best way to travel north. Just buy a sleeping car ticket, have a beer and a sandwich, go to sleep, and wake up north of the Arctic Circle the next morning. However, the roads are also pretty good considering the circumstances, and therefore many German's, Dutch, Polacks, and Eastern European drive through Sweden to see the nature and visit the North. There are an estimated 300,000 Moose in Norrland so the likely hood that you will see one is very large, whether it is in the forest, by the road, or on your windshield (my brother hit a moose and it totally destroyed his Volvo).
One of the most interesting places to see in Norrland is the Ice Hotel, which is a hotel built from ice and snow. The Ice Hotel is located in the village of Jukkasjärvi in the county of Lapland in Norrland about 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. The closest airport and city is Kiruna which is about 17 kilometers from Jukkasjärvi. You can fly from Stockholm to Kiruna or straight from Heathrow London to Kiruna, but there are other ways to get there. We took the train to Kiruna from Örnsköldsvik which was the quickest and easiest route in our case. However, I would also recommend train from Stockholm. From Kiruna you can take a bus, a taxi, or a dogsled to the Ice Hotel. If you choose to take a dog sled to the Ice Hotel you need to book in advance and be dressed appropriately.
The Ice Hotel is filled with ice art, ice statues, ice decorations, ice lamps, ice beds, and ice furniture, and it has an ice bar. The Ice Bar is fairly large and contains beautiful ice art, ice tables, ice seats, and an ice bar. Here you can purchase drinks and cold food. The cups and the plates are made from ice and you simply throw them away when you are done. If you just want to want to visit the hotel without having to sleep in the cold rooms there are warm accommodations provided nearby. The Ice Hotel restaurant is also heated. They recommend staying one night in the Ice Hotel and a few nights in the warm accommodations. I should add that the ice blocks, the art and the furniture is stored in a big freezer barn during the summer, however, the rest of the hotel melts away during the summer and is rebuilt again every year. There are a lot of things to do at the Ice Hotel. They offer dog sled safari, moose safari, snowmobile safari, Ranger Razer safari, reindeer sled rides, and exploration of the Sami culture, ski/snow shoe tours, ice fishing, and wilderness camp. They also offer ice sculpting classes. The Ice Hotel offers courses in hunting, ptarmigan hunting, a wilderness safety course, ice driving, and you can get married in the Ice Church. You can also take a dip in the frozen Torne River and then run into a sauna. To read more about the Ice Hotel see the link below.
There are plenty of ski resorts in Norrland. The Scandinavian Mountains located in North West Norrland (and northern Norway) offers plenty of skiing opportunities, and so does the mountains in the High Coast, located along the midsection of eastern coast (this is where I am from); however, there are many other places in Norrland that offers good skiing. I should also mention that cross country skiing is very popular in Norrland and almost every town and village offers public ski tracks for cross country skiing (you may want to try that instead of doing only downhill skiing). Åre is arguably Sweden's top skiing resort. Åre has 45 ski lifts that serve 100 pistes and 1,000 vertical meters of skiable slopes, including a superb 6.5 kilometers long downhill run. The skiing season is from November to Mid-May. Sometimes Åre can be quiet busy and there are other less crowded ski resorts like Duved. However, I remember skiing in Åre far above the tree line on a hundreds of acre's large slope that did not have a tree or a bush. It had about a decimeter of powder snow on top of a layer of thicker and harder snow, and I was completely alone on top of the world. Not a soul was visible. That was a special feeling. Another special ski resort in Norrland is Riksgränsen. Riksgränsen offers both midnight and day skiing in June (the sun is in the sky at midnight in June). From here you can also ski in and out of Norway. I've tried about a dozen different ski resorts in Norrland and I have done a lot of cross country skiing as well. It was in Norrland that my middle son tried skiing for the first time in his life. However, I should add that the skiing in the Alps is in general better and the weather less cold so I suggest going to the Alps for skiing unless you want to try something different or you are visiting Norrland anyway.
One of the most attractive parts of Sweden's coastline is the High Coast, which is a hilly area with many lakes, fjords, and offshore islands. "Allemans rätten" guarantees that you can shore your boat anywhere along the coast or on any island. There are many inhabited and uninhabited islands in the High Coast. Depending on whether you like company or want to be completely alone you have plenty of choices. There are also ferries going to some of the islands, for example, Ulvön (Wolf Island). Ulvön is an island with an old fishing town, pristine forest, and a mountain that offers a beautiful view of the shore and many of High Coast islands. Ulvön is also where they make the famous "fermented herring" or "surströmming". Every year in August people in Norrland eat "fermented herring" with onions, sour cream, and boiled potato which they wash down with Vodka like spirits. Essentially people in Norrland have stinky breath a few days in August every year. The "fermented herring" has a very strong and distinct smell which is scary to some people, and therefore the "fermented herring" has an unfavorable reputation in certain parts of Europe. When we, the Swedish exchange students, organized a fermented herring party in the student dorms in Cleveland Ohio people rushed to the windows for air when we opened the cans. One of my American friends decided to place the fermented herrings in the ventilation drums of the dorm which was unpopular. The High Coast also offers plenty of good hiking as well as cross country skiing between islands. Cross country skiing on the Bay of Botnia between the various islands is, I believe, a quite unique adventure.
Örnsköldsvik is located at the northern end of the High Coast; this is where I am from. Örnsköldsvik may not be a great tourist spot but there are still some interesting things to see here. For example, Gene fornby, the Gene caves, a restaurant on top of a mountain overlooking the town, as well as an indoor water park (or stated more correctly a natatorium with various water slides and fun pools). There is a good Olympic size ski jumping slope; a few good are ski slopes, and also a few good beaches. Gene fornby is a reconstructed Iron Age village. Outside of Örnsköldsvik they found and excavated the Northern most Iron Age settlement ever found and they also decided to reconstruct the Iron Age village. The buildings look like Iron Age buildings and the employees are dressed up in Iron Age garments. Visitors can bake bread (Iron Age style), shoot bow and arrow (Iron Age style), and go on guided tours. I also would like to add that Örnsköldsvik recently contributed eleven hockey players to the NHL and is often considered Sweden's Hockey Capital and was once named the Hockey Capital of the World by a Canadian Hockey magazine. However, there are many other interesting towns in Norrland to visit, for example, Luleå, Kiruna, Härnösand, Östersund, Sundsvall, Gävle, Skellefteå and Umeå. Don't come to Norrland just because of Örnsköldsvik.
Norrland is famous for its many beautiful and serene national parks, for example, Sarek, Muddus, Abisko, Stora Sjöfallet National Park, Dundret, Skuleskogen, etc. There is a very long and beautiful hiking trail called Kungsleden. The many large rivers in Norrland provide good fishing, swimming and boating, as well as rafting, and white river rafting. I can add that the rivers in Norrland provide about half of all the electricity production in Sweden. The other half comes from Nuclear Power stations in Southern Sweden (Sweden is good with respect to CO2). Norrland is also a great place to go hunting. There are companies that offer foreign visitors bird hunting and moose hunting. I and my son wanted to go Moose hunting in Norrland so I contacted a company close to the neighborhood where I am from. However, according to Swedish law you have to be 16 years old to hunt and he was only 12, so we have to wait until he is sixteen. The gun and hunting laws are stricter in Sweden then in Texas. However, my kids have done some wonderful and fun fishing in Norrland. I can add that they are also planning to build a giant wooden Moose (sometimes Moose are called Elk in Europe) in Norrland. The moose will be 45 meters tall (148 feet) and 47 meters long (154 feet) and it will contain a restaurant and a concert hall. You enter the moose by climbing stairs that spiral up the animals' leg.
Another natural phenomenon which is wonderful to watch and very common see in Norrland are the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis (especially in winter). There are few sights as mesmerizing as an Aurora Borealis. The Aurora Borealis can have many colors, white, greenish, pink, and yellow take many form. They can appear as pillars, streaks, haloes, wisps, vibrating lights, or pale curtains sweeping the sky. In winter the night sky in Norrland is very clear due to the darkness, the lack of light pollution, the lack of other pollution, and the absence of heated air rising up in the atmosphere. When I did my army service close to Finnish and Swedish border above the Arctic Circle I saw some astoundingly bright night skies.
There are a few things that visitors may not like about Norrland. The mosquitoes in Norrland may not carry malaria, however, they are large, noisy and plenty during the summer. Many visitors are surprised by the fact that mosquitoes are such a problem at latitudes so far north. The quietness of the landscape and of the people may bother some. It should also be noted that Norrland has traditionally been dominated by far left politics (communism and the far left of the Social Democrats), and even though the vast majority of the people in Norrland are not anti-American, you may encounter some strange opinions (from my cousins, old friends, and others).
As a summary, I am presenting my top ten list of things to do in Norrland:
(1) Ice Hotel
(2) Visiting one or more of the fabulous National Parks, for example, Sarek
(3) Hiking, rafting, picking berries, camping and spending time in the entirely publicly accessible wilderness
(4) Watching Aurora Borealis
(5) Admiring the wonderful scenery of the High Coast
(6) Cross Country Skiing between the islands in the High Coast
(7) Boating and visiting the various islands in the High Coast
(8) Skiing (downhill and cross country)
(9) Dog-sledding, riding snow-mobile, and driving a car on the ice of the Bay of Botnia in winter
(10) Participating in a "fermented herring" party
Summary and final recommendation
If you are going to Sweden you should probably see Stockholm before you see Norrland (depending on your disposition). Stockholm is a beautiful city that is easy to get to from the rest of Europe as well as from the United States. However, if you are interested in wilderness, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, rafting, or any of those sorts of activities then you should visit Norrland. Stockholm and most of Southern Sweden is a little bit dreary in winter, so Norrland is in comparison a great place to visit in winter (even though it is colder). The Ice Hotel, the skiing, the cross country skiing between the islands in the High Coast, the Aurora Borealis, and the other winter activities makes Norrland a fun place to visit in winter. I recommend Norrland to any wild life enthusiast or adventurous visitor who has a little bit of time on his hands.
Below I am listing the links to my other reviews on Sweden
Finally I would like to say thank you to Chris (cr01) for adding this entry to the data base.
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