Sweden’s bucolic Varmland province runs from the heart of the country, at its eastern perimeter, out to the border of neighboring Norway, and it is known for its striking landscapes. In its center lies Glaskogen nature reserve, more than 65,000 acres of hilly terrain dominated by towering pine trees and speckled with 80-some different lakes. The area — home to Finnish immigrants who arrived in the late 16th century and were said to have brought with them only knives, axes and grains of rye — is exactly what one would imagine when thinking of the Scandinavian wilderness, with elk, deer and hares roaming freely.
Visitors typically begin their journey in Lenungshammar, a tiny village with just eight year-round inhabitants, where they can pick up maps and stop by the modest market for supplies. In the summer, outdoor enthusiasts often spend several weeks at a time in Glaskogen, hiking the serpentine paths, canoeing from lake to lake and sleeping under the open sky (there are also rental cabins available from the beginning of May through September). The sprawling nature reserve isn’t the region’s sole attraction: In the nearby municipalities, travelers can visit the home of the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, browse artisanal ceramics and textiles, and partake in fika, the Swedish coffee break.
A 30-minute car ride from Lenungshammar, Guesthouse Eleven occupies a former elementary school that was constructed in the early 1900s. The three-story wooden building is now a family-friendly refuge with 10 classrooms-turned-bedrooms, which overlook either the picturesque standing waters of Lake Glasfjord or the adjacent forest. The owners, Michel May and Brenda Oudendijk, offer a variety of nature-oriented activities including canoeing, biking and a moose safari; the inn also has indoor and outdoor saunas, a hot tub and a full-service restaurant (with vegetarian options). elevenarvika.se
Situated in the town of Sunne (about a 90-minute drive from Glaskogen), Ulvsby Herrgard, a provincial manor, was built in 1630 and then designated as a vacation home for the Swedish Queen Kristina later in the century. Today, the 34-room hotel complements the serenity of Varmland with its neoclassical furnishings and flowered wallpapers; its restaurant is known for using hyperlocal produce and cheese made with milk from goats and mountain cattle. The manor also regularly mounts exhibitions that feature contemporary Swedish art and offers themed stays with dinners and festivities during the Midsummer festival, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. ulvsbyherrgard.se
All of the accommodations at Naturbyn — which are on and around Lake Eldan, in the village of Lindback (an hour’s drive from Glaskogen) — were hand-built by the proprietor Thomas Pettersson, and lack both electricity and Wi-Fi, allowing visitors to enjoy the beauty of Varmland undisturbed. From the beginning of May through September, guests can reserve the wooden “houseboat” (think floating log cabin), with its private terrace and outdoor kitchen; a treehouse tucked into the surrounding spruces; or a cabin firmly positioned on the forest floor — with wild strawberries growing on its roof. naturbyn.se
Located in the village of Klassbol, Kaffekvarnen is a locally beloved place for a fika, the traditional Swedish coffee and cake break, as well as lunch, thanks to the homemade bread and pastries, soups and open-faced sandwiches with toppings of shrimp or pickled herring. The building, which Kaffekvarnen has occupied since 1984, is itself inviting: A short bridge leads up to the front door of the erstwhile farmhouse, painted in the shade of rusty red seen throughout the Swedish countryside. kaffekvarnen.com
In 2001, the chef Helena Neraal took over the Swedish-style tavern Vita Algen, in the former train-station building in the small town of Amotfjords; the restaurant is named for the statue of a white moose that greets diners from its roof. Here, Neraal and local food purveyors collaborate on a traditionally Scandinavian menu that changes seasonally, and ranges from foraged chanterelles over crayfish to venison. A published cookbook author, Neraal also runs her own small publishing house out of Vita Algen and hosts exhibitions of local artists’ work. vita-algen.com
For those who’d rather not stray too far from Glaskogen, Café Carl is a short walk from the nature preserve’s information center in Lenungshammar. The small wooden cabin was constructed using the slow-growing pine trees, slate and stone found in the surrounding forest. The perfect spot for a mid-hike lunch, the cafe serves sandwiches, baked potatoes and salads, but take note: It’s open only from mid-June through August. glaskogen.se
The Swedish artisan Hjalmar Johansson established Klassbols Linnevaveri, a stone’s throw from the waters of Lake Glasfjorden, in 1920 after he found success selling the linens he made from local farmers’ flax. Today, third- and fourth-generation descendants of Johansson run the textile mill, producing eco-certified towels, bedding and napkins. The linens are even used by the Swedish royal family. Email in advance if you’d like a guided tour of the mill to learn more about its history and the craft process. klassbols.se
About 20 miles from Glaskogen, near Kyrkviken cove, is Arvika Konsthantverk, Sweden’s oldest handicraft cooperative, which was founded in 1922. Here, local ceramists sell their wares — from sculptures to functional pieces like plates and soap dishes — alongside sweaters, gloves and beanies made by expert knitters. arvikakonsthantverk.se
Stora Gla Lake
With its scores of splendid lakes, Glaskogen is an ideal place to explore from the seat of a canoe. Boats can be arranged at the information center in Lenungshammar, along with passes to use the picnic facilities and wooden shelters throughout the nature preserve; then head out onto Stora Gla Lake, just a short walk away. Roughly six miles long and half as wide, the lake can be circumnavigated in two to three days, including breaks to eat on the banks and plunge into the blue waters. glaskogen.se
Visitors can also tour the unfiltered Swedish wilderness on foot: There are more than 180 miles of hiking trails in Glaskogen. For a physical challenge, hike the two-day-long circuit to the top of Rodvattensberget (whose name means Red Water Mountain) where you’ll find a scenic view of the nature preserve. For an easier ascent, follow the shorter path that takes approximately three to four hours. The guides at the information center can also recommend trails suited to any kind of hiker. glaskogen.se
Selma Lagerlofs Marbacka
Selma Lagerlof, the Swedish author of “The Saga of Gosta Berling” (1891) and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1909, grew up 10 minutes outside Sunne at an imposing estate called Marbacka. Born in 1858, she lived there until she moved to Stockholm in her early 20s; she returned in 1907 and stayed until her death in 1940 (overseeing its reconstruction from 1921 to 1923), specifying in her will that Marbacka be preserved and opened to the public. Go for a guided tour to learn more about Lagerlof and her legacy, and take a stroll in the gardens before popping into the souvenir shop. marbacka.com
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