The ferocious howls pierced through the quiet forest air. The large huskies surrounded us, sniffing and howling restlessly. I felt a peculiar dryness in my mouth and an urge to call my husband and say, “Honey, I love you.” “Relax,” Marie-Line said, her soft voice breaking the tension in the air, as she yanked on Farah’s leash, “you’ll never forget this.” Farah and I locked eyes. I tried to distract myself by thinking about the past few days.
Just 200 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, Skellefteå in Sweden’s Västerbotten County had offered a remarkable introduction to the largely unexplored wilderness of Swedish Lapland. The magical region where in summer, sunlight is present for 24 hours of the day and in winter, the night sky transforms into a grand theater where the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights) performs her finest ballet.
While exploring this region, visited mostly by Swedes in the know, I had been rewarded with one-of-a-kind experiences such as hiking through the windswept Bjuröklubb Nature Reserve, canoeing on the glassy Skellefteå River, going on a wild moose chase on quad bike, and going to sleep in the land of the Midnight Sun. It had all been a dream right up until this moment. Now I found myself surrounded by huskies without the slightest clue of what was going to happen next.
Trekking with Huskies at Svanfors
Luckily for me, Marie-Line was a great teacher. Her gentle demeanor and soothing voice inspired confidence as I learnt how to bond with and handle Farah. Farah, on the other hand, was supremely intelligent and intuitive, even if fierce, being the leader of the pack, and mother to the other huskies. Farah’s immense strength wasn’t wasted on me as I took my first few steps with her leading, her leash secured to my waist. The rest of the party followed us, each member with their own husky.
Slowly, the nerves gave way to an inexplicable sense of bliss as we walked on into the boreal forest of Swedish Lapland, my sturdy shoes stepping briskly on stones, dried twigs, and leaves to keep up with her. I lost track of time or place, happy to let Farah lead the way into territory that she knew better than I ever could.
Marie-Line’s story and her family’s love for the huskies is inspiring. Later, as we gathered around and sipped on hot coffee, she told us of how her husband Arnaud and she, along with their three children Paul, Louise, and Pierre moved to Svanfors in Swedish Lapland from their former home in France, so their huskies could have a better life in a climate that was more suitable for them. As usually happens to people who make lives of passions, they initially faced ridicule for their dreams of opening up a husky farm in the middle of nowhere in Swedish Lapland.
Today, their farm, a piece of paradise where they learn more about Swedish Lapland and the Sami culture, hosts travelers from around the world who can stay here to experience summer and winter activities like dogsledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, fishing, canoeing, hiking with huskies, husky foot bike, and quad biking. Aptly their farm is named Lappland Emotions and when you visit, it’s hard to miss all of the emotion that goes into their work. This was easily my favorite experience in Swedish Lapland.
Watch the Video of Trekking with Huskies
How to Book With Lapland Emotions
You can book here.
To stay for a few days with Lappland Emotions you can also book through Airbnb, don’t forget to claim your free credit here first:
Hiking through the Bjuröklubb Nature Reserve
Under gloomy grey skies and raindrops on our skin, we hiked through the nature reserve of Bjuröklubb, its remote landscape of rocks, stones, rubble, shrubs, trees, and bush made even more dramatic by the weather. A shiny wooden walkway took us past a lighthouse emerging out of a bright yellow building. The lighthouse was built in 1859 and the building now offers overnight accommodation for a maximum of seven people and also houses Café Fyren, the perfect fika (coffee break in Swedish culture) stop when in the area.
It’s believed that the area has been significant over history due to its location and unique flora and fauna. Apart from centuries of having been a fishing village, Bjuröklubb was also an important harbor in Bothnian trade routes.
Paddling on the Skellefteå River
It’s incredible how the activity of paddling on a river eliminates the need for conversation, a state that introverts such as myself cherish. At first, the glassy Skellefteå River was a mirror image of the blue sky and cotton candy clouds that hung over Swedish Lapland. Then, as we glided across the narrowing waterways framed by overgrown banks and birches, they were adorned with pinkish white patterns made by plants.
Our expedition was led by Peter Lundström of Swenature AB, a biologist with a passion for nature conservation and sustainable rural development through the support of local trade. A surprise fika stop was a tiny island on the river where Peter brewed coffee over an open fire and brought out homemade treats to share. Suddenly, we looked up to see that a beautiful rainbow had formed over the incredible landscape, firmly etching the scene in our memories forever.
Experiencing Europe’s Last Wilderness at Svansele
Thorbjörn Holmlund’s love for the wilderness isn’t missed on visitors to Svansele Vildmarkscenter. His camp, a sanctuary in the remoteness of Swedish Lapland offers travelers the most authentic of nature experiences. His knack for storytelling puts them at ease, even those who’ve never traveled this far north, so close to the Arctic Circle.
Once pleasantries were exchanged, the group got on quad-bikes and followed him through the wilderness, fuelled by the prospect of spotting moose. The occasional stops revealed quaint riverside cottages, and further into the forests, timbered tipis in a camp setting, the kind of places where the only light emanates from bonfires and fire torches, where saunas and hot tubs are not luxuries reserved for special days, and where man is not concerned with trivialities like electricity and running water.
Svansele Vildmarkscenter is also home to one of the biggest wilderness museums in Sweden, spread over 11 rooms and an area of 1,800 square meters. Inside, are exhibits of almost all subarctic species, nearly 600, including bear, wolf, and lynx, as well as birds and marine species.
Afterwards, over a cup of coffee, I watched as Thorbjörn cooked our lunch; fish, reindeer, moose, vegetables, and potatoes, over an open fire. The meat sizzled over the flames and I found myself asking, “Should I try it, the reindeer and moose?” I sampled the coarse, chewy meats and then went with the delicious fish for the rest of my meal, washed down with sweet lingonberry juice.
Though we’d just spent the morning at the camp, it felt like we’d been here for days, and this blissful state of wilderness living was perfectly natural.
A Picnic Lunch on the Island of Pite-Rönnskär
Pite-Rönnskär stood serenely in the archipelago of the Gulf of Bothnia, its bright red lighthouse rising out of a cluster of red houses, surrounded by the rest of the island, an area you could explore by foot in under an hour. The red cottages, once home to fishermen, are today privately owned summerhouses. An old chapel and a cottage built in 1849 are the other two structures on the island, the latter serves as a hostel for overnight visitors and also houses a café.
After an hour of walking around, we gathered around close to the Heidenstam lighthouse, like the few Swedish families on the island, to enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch from the café and reflect on our time in Swedish Lapland.
Adventure fix at Skellefteå Adventure Park
The Skellefteå Adventure Park offers courses with ziplines and rope obstacles for different levels and ages and makes for a great afternoon of activities for the entire family. An introduction and safety training is conducted at the beginning and the highest safety standards are adhered to.
Where to Stay in Skellefteå
When Italian photographer and architect Edoardo Miola set up Lantliv Lodge, he envisioned a space where guests could learn how to be without the constant need to do. A space that would nurture creativity and oneness with the incredible nature of Swedish Lapland. Unsurprisingly, the 19th-century buildings embody that spirit with their unique and tasteful interiors that feel like a home away from home. The photos on the walls, the beautiful furniture, and other details are his creations.
There are various types of accommodation available throughout the property such as suites, junior suites, double and single rooms, B&B style with shared bathrooms and kitchenette, and camping bungalows. The lodge also offers photography courses, weekend workshops, and photo trips for interested guests.
To stay closer to town, I recommend staying at the historical Stiftsgården, where we stayed. The history of the former vicarage turned hotel is closely tied to the history of Skelleftea, with it having been the former residence of the founder of Skellefteå, vicar Nils Nordlander (1796-1874). The hotel has simple, spacious, and comfortable rooms with all-white décor, and offers a lovely breakfast. The town center and river are a short walk from the hotel.
To share Thorbjörn Holmlund’s love of nature, consider a stay at his Knutes Hotell as an alternative to a stay at the wilderness camp. Expect a peaceful stay in the heart of nature with amazing lakeside views, modern amenities, self-catering, and easy access to the wilderness center and outdoor activities. The rooms are simple and comfortable and guests have access to a shared lounge and terrace. Breakfast can be ordered. You can book here. Other accommodation options are available here.
How to Get to Skellefteå
Fly from Stockholm to Skellefteå with budget airliner Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), the journey is an hour long. Beginning March 2017 you can also fly to Skellefteå with Norwegian. Check and compare flights.
Tip: You’ll need your own wheels to explore Skelleftea, rent a car and save up to 30%.
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I visited Skelleftea as a guest of Visit Skelleftea. All opinions, as always, are honest and independent.