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A northern adventure: Europe's last wilderness

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A northern adventure: Europe's last wilderness
Photo: Martin Björnwall/Norrlandia/www.imagebank.sweden.se
11:19 CEST+02:00
With a large majority Sweden's nine million people living south of Stockholm, Norrland - the northern two-thirds of Sweden - is often described as the continent's last wilderness. And while the winters are harsh and dark, the summer sees the land of the midnight sun live up to its name. Norrland's cultural history is also fascinating: the indigenous Sami people have a distinctive language and culture, which is now flourishing after centuries of discouragement - or downright suppression - by the state.

Here are a few ways to get a taste of Sweden's most northerly reaches:

The Ice Hotel Wilderness Camps

Summer might have returned Sweden's famous Ice Hotel to the river from which it came, but visitors come to this corner of the far north of Sweden all year round. Stressed-out city dwellers wanting to leave it all behind can try their hand at fishing or warm up in a traditional wood-burning sauna – all beyond the range of mobile phone signals and miles from the nearest road. The wooden cabins are reached by hiking, boat or raft.

Further information: www.icehotel.com/Summer/Stay/Wild/

Getting there: Direct trains from Stockholm to Kiruna from ca. 1,050 kronor return with reserved seat or ca. 1,500 kronor return with berth in sleeping car. Passengers from Gothenburg change in Boden. Tickets from Gothenburg cost from ca. 1,200 kronor.

Regular flights to Kiruna Airport from Stockholm Arlanda with SAS and Norwegian from ca. 1500 kronor return.

Kungsleden – the King's Trail

This 440km hiking trail between Abisko in the north and Hemavan in the south passes through one of Europe's most unspoilt landscapes. The most popular stretch runs between Abisko and Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest mountain. Huts along the route provide basic accommodation for hikers. For the less experienced walkers there are plenty of opportunities for one-day excursions from Abisko.

Further information: www.abisko.nu

Getting there: Direct trains from Stockholm to Abisko. Prices start at ca. 1,050 kronor return for a reserved seat or ca. 1,500 kronor return for a berth in a sleeping car. Alternatively, buses cover the 100 kilometre journey from Kiruna airport to Abisko.

Sami mountain hikes

If you want to learn about the culture of Norrland's indigenous Sami people while taking in the scenery, then what better way than to take a two day hike through the mountains in the company of Sami guides? Hikers stay in a traditional Sami tepee on the mountain, while their bags are carried by reindeer. Sami food - cloudberries, smoked reindeer and cheese - is served during the hike. The 22 kilometre walk ends in the mountain village of Kvikkjokk, from where hikers take a boat trip on the river.

The hikes are organized between August 10th and October 31st, if there are sufficient numbers. The hike, including food and accommodation, costs 4,735 kronor per person.

Further information: www.laponia.nu

Getting there:

Direct buses link Årrenjarka, where the hike begins, with Murjek train station. Night trains link Murjek with Stockholm from ca. 1,500 kronor. Alternatively fly to Luleå, Kiruna or Gällivare and drive to Årrenjarka.

Blast off at Esrange

Alright, you can't yet actually blast off from Sweden's space centre, a 45 minute drive from Kiruna. You can, however, pay a visit to one of Europe's only civilian space centre, from which Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic plans to send the first European space tourists skywards in 2012. Kiruna tourist board offers four hour tours of Esrange, including a bus ride from the city.

Further information: www.lappland.se

Getting there: Visits to Esrange are by arrangement only and cost 390 kronor for adults, 290 kronor for students and 200 kronor for children. Transfer from Kiruna to Esrange is included in the price of the ticket.

The Lapland gold mines and Underground Church

Västerbotten county is home to one of the world's richest gold deposits. The area around Skellefteå has been the scene of gold mining for a hundred years, and discoveries continue to be made today. One place worth a visit is St Anne's Underground Church in Kristineberg (St:a Annas Underjordisk Kyrka). The church was created in the late 1960s near the site where in 1946 miners noticed a 2-metre tall Christ figure in the rock. The appearance of the figure appeared to fulfil a local legend that Christ would one day appear at the mountain above the mine. Visitors can stay in the former mine manager's mansion, which is now a hostel (bookings +46 915 210 10). Among the characterful places to stay in the wider region are the converted millhouse Överklintens Kvarnhotell (overklinten@home.se) and the family farm Österlunds-Torpet.

Further information: www.guldriket.com

Getting there: The nearest train stations to Skellefteå are at Bastuträsk or Jörn, with night trains from Stockholm and Gothenburg. Buses link the stations with Skellefteå (one hour). Skyways and SAS operate on the Stockholm-Skellefteå route, SAS and Norwegian operate Stockholm-Luleå. City Airline links Gothenburg Landvetter with Luleå. To the south of the region, Umeå Airport is served by Malmö Aviation, which links it to Gothenburg and Stockholm Bromma. Norwegian and SAS fly Umeå to Stockholm Arlanda.

The Kingdom of Cheese (Ostriket)

The area around Burträsk is the home of Västerbotten cheese, the tangy hard cheese known in Sweden as the Emperor of Cheeses. In a bid to capitalize on the famous foodstuff, local politicians and businesses now market the area as the ‘Kingdom of Cheese'. Ostens Hus (The House of Cheese) at the dairy in Burträsk is a must for cheese lovers. Here you can sample the local delicacy or even create your own cheese. Many restaurants in the area serve cheese-based regional specialities such as Västerbottenpaj, a cheese tart. The idyllic northern scenery and a rich history makes the region worth a visit.

For further information: www.ostriket.net

Getting there: SJ operates night trains from Stockholm and Gothenburg to Bastuträsk, about 50 kilometres from Burträsk. Tickets cost from about 1,000 kronor return for a seat and about 1,500 kronor for a berth in a sleeping car. Skellefteå Airport is about 30 kilometres from Burträsk.

Getting to Norrland:

Trains:

SJ: www.sj.se

Airlines:

SAS: www.sas.se

Norwegian: www.norwegian.no

City Airline: www.cityairline.com

Skyways: www.skyways.se

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