There are approximately 100,000 lakes in Sweden, which means that even if you don't have the luxury of living near the coast you are still never far from water. For me – a long-time water-lover – this is definitely one of the country's most appealing aspects, as I'm sure it is for many others around this time of year.
The lakes can vary in size dramatically – some are approximate to a football pitch whereas Vänern, Sweden's largest lake and the third largest in Europe, covers an an area of around 5600 square kilometres. Fortunately, most of the lakes are clean and safe to bathe in, and the majority of Swedes (as well as other tourists) take full advantage of this during the summer months – indeed many are fortunate enough to own a summer house by a lake.
Having never really swum in a lake in the UK, I was slightly anxious when I took my first dip in Mälaren – the water was murky, the ground mushy and what I presume were reeds tickled my legs – but although it was a far cry from the swimming pools and sandy beaches of the Mediterranean I was familiar with, it was at once amazingly refreshing and exhilarating. I was hooked.
My father-in-law recently moved house but he used to live on the shore of lake Yngen in Värmland – an area rich in lakes – and we would visit as many times as possible during the summer months. Every day, armed only with a bathing costume, fishing rod, digital camera and monocular, I would while away the hours swimming, fishing and taking photos of the lake and the various wildlife it would attract – particular highlights were the foreboding birds of prey that would silently circle the skies above me, the seemingly workaholic beavers on the lake's shores and the occasional brief but rewarding glimpse of a kingfisher swooping down into the water.
Fishing always induces a kind of emotional equilibrium within me that is hard to describe but very pleasant, and with so many daylight hours during the Swedish summer I would often return back to the house in the early hours of the morning, content with the evening's catch and invigorated by a midnight swim. Perch (abborre) and pike (gädda) are two of the most common fish found in Swedish lakes, and after convincing somebody else to gut them (a real cop-out for a fisherman, I know) we would prepare my daily catch for the evening meal. Pike is always delicious poached or roasted and served with lemon and pepparrotsvisp (a mild horseradish cream) and perch is equally good on the barbecue or simply fried in butter and served on crispbread as an accompaniment.
It wasn't uncommon that a deep-frozen pike would travel home with us and be made into fish burgers at a later date – a pleasant reminder of our time by Yngen. Even upon our return home to the city we are still only minutes away from a lake – Mälaren, Sweden's third largest – which is typically the case in Sweden. Mälaren provides us with custom bathing beaches, endless fishing opportunities and even a decent restaurant with a terrace offering amazing views over the lake and its picturesque harbour.
Although I generally utilise Swedish lakes for swimming and fishing, many of them – especially the larger ones – provide ideal opportunities for an array of water sports, as well as winter activities such as ice skating and ice fishing. I have yet to experience the alleged thrill of jumping naked into an icy Swedish lake after a steamy sauna, but it is definitely on my 'to do' list – along with finally plucking up the courage to try surströmming (fermented herring).
As I mentioned, my father-in-law recently moved from his house on Yngen and he now lives a few miles away in a tiny village surrounded by lakes and forests. Much to our dismay the nearest lake is now an unfathomable 8-minute walk from his new house, but I guess we’ll just have to make do…
See also: Photo gallery