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TOURISM

Stockholm’s hobbit village to be eco-friendly

A real-life hobbit village will soon be nestled in the lush forests of a Swedish island, a whimsical housing scheme billed as the first of its kind - but behind the fantasy gimmick lies a genuine interest for sustainable development.

Stockholm's hobbit village to be eco-friendly

The hobbits, small characters with hairy feet in novelist J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy classics, are a model of environmentally friendly living, said British hobbit-house architect Simon Dale.

“Hobbits portray people living a peaceful life in harmony with nature,” Dale, 35, told AFP on a recent visit to Stockholm.

He was in town to plan for the cluster of 30 houses on Muskö, an island located some 40 kilometres from the city centre as the crow flies amid Stockholm’s picturesque archipelago. The island’s first hobbit house is scheduled to be ready in mid-2014, with the village completed within a few years.

At first sight, the huts resemble Bilbo Baggins’s dwellings in the Shire in Tolkien’s 1937 novel The Hobbit.

Click here for a gallery of Simon Dale’s hobbit house in Wales

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” begins Tolkien’s tale. “It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle.”

In Tolkien’s idyllic agrarian setting, the hobbits live in tune with nature – in stark contrast to the author’s era of mature industrialization. The Swedish hobbit village will keep the notion of natural materials and soft, round shapes: the windows, doors and walls will all be curved.

Yet the houses will be slightly more up-to-date, built for modern city-dwellers longing to retreat to nature on weekends and holidays. An induction hob, beside a wood-burning range, will be the “most high-tech thing integrated,” said Dale, whose design promises airy ceilings up to 3.5 metres high.

Energy efficiency will be a primary goal, so heating will come from solar power and wood-burning. Natural building materials from the area will also be used, such as timber, stone, sand, clay and grass.

Dale himself has lived in a hobbit house for the past decade with his wife and two kids. The family now resides in the West Wales community of Lammas, the first British low-impact eco-village of its kind. Building the earth houses has become a passion, said Dale, originally a photographer.

The village isn’t targeted at fans of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” – rather, it’s intended to appeal to those who care about the environment and want to live close to nature.

“It’s a transition in lifestyle and values,” said Dale, who bears a faint resemblance to Bilbo as played by Martin Freeman in the new “Hobbit” blockbuster film trilogy.

‘Hobbit-holes’ and a Dream Farm

Sweden, like other countries taking the lead in sustainable development, has in recent years seen a boom in eco-friendly urban renewal projects. But Dale noted a key difference between those projects and his.

They “aim to maximize the efficiency of resource consumption, while we aim to minimize resource consumption,” he said, adding that sustainability doesn’t require fancy new gadgets but can instead be attained by living more simply.

He said Muskö was the perfect location for his project. Home to a naval base decommissioned nine years ago, the island has a natural forest and farming landscape, yet is conveniently equipped with well-developed infrastructure, including a grocery store, restaurant, pharmacy, public transport and a three-kilometre tunnel connecting it to the mainland.

The island is also home to an eco-project called Drömgården, or The Dream Farm, which is building an environmentally sustainable community and which invited Dale to collaborate. Apart from his “hobbit-holes”, the village will feature 350 eco-friendly homes.

Local farmers and residents are intrigued to see the old agricultural estate being brought back to life, providing jobs and atmosphere, said Dale. Yet for the moment the entire project remains in the realm of Tolkien’s fantasy, pending real-world bureaucratic clearance.

“It’s up to the municipality to give us the green light, but we’re optimistic,” said project organizer Marie Eriksson.

TT/The Local/og

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TOURISM

Sweden launches bid to become world’s top tourism destination by 2030

Forget the pyramids, the canals of Venice or the Eiffel Tower – the Swedish government has presented a plan to make Sweden the world's most attractive tourism destination by 2030 – but it's not yet clear how.

Sweden launches bid to become world's top tourism destination by 2030
Many tourists are attracted to Sweden because of its nature. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In a press conference on Monday, Sweden’s Minister for Business, Industry and Innovation Ibrahim Baylan outlined the new strategy, which aims to make Sweden “the world’s most sustainable and attractive tourism destination built on innovation” by 2030.

Baylan referred to Sweden as a country which “is usually ranked as one of the world’s most innovative countries”, which he argued can “create value for the tourism industry”.

According to Baylan, the strategy builds on “sustainability’s three dimensions – it has to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable”. The strategy will also “tie into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030”, he said.

Topics covered by the new tourism strategy include the climate impact of tourism, equality and inclusion in the tourism industry and the importance of preserving shared resources such as national parks and sustainable nature tourism such as fishing and hunting.

The press release highlights the importance of natural tourism, explaining that the pandemic has led to people visiting natural and cultural environments “to a greater extent than before”, increasing wear and tear to natural areas.

DISCOVER SWEDEN: The Local’s guide to Sweden’s top destinations and hidden gems

Tourism is an important industry for Sweden, providing employment in both urban and rural areas, as well as generating wealth – before the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry represented on average 2.7 percent of Sweden’s GDP per year. The tourism industry also employs a high amount of people from foreign backgrounds – making up over a third (34 percent) of all employees in the industry.

During the pandemic, overnight stays declined in almost every Swedish municipality, with the biggest declines seen in Sweden’s larger cities and border municipalitites.

The government’s plans also include a focus on jobs and skill development, so that workers have the right qualifications for the industry – this reflects issues currently faced by the restaurant and hotel industry in finding skilled workers in the wake of the pandemic. 

There are currently no details as to how the government will achieve this strategy, or indeed how it will measure success. But Sweden is aiming high if it wants to be the world’s most attractive tourist destination by 2030. In 2019, it was ranked the 54th top tourist destination in the world by the UN World Tourism Organisation.

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