Take some time out to lap up the wilderness

Sitting on a jetty at Svansele Wilderness Camp
Sitting on a jetty at Svansele Wilderness Camp

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A new direct flight route to Swedish Lapland has opened up the region for long weekend breaks. From quad biking to kayaking, SARAH MARSHALL finds out what’s on offer.

Sitting cross-legged at the end of a wooden jetty, I’m floating on a vast, watery mirror, marvelling at the reflection of motionless clouds hanging in a cornflower blue sky.

In a few months’ time, this lake will be frozen and the landscape wrapped with snow - the more recognisable face of Lapland.

But right now, it’s summer and baking hot, so I find myself wearing shorts and a T-shirt just 300km south of the Arctic Circle.

At night, the sun skims the horizon and never properly sets, stealing the dark stage where the Northern Lights will perform much later in the year, attracting thousands of tourists to the region.

At a latitude of 64 degrees north, Skelleftea is a sleepy town in southern Swedish Lapland, not far from the Baltic Sea, characterised by clapboard houses in a palette of pastel hues.

Thanks to a new direct three-hour flight from the UK with Ryanair, it’s set to become the gateway to an area popular with adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts.

‘Whatever season you come here, it’s beautiful,’ says Thorbjorn, a sprightly, philosophical nature lover who runs the Svansele Wilderness Center, an hour’s drive from Skelleftea.

Heating a charred black kettle over a roasting fire, he prepares ‘the best coffee in the world’ (the blacker the kettle, the better the coffee), and melts cheese on Swedish flatbreads using grills suspended above the flames.

We eat with wooden forks and plates handmade by Thorbjorn, using wood from a local saw mill.

In between mouthfuls of food, I trial a few of the on-site amusements; I attempt to lasso reindeer antlers with a long piece of cable, then throw an axe at a tree stump embedded in the wall.

Thorbjorn admits he never bothered going to school, but instead spent his childhood learning to hunt and fish - skills now fundamental to the business he set up after friends visiting from Stockholm described Svansele as one of most beautiful places on earth.

I appreciate his passion for the wilderness on a quad bike ride through the boreal forest, thick with bristly birch and pine trees tickling the sky. Unfortunately, though, my zest for adventure turns sour when I hit a stump and career off-road into a tree, sending pine needles cascading from the sky like confetti, and destroying the quad’s bumper beyond recognition.

On a canoe safari with Lapland Canoe Central in Jokkmokk, just north of the Arctic Circle, I find gliding slowly through the water is one of the best ways to appreciate this pristine landscape.

Respect for the natural world is vital for survival in this environment, something the indigenous Sami people know only too well.

Once nomads who would roam the high latitudes, they have since adapted to more modern lifestyles.

Reindeer herder Lotta Svensson still visits a seite (sacred place) 2km from the Batsuoj Sami camp which she set up with her husband Tom to educate people about the Sami way of life.

To get a better view of the camp, we sit on a simple raft, attached by rope to the riverbank, and haul ourselves across the water.

The log-built lavvos are dwarfed by spindly birch trees, many covered in thick black moss - food for reindeer and an indicator that there’s very little pollution.

Sarah Marshall was a guest of Visit Sweden (visitsweden.com), Destination Skelleftea (destinationskelleftea.se/en/Destination) and Swedish Lapland (swedishlapland.co.uk).

For more information on activities, visit Svansele Wilderness Centre (svansele.se) and Lapland Canoe Central (jokkmokkguiderna.com).

An overnight stay at Batsuoj Sami Center (batsuoj.se/eng) costs 1,100 SEK (aprox. £96) pp, including breakfast, dinner, sleeping bag and use of boats.