A lot to like about northern Sweden

Northern Lights display over the frozen Baltic Sea in Lulea.
Northern Lights display over the frozen Baltic Sea in Lulea.
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It doesn’t take much persuasion for Lars Erikkson to burst into song.

Lowering his chin, until it almost reaches the curled-up tips of his reindeer-skin boots, he bellows out a gruff melody.

Given that it wasn’t until the Sixties that Sweden’s indigenous Sami people were even allowed to speak their own language, let alone sing traditional songs, it’s not surprising he’s relishing the opportunity to share his culture.

I, his audience of one, am huddled next to a coal-burning heater, surrounded by an eclectic display of porcelain dolls, miniature tea sets, and garlands of dry flowers draped over a Welsh dresser.

‘Sami people had loud voices before they had mobile phones,’ he says from beneath a thick, wiry beard. ‘They could shout for five to six kilometres.’

Lars makes no attempt to hide the fact he dislikes technology. He nostalgically recalls a time when he would spend up to three weeks alone in the forest herding reindeer, carrying with him only a knife and a needle and thread to repair any damage to his Sami costume.

Lars has been looking after reindeer for 50 years, working and living on an estate owned by his family since the mid-19th century.

But to keep up with demanding times he’s had to abandon a traditional way of life and switch to using a snowmobile to round up his animals.

Swedish Lapland has been embracing innovation for some time. Earlier this year, when Facebook set up a 27,000sqm server farm in the region’s largest town, Lulea, the irony was noted the world over: a relatively remote coastal destination, 60km south of the Arctic Circle, would become one of the world’s most important communication hubs.

Cool temperatures, which prevent computers from overheating, and a cheap hydroelectricity supply are now incentivising other software companies to move into the area.

The most obvious attraction here is the Unesco World Heritage Site of Gammelstad, where 400 wooden houses surround a 15th century stone church. But it’s the natural surroundings that really impress me.

The Baltic Sea, which normally laps the town harbour, has frozen, creating an icy parkland on which locals can ski, skate and stroll.

Fortune is obviously shining on me that night when I head out on a snowmobile ride to the Brandon peninsula. As I zoom across the frozen sea, the Northern Lights put on a spectacular display.

My bed for the night is at the Treehotel in Harads (an hour from Lulea). At present, there are six eco-friendly tree pods, all built without placing any stress on surrounding trees.

The next morning I meet a couple who have checked in for six nights. Their aim is to sleep in every tree room – from the gleaming Mirrorcube to a flying saucer filled with games consoles and constellation duvets.

I have an other-worldly experience when I take a hovercraft ride across the Baltic Sea, exploring Lulea’s archipelago of 1,312 islands. Riding on a cushion of air, we glide over ice so smooth I imagine it has been levelled with a large palette knife.

Mobile phones do work here, but I decide to switch mine off. In a place with so many communication links, I realise it’s still easy to disconnect.


Sarah Marshall was a guest of Taber Holidays (01274 875 199; taberhols.co.uk) who offer the four-night Lulea and Treehotel package from £1,186pp (based on two sharing).

Accommodation at the Elite Stadshotellet in Lulea and a night at the Treehotel, with breakfast. Daily departures from January 6 to April 7, 2014.

Optional activities include Northern Lights snowshoe tour (from £153pp), hovercraft tour (from £237pp) and dog sledding (from £260pp).