By Lance Harrell
If there’s one thing that takes the joy out of a wilderness vacation, it’s crowds. Just because you’re not ready to be some kind of survival expert, dumped off in the wilds with only your multi-tool for company, doesn’t mean that your destination should be crowded.
Vastmanland County — located in the south-central part of Sweden and bordering one of the country’s largest lakes — is an excellent choice for people who like their adventures “soft” and relatively unspoiled. The problem with adventure tours is that they often group together so many people that the true uniqueness of the experience is lost in the crowd. This is especially true of soft adventures, which bring an aspect of comfort and convenience to outdoor experiences.
Vastmanland County is only a couple of hours from Stockholm, so it’s fairly easy to reach. What it offers, though, is something pretty far away from city life.
Six Adventures in Vastmanland
I traveled to Vastmanland not too long ago and loved it. If you’re looking for something a bit different than stateside safari parks for your next group trip and you’re up for international travel, check out what Vastmanland has to offer.
1. Wildlife Tours with WildSweden
WildSweden is one of Sweden’s top wildlife tour operators. They offer overnight wild animal experiences as well as longer “holidays,” where you can stay at small guesthouses or lodges for a multi-day adventure. If a day trip is more your style, you can choose a “moose safari,” which is a walk through the forest followed by a campfire dinner. Or you can opt for a “beaver safari,” which is a sunset boat trip with a dinner. (Both safaris have a very solid record of spotting their quarry and mine was no exception.) Or simply paddle a canoe up a wild lake and have dinner on an island. All dinners are made with organic, local ingredients, and various dietary needs can be met.
2. Camping (with a Twist) at Kolarbyn Eco-Lodge
If you’re like me, you’ve probably never seen anything quite like the accommodations at Kolarbyn Lodge. Set in a spruce forest, with easy access to running water, the huts at Kolarbyn are built exactly like those formerly used by charcoal makers. The 12 huts have no electricity and no running water, but they do have blueberries growing on the roof (in season, naturally). A fireplace and sheepskin coverings are there to keep you warm, but be prepared to chop your own wood! While you’re at the lodge, you can also fish with a guide, take a mindfulness hike, ride horseback or hike through the wilderness, or spend an entire day exploring the local forests. You can also join a safari for moose or beaver.
3. Adventurous and Eco-Conscious Outings with deWilde Outdoor
The folks at deWilde Outdoor offer a selection of what I might call the most offbeat activities. The one that interests me the most is a tour of a forest fire. Don’t worry, it’s not an ongoing fire; in 2014, 14,000 hectares of land was burned in the worst fire in Sweden’s modern history. But that doesn’t close the chapter on this area. Groups can come for a guided walking tour to see how Nature is repairing the damage. Sound a bit tame for your liking? Then do the tour by paramotor tandem flight. These powered glider flights are comfortable and run by a safety-conscious pilot (they even pack an extra parachute, just in case). You can opt to glide over the forest fire area or just motor along enjoying nature.
If you’d rather stick to the terrestrial earth, kayaking along the local waterways, hearing stories from Sweden’s history and seeing wildlife (possibly a white-tailed eagle!) is a good option. This three- to five-hour trip includes a light lunch.
4. Farm Stays in Ulvsbomuren
Here’s a farm stay where you get a real sense of how things were. It starts with the lodging: two wooden cottages that share a bathroom, plus access to a deck, hot tub and sauna. Various packages can be added to your stay here: hiking, picnicking with the sheep, canoeing, skiing or mushrooming are all options. Or spend a “farm weekend” enjoying a three-course dinner on Saturday and making your own recreational plans for your stay. Not planning on staying? You can still arrange to picnic with the sheep, canoe, or enjoy the sauna and hot tub. If your package comes with food, expect it to be mostly farm- and locally-sourced, with ingredients like wild game, mushrooms, lamb, wild berries and crayfish on the menu.
5. Meet Moose in Gardsjo Moose Park
I’d hesitate to call the experience offered by the Gardsjo Moose Park a cross between a moose safari and a petting zoo, but that’s kind of what it is. These moose are more used to people. In fact, they are so used to people that they like to check out the arriving tractor-pulled wagons and the guests the wagons haul with them! During the tour, you’ll not only get up close and personal with these massive mammals in a very one-of-a-kind way, you’ll also learn a lot about moose life from your guide.
6. Cheese making in Tvetalund Lantbruk
What if you just want to spend one day in the life of a dairy farmer? The people running Tvetalund Lantbruk say, “Sure, come on and give it a try.” Starting around dawn, you can help feed the cows, calves and chickens, gather eggs and do other chores. Your reward? Breakfast with farm-grown ingredients. After breakfast, you can help with butter and cheese production, then enjoy a delicious dinner.
If you want to get back to the wild in Vastmanland County, you can do that. But if you want to have a bit of both worlds — have your safari and a nice dinner as well — you can find that here too. What you won’t find is an experience ruined by too many tourists in the same place trying to do the same thing. In Vastmanland, Sweden’s natural attractions come first.