A new direct flight route to Swedish Lapland has opened up the region for long weekend breaks. Thinking of a magical destination to visit this winter? Sarah Marshall finds out what's on offer in Lapland


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. And 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



"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. He owns nine overnight camps in

Swedish Lapland, ranging from comfortable en-suite apartments to

traditional lavvo tents lined with reindeer skins, and offers activities

for both summer and winter months.


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. "I get through about 45,000 of these a year," he

says, laughing. "There's no need for washing up; we just throw them

straight on the fire afterwards!"


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.


His appetite for adventure is insatiable and even his name has the comic

book hero translation of 'Thunder Bear'. Give him 24 hours' notice, and

he boldly claims he can find a moose in the surrounding woodland - or

he'll refund the cost of your plane ticket home.


"I love this place," he tells me. "But if, when I'm old, my children

don't want to continue the business, I'll lock it all up and throw the

key in the river."


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



I bravely get back in the saddle, but no less than five minutes later,

while attempting to negotiate a ditch, I mistakenly slam the

accelerator, rearing my mechanical stallion up onto its haunches and

skidding across the road. I end up vertical, wondering if I'm done for,

gripping the handles as if driving along a one-way road to heaven (or



It's a stunt that would leave Evel Kneival weeping, and even

characteristically loquacious Thunder Bear is lost for words.


But I won't be beaten, and fortunately I manage to make it back to base

without destroying anything else, including myself.


Before leaving, we visit another jewel in Thorbjorn's crown - a

taxidermy exhibition featuring 680 stuffed creatures, lovingly displayed

in their natural surroundings. Most of the menagerie are road kill,

knocked over by cars... or possibly quad bikes being driven by reckless



There are bears, owls, moose and elk, but the most precious piece in the

collection is a hermaphrodite ptarmigan. Thorbjorn won't part with that

for any money, I'm told.


Many of the creatures on display can still be seen in the wild, although

the hulking but shy brown bears are much harder to spot.


Matti and Stina, who run Lapland Canoe Central in Jokkmokk, just north

of the Arctic Circle, tell me they've seen the ursus arctos fleetingly

from the car. But I'm quite relieved we don't encounter any angry

mammals on the small island where we stop for a rest, tea and cinnamon

buns, before continuing our canoe safari.


Gliding slowly through the water is one of the best ways to appreciate

this pristine landscape, and with every dip of my paddle, I feel a

little further from reality.


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, but their knowledge and love of nature remains undiluted.


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. She describes the seite as

having a large stone shaped like a bear, a sacred animal respected for

it's strength and power, but she won't specify its exact location.


"I don't want them to touch it," she says adamantly. "Sometimes you

don't need to know everything. You have the words. That's enough."


Short, with dark skin and high cheekbones, Lotta is a typical Sami and

she's unequivocally proud of her culture. She even confesses to leaving

books on the subject in the camp toilets, encouraging visitors to learn

more. But she does draw the line at wearing a traditional Sami outfit,

rarely used today, as "that would give the wrong impression".


Using a lasso, she rounds up her reindeer, with many currently sporting

blood-filled, furry summer horns. Far fewer Sami now make money from

reindeer herding, she explains, and this year alone, she and Tom lost

60% of their animals to predators, meaning they were unable to sell any

for meat. She blames programmes to reintroduce wolves into the area, and

demands the Swedish government should take action.


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, towering birch trees, many

covered in thick black moss - a favourite food for reindeer and an

indicator that there's very little pollution here.


Lotta tells me about the history of the Sami; how their belief system,

shamanic drums and eventually even their own language were banned by the

Swedish church.


"But it's never too late to relearn," she says with confidence. "It just

takes a little longer."


And if the place of worship is this beautiful, it's certainly worth the




:: Sarah Marshall was a guest of Visit Sweden (www.visitsweden.com),

Destination Skelleftea (www.destinationskelleftea.se/en/Destination) and

Swedish Lapland (www.swedishlapland.co.uk).

:: For more information on activities, visit Svansele Wilderness Centre

(www.svansele.se) and Lapland Canoe Central (www.jokkmokkguiderna.com).

:: On overnight stay at Batsuoj Sami Center (www.batsuoj.se/eng) costs

1,100 SEK (aprox. £96) pp, including breakfast, dinner, sleeping bag and

use of boats.