How to Live Like a Scandi: Escaping the Pandemic Edition

How to Live Like a Scandi: Escaping the Pandemic Edition

Columnist Alexandra Pereira lets us in on how to achieve hygge, lagom and koselig both at home and on minibreaks across Scandinavia. She trails the Swedish High Coast and investigates the nation that’s handled the pandemic its own way.

probably never heard of Sweden‘s Höga Kusten (High Coast). It’s flooded
with folklore magic. Over the last 20,000 years, shifting tectonic
plates and the many forces of nature have carved its dramatic,
Unesco-protected coastline – the world’s highest of its kind.

Sweden has been in and out of the UK’s travel-safe corridor
throughout the pandemic. Me? Trapped in a #minksituation in my now
home country of Denmark.

In this alien time, we’ve all craved access to the raw nature
that our urbanite lives don’t deliver on the daily. And so, I made
the journey from Copenhagen,
via Stockholm,
to Sweden, reaching the northern town of Umeå – the “City of
Birches” – by nightfall. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t at home. In
those early hours of adventure, the skies turned purple and I
journeyed deep into the wilderness. I stayed guarded and reticent,
cloaked in Aesop hand sanitiser and a face mask.

Sweden, Covid and micro-vacationing

The Swedes have not only seemingly tackled the first and second
waves of the dreaded virus, but have also optimised the notion of
“micro vacationing”. These otherwise terrible times have seen
sleepy Swedish towns, guesthouses, restaurants and historic
landmarks with few virus cases and minor restrictions come to life
like never before. Unlike the suffering hospitality industry in
many parts of the world, businesses here have seen their revenue
exceed usual annual expectations as healthy smatterings of Swedes
explore the parts of the north they usually neglected in favour of
more aspirational global travel. Nationals here have embraced their
country’s northern nature in the north in a big way, and made the
most of the infrastructure that gives its residents such easy
access to it.

In these northern parts, I find the people incredibly
world-curious, inviting and relaxed. They’re sensitive and
resourceful. And also hilarious, full of stories, and with striking
wide-eyed, high-cheekboned beauty. I met many people with strange,
otherworldly faces, weathered gorgeously by the great outdoors and
often paired with a deep year-round tan.

Money here goes a lot further than in Stockholm or Gothenburg,
certainly Copenhagen
or Oslo.
Unpretentious, clean and cosy stays nestled in fishing villages and
rural areas where it’s impossible to eat or sleep badly. Let’s be
frank: this northern hemisphere is getting a lot colder and darker
before we see the warmth again. Our sights for the foreseeable are
due north, and here’s how to do it.

Stay: Granö Beckasin

A lot of flights north arrive in the evening, so you’ll want to
be well rested for the hiking, climbing, laughing, talking and
eating you’re about to do on a high-coast mini break. A strange and
wonderful little smattering of tree-house hotel rooms set deep in a
forest an hour’s scenic drive from Umeå airport, where you can see
the aurora borealis on the right occasion. The guesthouse’s creator
was an obsessive ornithologist and taxidermist, and today the
residence has deep interests in cosmology, astrology, Nordic
daylight research and indigenous history.

In its impressive structures, slumber after a gorgeous dinner
(chanterelles, chard and blueberries were chief desirables when I
visited). By dawn, spy on the science-fictional Photon Space, a
unique glass daylight suite dedicated to study environment-human
interactions. It can be (and has been) moved around Europe. Enjoy a
breakfast of eggs, homemade rye, Västerbotten cheese and of course,
Kalles Kaviar from that deliciously kitsch blue-and-yellow tube.
The owner is chatty as anything – be prepared for more warm
welcomes along the coast.

Walk: shrooms and lore

You can’t not hike and fika in Skuleskogen National Park. Expect the kind of
foggy beaches and woods that one can picture full of colour and
laughter and picnics of wild strawberries come summer. The
coastline unfolds on the drive there; submerged in the greenery,
bird spotting is a moving experience. Early autumn here offers a
sea of fungi and the pines are lusher than ever, with burnt-orange
and canary-yellow leaves that tumble below the scarlett and mauves.
I died at all this, after the flatness Denmark offers. I imagined
teeny vittror (folkloric) underground creatures scampering quietly
underfoot trying not to be found.

It’s believed that gargantuan giants threw rocks the size of
their heads at one another many years ago – that’s why things
supposedly look like this. That, or a cool 10,500 years ago
tectonic shifts formed a deciduous forest near the sea. Expect
steely mountains, hidden caves, pink granite, mossy mire, pine,
spruce, hazel, maple. I marvelled at “troll’s” slime on logs, and
the three-toed woodpecker with a yellow head.

There are old tales of robbers and bandits looting and hiding in
these forests. A park ranger told me about meadowsweet, as it was
hurtling towards the end of its season – a wispy elderflower-esque,
celebrated herb in Celtic times, representing the “flower bride” or
“Blodeuwedd” – the maiden aspect of the triple goddess. If you’re
really keen to grind up against Mother Nature, set your sights on
impish-chic huts. You can camp overnight in these structures for

Restore: kitsch country club

I consider myself a grand-dame hotel fetishist, but the
family-run Norrfällsviken Rum & Kök, with its on-request
sauna, burgundy swirled carpets and home cooking speaks to me. In
summer, I imagine it being like a small version of a 70s American
holiday camp. By winter? Twin Peaks. Here I enjoyed one of the best
dinners (tartare, trout, chocolate torte and berries) I had on the
entire trip.

An outdoor village, Friluftsbyn, is dedicated to the philosophy of
friluftsliv (meaning “free air life”). It’s run by Jerry Engstrom, a
sort of Mark Zuckerburg meets David Beckham type, but with a
Swedish accent and the ability to talk me (a first-time climber)
out of throwing myself off a sheer cliff face in equally sheer
panic. He’s assisted by a beautiful former dancer who left her life
in New York to come back to her northern motherland and hike daily.
High up on a mistless mountain, the adrenaline and view was a
hundred times worth it. My screams can still be heard boomeranging
into future centuries. Probably.

Try Mjälloms Tunnbröd for lunch. Mountain-cow stew, mash
and lingonberries (and local beer) proved the perfect fuel after an
insane climb. Jubilant and light, this family-run flatbread bakery
(Sweden’s oldest) makes its own crackers by hand – about 100m worth
of them an hour. I snacked on blood crackers and whitefish roe
before swanning off to catch a boat to Ulvön Island.

Ulvö Island: legends, lights and fermented delicacies

Many ferries travel between the mainland and Ulvö. Höga Kusten-Båtarna depart from Ullånger, Docksta and
Mjällom while Örnsköldsviks Hamn och Logistik depart from
Köpmanholmen. After a bumpy nap through the Gulf of Bothnia (or the
Bay of Serpents in Norse mythology), I realised I was still coated
in mountain body dew and only a cold dip and sauna would refresh
me. But not before a peek into the island’s historic fishing
village’s offerings: a rickety old chapel with frescoes among the
dark wood; a small museum dedicated to mining and herring fishing;
panoramic views from the top of Lotsberget.

I checked into the gorgeous Ulvö
, where Head Chef Tobias Andersson served the famed
surströmming (fermented herring). Each year, on the third Thursday
of August, casks of the fermenting are opened, noses are shocked,
and everyone delights in the season’s bounty. The smell is like
rubber, metal and a fine cheese combined. We had it served on
tunnbröd with pickled red onions, washed down with snaps glasses of
straight Hernö
, before a dinner of moose steaks in blueberry sauce and
almond potatoes.

Finish in a Finnish archipelago

Before catching a boat back to Stockholm via the Finnish Åland
Islands, I took a swift dive into Hernö’s famous gin distillery,
complete with hand-hammered copper stills named Kierstin, Marit and
Yvonne. Founder Jon Hillgren uses only natural, organic botanicals
and is opening a “gin hotel” in Härnösand and a bar in Stockholm
next year. I stocked up for a potential lockdown booze-athon in the
near future.

Cruising overnight south from the High Coast is a majestic
experience. Weird things always reveal themselves to me on boats. I
don’t really suffer from seasickness, rather I get a sequence of
strange visions and memories and everything feels incredibly
cinematic. Suites on a Silja Line ship look like a Poirot set;
everything I saw outside was almost monochromatic, like an Ingmar
Bergman tableau in the whirls of the wind and rain, stoney islands
and night birds fluttering fast and hard next to every porthole. In
the gift shop, I bought a pink and blue Moomins x Silja Line tin
mug, and everyone I looked at the rest of that night looked like
Little Red.

In the morning, Captain Ola Bengtsson showed me the view from
the bridge, where the sun had kindly reappeared ready for our sail
into the Stockholm archipelago. He pointed out Pippi Longstocking
writer Astrid Lindgren’s house, among the many scattered across
these headily-beautiful islands. He told me about plans for future
metal sails and their lowering fuel consumption each year. The buzz
of people and children laughing below deck made me happy and almost
forget a pandemic was in motion. “I love the autumn colours,” said
the captain. “You picked the perfect day.”

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