The organization Swedish Lapland aims to support the traditional Sami way of life while protecting the fragile ecosystem that they inhabit – and tourism is the key. Visit the Arctic part of Sweden.
Swedish Lapland is the rolling hills and the roaring rivers. The vast woodlands and rural romance. But foremost, from the mountains to the sea, it is the perfect place to get on a new adventure.
The Arctic part of Sweden is located seriously remote
Located on the far northernmost edge of Europe, the region is seriously remote – even for other Swedes. Gothenburg is as close to Munich as it is to Luleå, the region’s gateway city. Known as “Europe’s Alaska”, its landscape is characterized by great swatches of pine, spruce and fir, berry carpeted tundra, white water rivers, teeming with salmon, and rustic lakeside villages. It’s a land where the brown bear and lynx, wolf and wolverine still roam free, and everyone has an intimate bond with nature.
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When we have arrived at a hotel with an outside welcoming fireplace, we realize that we have distanced ourselves even farther from the buzzling outside world. In the middle of the woods, we gaze over a bluish twilight landscape watching the trees dancing gently in the wind. Lapland is northern Europe’s last remaining truly wild area.
Meet the seasonal people
In the remote village of Flakaberg on the sleeping shore of Lake Gorgim, 130 km north of Luleå, the small company Årstidsfolket (English “seasonal people”) introduces visitors to the intricacies of Sami culture. There you will meet Lars, who talks about his life as a reindeer herder. Visit the reindeers, listen to Lars living stories, and take a walk among ancient dwellings, sacrificial grounds and artefacts.
As the only indigenous people in the European Union, the Sami are a geographical anomaly. Their history dates back thousands of years, and Sápme, as they call their cultural homeland, today spans the borders of Arctic Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia. There is no sensus for the Sami, but the current population is estimated to number 80,000, with around 20,000 living in Swedish Lapland, together with 300,000 reindeer.
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Nomadic reindeer herders
Traditionally, Sami have been nomadic reindeer herders, but life has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. While 900 Sami are still actively involved in herding, divided among 51 Sami communities, each of which has its own grazing rights, many more are now involved in tourism, food production or other rural activities.
There’s less work for the villagers, promoting many youngsters to head for the city to find employment. The Rewilding Lapland Organization is now working to help select Sami communities preserve their culture of reindeer husbandry by protecting critical grazing land, easing seasonal migration routes and developing various opportunities for Sami-focused tourism.
A unique blend of untamed nature and cultural heritage
Swedish Lapland – Sápmi – is a unique blend of untamed nature and cultural heritage. Here old-growth forests, mountains, glaciers, free-flowing rivers and extensive wetlands co-exist with the indigenous Sami community since millennia. There is no other place in continental Europe with such vast, uninhabited, road-less and original landscapes as Swedish Lapland. The composition of fauna and flora is still largely intact and the functioning of ecosystems unaltered. Here, the large-scale reindeer migration and largely intact river systems shape the ecology and the landscape as well as people’s lives. However, even under such pristine conditions, there are threats and needs to ensure that the uniqueness of the land remains and that some lost components are brought back.
Related: In Search of the Sami in Scandinavia
Fresh fish straight from the lake
«Filleting fish by a lake called Sårgåjávrre stand Lennart Pittja and chef Johan Eriksson. The morning’s catch will be just enough for the evening meal. A fire has been lit in the old smoking hut. This is Lennart’s place. Here, his reindeer-herding family has had a home and a livelihood as long as anyone can remember, and they were able to build a boat,” writes Håkan Stenlund on Swedish Lapland’s webpage.
“Fresh fish straight from the lake, a little salt and a smoker and the fish will be warm in a couple of hours. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound so remarkable. Even so, that’s about as simple and good as food can ever be. Pure. Local. Arctic. That’s pretty much what it was all about when the Nordic noir food trend went international. Fresh ingredients prepared and preserved according to ancient methods that were practised by the original inhabitants of the region: smoked, salted, pickled or dried and, most of all, fresh and right on location. So, if the new Nordic cuisine wants to call itself progressive, Swedish Lapland can rightfully claim that it has been that way for 6,000 years or more. We have never known anything else.»
Criss-crossed by countless waterways
Criss-crossed by countless waterways, Swedish Lapland is defined as much by its rivers and lakes as it is by its forests. While many of these rivers have been dammed, others provide some of the best salmon, trout and pike fishing in northern Europe.
Situated near the village of Gunnarsbyn (around 75 km north of Luleå) on the banks of Lake Vitträsket, Sörbyn Lodge is the premier accommodation in the Råne river valley. Taken over by the local community nine years ago, it boasts rustic cabins and more comfortable rooms, and has built a reputation for fine local cuisine and even finer fishing opportunities.
The Arctic Part of Sweden, compiled and written by Tor Kjolberg