Spotlight on Varmland: Sweden’s adventure centre
Hiking, biking, floating down a river and camping on an island – we sent Clare and Travel Specialist, Bruno, to get to grips with all the activities on offer in Varmland. Here’s an overview.
Where is Varmland?
Varmland is on the border with Norway – a three hour drive from Oslo airport or a 3hr train ride from the Swedish capital Stockholm to Karlstad, the gateway town to this region of rivers, forests and red wooden houses. The Klaralevn valley, our playground for the trip, follows a wide river (the Klara) – with forested banks and rolling farmland, lakes and hills beyond.
What’s it like?
In summer it’s usually glorious weather, but even if it’s patchy, weather is very localised so if it’s raining somewhere, chances are that 5 minutes away somewhere it’s pretty dry. In the winter it gets a good dump of snow, so it’s the perfect place to try out a range of winter activities in a very traditional Swedish setting.
What can you do there?
In Varmland, you get active – on your own two feet, on wheels and on water. In winter, add snowmobiles to the mix. Here’s a quick round-up of what we tried.
You spend one day of the Varmland Summer Adventure rafting down the Klaralvn. The raft is substantial – about 3x4m with a wooden box in the middle and the ‘mast’ to put backpacks and provisions. There were also a couple of fold-outs wooden stools and a rudimental bamboo fishing pole. Strapped to the poles supporting the mast were our paddles and one long pole in case you get too close to the banks. This went overboard almost immediately as we pushed off – much to the amusement of Erik, who facilitates this adventure.
Embracing the Huckleberry Finn vibe, I took my shoes off and sat on the front corner edge of the raft, dangling my feet in the water as I paddled. The water was flat calm; only the radiating ripples of pattering raindrops on its surface marred the perfect reflection of Tree-lined banks and changeable skies.
The forecast for the day was changeable and it wasn’t quite warm enough (unusually) either in or out of the water, to swim or to keep my feet swishing in the stream for long. But I stayed perched in my corner of the raft, dipping back in with every dazzlingly warm burst of sunshine.
The raft down the Klaralevn from Monksford to Erik’s island usually takes up most of a day, depending on whether you just drift or set to work with the paddles. There are riverbank beaches you can pull up at along the way for picnicking (or a comfort break). It’s quiet, peaceful and just requires you to (literally) go with the flow. It doesn’t take much effort with either paddles or poles to steer or keep going – take a book, a picnic or try your luck with the fishing pole.
Tepee camping on your own island
After landing, the first exploration of the island will make you feel very intrepid. We followed the path through the trees and shrubs towards the other end of the island, passing the turf toilet and two tepee tents, each in its own clearing, and ending up at a sturdy wooden shelter facing back upstream. Under its protection was a ‘C’ shaped bench, under which dry firewood was kept and a large plastic tub with matches, smaller sticks, heavy gloves etc.
Our first job was to get the fire going – warmth and our dinner depended on it! High stakes for such a simple sounding task (really, how often do you build, light and – most importantly – keep alight a fire?) so the satisfaction when our carefully constructed cone of sticks and logs really got ablaze was enormous. There weren’t any instructions when we got the either, but if you’re unsure, here are a few tips for building a campfire.
Erik and his wife Vanessa arrived with picnic baskets of supplies – one with dinner, and one to leave with us for breakfast, about an hour and a half after we’d landed. Dinner, which Erik cooked on a specially designed griddle-stand over the firepit, is pre-prepared by the chefs in a local restaurant and vacuum packed for freshness. A delicious sausage and local vegetable stir-fry, followed by baked apples with blueberries was a perfect end to the day before we headed off to our tepee tents. I was lulled to sleep by the splosh of beavers and chirps of local birds.
Breakfast the next morning consisted of bread, jam, juice, cheese and ham from the picnic basket. We packed everything up (including our litter) and headed off to the waiting canoes…
The next morning we set off for the 12km paddle downstream to Erik’s B&B. Before he left the previous night he gave us a couple of tips: 1) The person in the back should be the one with the power – they do the steering as well as paddle; 2) The person in front just has to paddle (and has a great view for taking photos!)
There are beaver’s dams on the riverbanks – we heard two heavy sploshes as they entered the water, but they were too quick for us to see properly. You might also catch glimpses of otters and a variety of birdlife as you go. We had the most glorious weather for canoeing, and it was a great work out peppered with pauses to just drift and admire the view.
‘Dressin’ (family bikes) and cycling
Much of the Klaralevn valley is flat and criss-crossed with cycling trails. We tried out a traditional ‘dressin’ – also known as family bikes – along a stretch of converted railway-line following a lake shore. If you imagine a pedalo on land you’ll be on the right lines. The best bit for me was stopping off periodically on the way from Rada to Munkfors for cinnamon rolls and icecream.
Closer to the B&B is the Klaralvs Banan, a unique trolley path again built on top of old railroad tracks. It’s a beautiful 45 km cycle ride on through unspoiled forest, pretty lakes, rolling hills, and past historical sites and buildings. And, for me, much easier on the legs!
There’s also plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs on a hike. In fact your adventure begins with a 10km or 18km hike (your choice), part way along an old bear hunter trail. The pine forests are tranquil and the trees had a curious ombre appearance fading from orangey-brown to purple along the trunks, topped with crowns of deep green. Erik takes great pains to make hiking engaging for kids – ask about him about orienteering and map-reading.
Vanessa takes the lead on riding. She has a couple of horses and will lead you through forested trails around the B&B. Perfect if you’re not an experienced rider but would like to give it a go.