Life in the slow lane

Cycling is an excellent way to experience Sweden. There are plenty of rural roads where you hardly ever meet a car, and in the cities there are dedicated cycling lanes. Wind in your hair, plenty of fresh air, gentle rolling countryside and a day of exercise (meaning that you can have a nice, big dinner without feeling guilty at the end of the day) is an awesome way to spend a few days. I love cycling along a narrow country road, smelling sweet flowers, fragrant hay and musty forests, while hearing the birds sing and the occasional tractor in the distance. The uphill work is always rewarded with a lovely, relaxing downhill further on. Besides, who says you must work up a sweat? Jump off the bike and take the hill in your own time if you want to. Stop and pick some wild strawberries at the roadside, and enjoy them there and then still warm from the sun. Take a cooling dip in a lake, or have a fika (Swedish for coffee and something sweet) at a café.

Wild strawberries the traditional way: on a straw!

Wild strawberries the traditional way: on a straw!

Who says you need to cycle up the hill if you don't want to?

Who says you need to cycle up the hill if you don’t want to?

Swedes take their "fika" very seriously

Swedes take their “fika” very seriously

My absolute favourite cycling holiday was a few years back, north-east of Stockholm in a place called Vallonbruken. It is an area with some 30 small towns, each established in the early 1600’s around ironworks (bruk). The towns are very well preserved, and provide a unique historic environment, with guest houses in old manors, antique shops, cafes and many museums. The iron from this area was exceptionally high in quality, and the Swedish King at the time (Karl IX) had a vision of using this resource to move the country away from its dependence on agriculture and into the industrial era. Karl requested the help of his Belgian friend, Wellam de Besche from Wallonia who at the time was at the forefront of the European iron industry, to help develop the metallurgy industry of Sweden. In the following years, many Walloon immigrants arrived in Sweden to help achieve the royals’ dreams of developing the Swedish industry. Many important families today in Sweden were originally Walloon, including some nobility.

The 3-day tour started in the afternoon with our arrival at Österbybruk, where we picked up our transport for the next couple of days: sturdy army-style bikes with broad and comfortable seats (ever so important if you are not a regular biker – your bum needs all the support it can get). We were then shown to our room for the night, in one of the former formens’ houses close to the old ironworks. In the evening, we enjoyed a three-course meal in the beautiful manor house and watched the sun set late at night over the nearby lake. This pretty much set the tune for the days to come: a leisurely breakfast in the manor house, then pick up your packed lunch and pedal some 15-20 kilometers to the next town where another beautiful room and three-course dinner awaits you. The short distances meant that we arrived relatively early at our destination despite a long lunch break and slow pace. So we had time to explore the historic villages, go to museums and take guided tours of manor houses (including one ghost walk at night).

Our sturdy and comfortable bikes

Our sturdy and comfortable bikes

One of the historical guest houses along the way

One of the historical guest houses along the way

In summer, sunset happens around 11pm

In summer, sunset happens around 11pm

Lövstabruk, one of the towns we stayed in

Lövstabruk, one of the towns we stayed in

Slowing down to smell the roses

Slowing down to smell the roses

The options for a cycling holiday in Sweden are endless; go on an organized tour, or just rent a bike and set off. Some of the most popular destinations are Göta Kanal (a coast-to-coast canal through the centre of Sweden) and the island of Gotland. For more ideas, check out Visit Sweden.

Life in the slow lane

Life in the slow lane

 

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