In Jämtland’s perfect wilderness paradise Marco Barneveld discovers what it means to rewild ...
The ever-changing landscape is heavily-fringed with silver birch. Oceans of warm red and yellow leaves make rushing sound waves. The freshly scented wind wrinkles the water of Lake Blanktjärn. Between the trees, two reindeer watch us for a moment before they jump away. Pristine is the word to describe the mountains and forests of Jämtland in the heart of Sweden.
There are endless opportunities for hiking across a range of terrains in these mountains, and we travelled expedition-style, hiking and spending each night at a different location. “Look for wafer-thin curls of birch bark,” said Åsa Lind Chong, owner of Escapade Sweden who is an expert on rewilding. “Birch bark is extremely flammable. Very useful to get a campfire blazing within seconds with just a flint.” Rewilding means to return to a more wild or natural state. To switch off from the daily grind and tune in to the natural environment.
Åsa rewilded us indeed. We tried our hand at archery, using traditional bows and arrows that have been used since the Viking era. We also underwent an intense course in Nordic bushcraft and learnt how to construct shelters to break the wind and camps for sleeping, as well as how to make fires without the aid of matches.
And who says you need a kitchen to cook? Spending as much time outdoors as possible, we also dined outside most evenings and were served delicious local delicacies cooked over a fire. The people of Jämtland have a true knack for serving up the most delicious meals, even out in the wilderness. A particular highlight was learning how to smoke fish, only using a sheet and wood, which is an ancient and effective way of cooking. We dined on smoked Arctic Char right by the side of a lake that evening and wondered if we would ever taste such great fish again.
On our first night, with the help of our guide, we hiked up to Lunndörrsstugan, one of many mountain huts available in the region. Here, there is no electricity, only lighting through candles and heating through wood stoves. There is even a wood-fired sauna, its healing warmth after a long hike, combined with a refreshing swim in a mountain lake was just perfect.
From the mountain hut we travelled on to sleep in a gorgeous tepee-tent, then a glamping camp, a mountain lodge, and finally a gorgeous boutique hotel in the village of Åre. Åsa taught us much about the local culture and traditions along the way.
I write this on my final evening, the campfire crackles and the bacon hisses in the pan. Our faces are lit by the glow of the flames while the universe gazes on approvingly. The wild child within has been truly nourished by Jämtland’s endless beauty.
THE EIGHT SEASONS OF THE SAMI
Following the eight phases of the reindeer the indigenous Sami follow a calendar of eight seasons and celebrate each seasonal change. Åsa Lind Chong of Escapade Sweden is at home in Jämtland any time of the year, but she especially recommends the following five periods of the calendar.
Spring (Gïjre, in Sami)
During April and May, the snow melts and the crystal-clear waters start to cascade down the mountains. By the end of May, the landscape is bursting into green and daytime temperatures are pleasant. Meanwhile, up in the mountains you can still ski.
Late June and July brings the warmth to Jämtland and this is the time to swim in the lakes and rivers, sunbathe, or cool your feet in a mountain brook after a long hike.
August heralds early autumn but still with a summery feel. This is a great time for foraging for berries and mushrooms. There are less insects and the landscape is bursting into golden hues. This is prime time for longer hikes and rewilding adventures.
Autumn falls in September and October. It is still light and warm, and most summer activities can still be enjoyed. Some nights can be frosty and provide the landscape with a beautiful white coating and the rivers with a fairytale mist. This is a magical time for hiking and is especially photogenic. Berries and wild mushrooms can still be foraged in the early weeks, while this is also the season for traditional elk hunting.
December to March, the winter months create a beautiful landscape with ice formations and vast glistening fields
of snow. This is a time for serious snow fun, such as dog sledding, tobogganing, skiing and snowmobiling. It’s also great for warming up in a sauna after a day