Tag Archives: Hälsingegårdar

Things to do in Gävleborg, Sweden: Hamra National Park and Bortom Åa, one of the UNESCO decorated farmhouses.

In an enchanting corner of the county of Gävleborg, near the border with Dalarna are two hidden gems: The Hamra National Park and Bortom Åa, a Hälsingland decorated farmhouse and designated UNESCO Heritage Site. The north of Sweden is beautiful and particularly rich in culture, folklore and tradition. Carl von Linné, the famous biologist, described Hälsingland as a microcosm because of the variety of different habitats found within its borders. There are lakes, rivers, wetlands, forests and mountains to explore, a fabulous coastline with sandy beaches and the enchanting islands of the archipelago. Hälsingland is in Gävleborg county in Norrland (North Sweden) and sits about mid-way up the country, less than 3 hours from Stockholm.

Hamra National Park
This corner of Sweden is bear country and Hamra has one of the densest bear populations in the country as it provides the perfect habitat for their populations to flourish. Hamra National Park is special; it is covered by ancient woodland that has never been managed. This is unusual in Sweden and it is estimated that some of the trees are over 400 years old. There is a very special feeling to ancient places and it is a rare privilege in Europe to walk in such ancient woodland, surrounded by thick carpets of moss and tall spruce trees. The park is well organised for visitors and offers a selection of different walking trails of varying lengths through its different environments. Almost half the park is wetland with a

Wetlands at Hamra National Park
Hamra Tarn

mixture of forest lakes, streams, marshes, fens and small islands with pine trees. These areas are accessible via wooden walk ways that give a visitor access to a unique habitat usually out-of-bounds to people. The Svartå River runs through the park and is home to otters, fresh mussels and the pretty white-throated dipper. The wetlands attract a variety of different birds and in spring Cranes come to the lakes to mate and in April you can hear the mating calls of the black grouse. Bears live here all year round; however they are notoriously shy and if you really want to go bear watching one of the best ways to see them is to visit the Vargas Wilderness Lodge, run by Sweden Wildlife, and use one of their hides (www.swedenwildlife.se).

Bortom Åa – A UNESCO Heritage Site
Hidden away on the borderland between Dalarna and Hälsingland, a few kilometres west of Hamra, is the forest village of Fågelsjö, the home of Bortom Åa one of the 7 UNESCO Hälsingegårdar heritage sites. The farmstead (Hälsingegårdar) is the oldest in the village and was first established when the Finns came to the area in the 1600s. Bortom Åa means “beyond the river” and its name comes from its location, as it sits on the opposite side of the river to the rest of the village.

Bortom aa - one of Sweden's decorated farmhouses
Festivities room at Bortom aa – one of Sweden’s decorated farmhouses

The setting is idyllic and there is camping and boating facilities, as well as a cafe and shop at the farm, but it is the original farmhouse that has been designated a UNESCO heritage site. The farm was owned by the same family for 7 generations before being left to the local council for preservation. The main building was built in 1818 and it is beautifully preserved, the original wallpaper and ornately painted walls still in perfect condition.  The farm has an interesting and eccentric history. In 1910 the family built a new modern house opposite the original and when they moved out of the old house, they took nothing with them; they simply walked out and locked the door, leaving the old house intact. This is fascinating to see, the entire house is preserved complete with furniture, decorations, ornaments, toys, clothes and household items. The rest of the farmstead is well-preserved too and provides a rare look at rural life and its traditional working practices; there are the original workers quarters, the gun smithy, the bake house, storehouses, threshing barns, cow sheds and stables. The stories associated with the farm and family are fascinating too and the guided tours are excellent. A visit to Bortom Åa gives one a glimpse into the past in a way that no traditional museum ever can.

For more information on these two fascinating destinations visit:
Bortom Åa:  www.fagelsjo.nu and for an information sheet in English click here .
For more information on Hamra National Park, including directions click here .


Enter in style – Swedish Porches

The Hälsingland farmers fused folk art and the fashionable architectural styles of the times to create their own unique designs for their homes.  They constructed elaborate porches and entrances for their farmhouses to show their wealth.  Above are some examples of the different personal styles created by the owners of these beautiful Hälsingegårdar (Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland).

If you are interested in reading more about Sweden’s Hälsingegårdar,  which are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Click on the links below:

Erik-Anders Hälsingegårdar (decorated farmhouse) – A UNESCO Heritage Site
Hamra National Park and Bortom Åa Hälsingegårdar– A UNESCO Heritage Site
The Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland (Hälsingegårdar)
Things to do in Hälsingland

Erik-Anders Hälsingegårdar, Sweden – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Hidden away in the pretty village of Asta is the Erik-Anders Hälsingegårdar, one of the famous Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland.  Asta is about an hour from Hudiskvall and you’ll need to pay attention to find it, blink and you’ll miss it. It is a picturesque hamlet of farms and classic red-brown wooden houses, which as well as having a world heritage site has a traditional blacksmiths and carpenters.

The Erik-Anders Hälsingegårdar is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Hälsingland Decorated Farmhouses open to the public.  The house was originally built by the wealth farmer and landowner, Erik Andersson, in 1820 and has passed through many hands since then.  It is the current owners who have lovingly restored the whole house, carefully renovating each room to showcase a different period in the house’s history.

On entering the farmhouse one is immediately struck by the grandeur of the interior design.  The entrance hall, stairway and landing, which lead to the first floor and the Festivities Room, date back to 1850 and are skilfully painted to resemble marble.  The Festivities Rooms are always the most striking features of the Hälsingegårdar, designed to impress and demonstrate the owner’s wealth and status.  The Festivities Room at Erik-Anders is no exception; it runs the width of the whole building and is flooded with natural light thanks of a series of large windows that look over the gardens.  The walls of the room are decorated with light blue stencilled borders and marbling, which is repeated on the tiled stove.

Traditional Swedish Tiled Stove at Erik Anders
A classic example of a traditional Swedish Tiled Stove

Traditionally the families of the Hälsingegårdar would live their day-to-day lives in the rooms on the ground floor of the farmhouse.  The first floor was kept for special occasions and the splendid Festivities Rooms only used for the most important events.  At Erik-Anders there are four rooms on each floor, many with the traditional Swedish tiled stoves, woodwork painted to look like mahogany and hand-painted wallpaper.

On the ground floor there are examples of two traditional kitchens; one has been restored to show how it would have been in the 1800s, whilst the other, to the left of the entrance hall, has been preserved intact from the 1920s.  There is also a room dedicated to the Swedish Jazz musician Jan Johansson, who grew up a few miles from Asta.  Jan Johansson is a Swedish celebrity who interpreted Swedish and traditional European folk tunes into jazz.

The garden has also been restored to its former glory and is a blaze of colour in the summer months. There are currants, gooseberries, chives, perennials, apple trees and lilacs that are a reminder of how life was lived at Erik-Anders 100 years ago.  In July each year a Jazz and Folk Music Festival is held in the garden to celebrate the music of the local Jazz musician Jan Johansson.  For more information about the festival visit: http://www.varldsarvsjazzen.se/ 

How to visit Erik-Anders:

You can stay at the Erik-Anders Hälsingegårdar or visit for the day.  It is open June – August each year, at other times of the year it is necessary to pre-book.  There are guided tours, a lovely cafe and small shop selling traditional handicrafts and furniture.  For more information about visiting or staying at Erik-Anders go to: http://www.erik-anders.se/

This is the third in our series on Hälsingland and the Hälsingegårdar. There are over a thousand Hälsingegårdar in Hälsingland but only seven have been awarded UNESCO world heritage status. To read the full feature on the Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland click here and to read about the fascinating Hälsingegårdar Bortom Åa click here.

Erik-Anders Farmhouse Sweden
Festivities Room at the Erik-Anders Decorated Farmhouse in Sweden

A picutre postcard of Sweden

Swedish summers are characterised by their long days.  In the north the sun never really sets and people head to the beaches, lakes, islands and mountains to take advantage of the endless hours of daylight and warm weather.  There are no shortage of things to do and if you are looking for some ideas we have a growing selection of posts on Sweden in our destinations section (click here to access all posts).

Hälsingegårdar – The Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland, Sweden

Sweden is renowned for its magnificent landscapes, rich culture and beautiful design.  It is therefore no surprise that it has no less than fifteen UNESCO designated World Heritage sites to its name, including the fascinating decorated farmhouses of Hälsingland (Hälsingegårdar ).  These houses are the most magnificent examples of farming complexes and house interiors created by the freeholder farming class between 1500 – the late 1800s.   Their extraordinarily decorated rooms for festivities reflect a unique combination of timber buildings and folk art traditions, as well as the prosperity and social status, of the independent farmers who built them.

Hälsingland is in the heart of Sweden, around 300km (190 miles) north of Stockholm, which means a visit to the Hälsingegårdar farmsteads can easily be included in an itinerary that provides a perfect balance of city break and countryside retreat.  For those who have longer the region is beautiful and a perfect place to spend an entire holiday.  The region is fertile and the landscape varied with large forests, wide rivers and lakes, high mountains and pretty upland meadows and lush green valleys.

The Farmhouses, their design and folk art

The Hälsingegårdar farmhouses are examples of northern European vernacular building traditions; they are made entirely of wood and have magnificently decorated interiors.  The painted interiors represent a fusion of folk art and styles that were favoured by the landed gentry of the time, including Baroque and Rococo.  Nowhere else in the world can you find such a high number of farmsteads with such large and lavish buildings.  The majority of the preserved houses were built in the 1700s and 1800s, but there are several surviving buildings that are several centuries older.

These large farm complexes were characterised by stylish architecture and unique interiors, they show well preserved examples of skilfully executed carvings and richly detailed painting.  What is unusual is that the majority of the work would have been done by the ordinary people from the farming class of the time.  Whilst some farm owners may have hired local artists or craftsmen, it would have been unusual to commission work from anyone outside of the region.

Individuality was important to the owners who wanted to express their wealth and independence through their property and the farmhouses can vary tremendously in style.  For example in Voxnadalen wide multi-storey houses with mansard roofs were common, while houses elsewhere were narrower, with gable roofs.  The Hälsingegårdar were generally made up of several buildings, each building having a clearly designated purpose including rooms specifically built for celebrations, festivities, sleeping, summer residential use or dwellings to accommodate different generations of the same family.

The entrances were a focus point and an opportunity for the owner to put their own individual stamp on a property.  As a result entrances are very individual in style and character, showing off fine woodwork, decorative paintwork and small windows and many of the doors are elegantly carved and painted and reflected the local character of the parish and examples of local folk art.

The most elaborately decorated rooms where usually designated for special occasions or as grand guest rooms where the guests of honour would stay.  To emphasis a room’s formal character and importance, large landscapes, townscapes and beautiful floral decorations were often painted directly on the walls, the idea being to show the visitor that they had finally arrived at the heart of the farmhouse and be impressed by the magnificent setting of the event.

The Hälsingland farmers used paint innovatively to imitate the expensive materials they could not buy.  Stencilling was used cleverly to resembles silk wall hangings, spattering imitates granite and marbling and soft wood detailing was made to look like mahogany.  Wallpaper became popular in the 1800s and the Hälsingland stencilling is a fine example of the combination of wallpaper and painting, this style of stencilling with its rich colour and variation is beautiful.  The designs are renowned and still provide inspiration for the modern designers of today.  The original Gästgivars wallpaper, which was designed and created by Jonas Wallström a renowned journeyman painter from Vallsta, can still be seen today at the Gästgivars Farm.

The people and history

The situation of the Hälsingland farmers was unique compared to elsewhere in Sweden and the Nordic region.  These farmers were freeholders and owned their own land and property.  This meant that they were highly independent and were not controlled or taxed by the nobility.  This gave them a great deal of freedom to build larger and more ornate houses than other farmers.  Hälsingland is a fertile region and even through it is in the north of the country the warm the Gulf Stream means that cereals can still be grown.  However, the Hälsingland farmers did not restrict themselves to agricultural farming, they were also excellent business people and proved themselves to be highly creative in terms of managing their land and resources.  They turned their hands to cattle rearing, timber trading, the cultivation of flax and manufacture of linen cloth and sold off tracks of forest.  They travelled extensively throughout the Nordic region to sell their produces and as they travelled they saw different styles of architecture, design and art, which they incorporated into the designs of their own farms and houses, creating the beautiful Hälsingegårdar we see today.

General information for visitors

There are approximately one thousand Hälsingegårdar farmhouses, spread across 36 parishes.  Around 50 are open to visitors and a handful allow guests to stay and experience the old style Hälsingegårdar  lifestyle.  Because most of the houses are privately owned they are only open to the public at certain times of the year or by arrangement, for this reason it is advisable to plan your trip in advance.   Information about the farmhouses and opening times can be found at www.halsingegardar.se or click here.

There are four dedicated Visitor Centres which have small exhibitions about the Hälsingegårdar farmhouses and where one can find out more information about the individual farmhouses, tours, opening hours and accommodation.


The seven Hälsingegårdar that are considered of outstanding heritage value and have received UNESCO protection are:

Getting there

BA (www.ba.com) and SAS (www.flysas.com) fly directly to Stockholm from London.  http://www.visitstockholm.com is an excellent site to find information about the capital and accommodation.  For more ideas of things to do in Hälsingland click here and here.  For general information about visiting Hälsingland go to www.halsingland.se/en or www.visitsweden.com.  The tourist offices are also very helpful and their details can be found on these two websites above.