Tag Archives: Sweden

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 .

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Jon-Lars Hälsingegårdar – a magnificent Hälsingland farmhouse

The county of Hälsingland is one of those pretty places just waiting to be discovered and not just because of its stunning coastline, beautiful countryside and wildlife. It is also home to one of Sweden’s most fascinating world heritage sites, the Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland (Hälsingegårdar in Swedish). There are many Hälsingegårdar but these seven: Gästgivars, Bommars, Kristofers, Jon-Lars, Erik-Anders, Pallars and Bortom Åa have the prestigious UNESCO designation. This year we visited Jon-Lars Hälsingegårdar and Pallars Hälsingegårdar.

Hälsingland was once the biggest producer of building timber and because the farmers there owned their own land and businesses they were very wealthy. They also travelled extensively on business and were influenced by the different architectural styles they saw and the grand houses of their wealthy clientele. This inspired them to create a unique decorative style of their own. They mixed elements of regional folk art with the fashionable styles of the times and built large farmhouses with lavishly decorated interiors.

The Jon-Lars Hälsingegårdar is a magnificent farmhouse and one of the largest Hälsingegårdar that still exists. The house is privately owned and the descendants of the original farming family still live there. The farmhouse was built in the mid-1800s for two brothers, Olof and Anders Andersson and their families. And there are still several original rooms, which have been maintained in exceptional condition. What is unusual about this Hälsingegårdar is that it was built as two identical parts; one part for each brother. Only the festivities room (the “herrstuga”) was shared; other than that the two parts of the house are identical but decorated completely differently. There are even separate entrances under the same porch roof.

On the ground floor only one side of the house has any original rooms. These are thought to have been decorated by the renowned painter Svärdes Hans Ersson from Dalarna around 1863 and are elaborately painted and have extensive stencil work. Upstairs there are two originally preserved guestrooms; the room on Ander’s side is exquisitely painted with elaborate landscapes and impressive detailing. Whilst on Olof’s side the room is decorated with ornate wallpaper, which is painted to look like silk. Both rooms have well preserved examples of the classic Swedish tiled fire places.

To read more about the history and cultural significance of the Hälsingegårdar click here.

Visiting Jon-Lars Hälsingegårdar
Jon-Lars Hälsingegårdar is in Långhed near Alfta in Hälsingland. Visits can be arranged by private appointment or during the summer months there is one guided tour a day, check with the visitors centre about summer opening times. Payment is taken at the gate.

Jon-Lars Hälsingegårdar & Pallars Hälsingegårdar are in the same village and the tours are arranged so you can easily see both Hälsingegårdar on the same day.

For more information about visiting the Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland and Jon-Lars Hälsingegårdar, visit:

http://www.regiongavleborg.se/halsingegardar/Gardarna/jon-lars-langhed-alfta/
http://www.ovanaker.se/
http://www.regiongavleborg.se/en/Halsingegardar/
www.halsingland.se

Jan Lars Hälsingegårdar Långhed
Jan Lars Hälsingegårdar Långhed

Summer in Sweden brings 19 hours of daylight to enjoy each day

There is lots to do in Sweden and the summer is a perfect time to explore its cities, enjoy the countryside and find out more about the culture.  To give you some ideas of things to do  we have put together a small selection of off-the-beaten-track places to visit.   See Sweden in the travel destinations at the top of the page or click the links below to access information on:

Gastrologik – one of Stockholm’s best restaurants
Off the beaten track in Stockholm
Things to do in the northern town of Umeå
Exploring the Tavelsjöleden trail near Umeå
The Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland
Erik-Anders Hälsingegårdar (decorated farmhouse) – A UNESCO Heritage Site
Jon-Lars Hälsingegårdar is  a magnificent decorated farmhouse in Långhed near Alfta in Hälsingland
Hamra National Park and Bortom Åa – A UNESCO Heritage Site
Things to do in Hälsingland
Things to do  in Stockholm

and a little taste of Sweden in London The Bageriet – A fantastic Swedish bakery and cafe near Covent Garden in London

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).

Gastrologik – Stockholm

Gastrologik is the vision of chefs Anton Bjuhr and Jacob Homström and was born out of their passion for good quality food and produce. Since opening its doors in 2011 Gastrologik has received much praise and many awards, including a place on the Swedish White List and an internationally recognised Michelin Star.

Sitting on a quiet unassuming little street in the Östermalm district of Stockholm Gastrologik offers innovative Scandinavian cuisine in a minimalistic environment. Gastrologik takes a slightly different approach to dining that is rooted in its philosophy of putting the ingredients first. When you dine here you leave the decisions to Mother Nature and the refinement to Anton and Jacob, for Gastrologik has no set menu and the dishes are determined by the seasonality and availability of the produces on the day. They call it the “Let Today’s Produce Decide” menu (a title which sounds a little more poetic in Swedish) and so the dishes can look very different week by week, day by day and even table by table. The philosophy behind Gastrologik is to focus on the ingredients and the availability of the produce. Their hand-picked suppliers are focussed on seasonality and where possible everything is local. According to Anton and Jacob “we aim to surprise our guests and put as much effort into finding the best ingredients as in refining them”.

The restaurant is small and intimate, seating only around 30 people. Jonas Lindvall is the architect and designer behind the creation of the Gastrologik interior. The colours, materials and design are Nordic, just like the food. Its minimalist aesthetics and functional designs make it a warm and comfortable place to dine and this warmth, humanity and honesty is like an invisible thread that runs through everything, including the waiting staff and their delightful service. The end result is magnificent. The restaurant is beautiful, simple and stylish; the service second to none and the attention to detail applaudable. Your dedicated attendant explains each dish with such loving detail, pride and exactness that the description begins to act as a verbal appetizer to each course. The food is extraordinarily good and the wine list outstanding (and deliciously quirky). Whether Gastrologik heralds the start of a new global trend is hard to say, as many diners may shrink away in fear at the idea of not being able to exact their own will and choice over their meal, but for many it is an exciting concept where one gives one’s self up to the true professionals safe in the knowledge that it will be a truly outstanding experience.

Gastrologik, Artillerigata 14, 11451 Stockholm. www.gastrologik.se

 

Stockholm in the Autumn

Scandinavia seems to be on everyone’s must do list at the moment and the magazines have been full of reviews and articles on the best places to visit. Sweden with its pretty cities, high standard of living and spectacular natural beauty is no longer assigned to a list of lesser known destinations. Its distinctive design, beautiful interior decor, stylish home furnishings and individualistic fashion has gained a devoted following from those whose job it is to be in-the-know. Earlier this year I wrote a short post about Stockholm, it was an overview, written with the first time visitor in mind (click here to read that past post). This trip I sought out a couple of places that take the visitor just a little way off the beaten track.

I particularly like Stockholm in the autumn, the trees are just starting to show their autumnal colours and the city is a mix of green and gold. The weather can be unpredictable but it hasn’t turned bitterly cold yet and the evenings are still light which makes it a great time of year to take to the streets and explore the lesser visited corners of this city.

Stockholms Stadshus Bell Tower
Stockholm is a beautiful city and viewing it from above is a real treat. The ultimate way to do this is to take a balloon ride over the city, but for those who don’t have the time to wait for the perfect flying conditions the views from the Stockholms Stadshus tower offers a more reliable alternative. This beautiful building on Kungsholmen Island is Stockholm’s City Hall; it is a central feature in Stockholm’s cityscape and is considered the best example of national romanticism architecture. It is an interesting building that combines

View of Stockholm Stadshus
View of Stockholm Stadshus

austere brickwork and oriental influences and has a beautiful landscaped garden that runs down to the water’s edge. But it is the views from the bell tower that really inspire; at 106 meters high it has fantastic views over the city. This little gem is only open from late May until the 30th September and during this period visitors can climb up inside the bell tower and enjoy 360 degree views over Stockholm. There are gorgeous views of the Riksdag building (Sweden’s Parliament House) and if you are interested in getting a closer look at the Riskdag building take the pretty walk from Stadshus beside the water via Strömgatan to Helgeandsholmen, the island where the Riksdag is located.

Fotografiska
The Swedish Museum of Photography, Fotografiska, is a recent addition to Stockholm’s museum and gallery scene. It is the largest centre for contemporary photography in Europe and is slowly building its own formidable permanent collection. It opened in 2010 and undertakes 4 major exhibitions and 20 smaller exhibitions each year. On our last visit we saw the magnificent Genesis exhibition by the Brazilian photographer Sabastiao Salgado. The building itself is remarkable. Originally an old customs house, the building dates back to 1906. It was designed by the famous Swedish architect Ferdinand Boberg and built in industrial Art Nouveau style. The original brickwork is still intact whereas the interior has been completely redesigned as an exhibition space. There are fantastic views of Gamla Stan, Skeppsholmen and across to Kastellholmen and Djurgården and the cafe, terrace and restaurant have been strategically placed in the building to make the most of these views. In the spring and summer the terrace is transformed into an outdoor restaurant that overlooks Lake Saltsjön and diners are treated to Swedish grilled delicacies on the quayside. There is also a lovely cafe that is open all year round and a fantastic restaurant, famous for its weekend brunches (these are seasonal affairs so it is best to check before hand. They are also very popular so reservations are recommended).

Nytorget and Katarina Kyrka in Södermalm
From the Fotografiska you are well placed to take a detour into Södermalm. There is a staircase going up the cliffs opposite the gallery. These stairs link the Stadsgårdsleden at sea level and Katarinavägen above the cliffs in Södermalm. Södermalm is full of independent shops, restaurants and boutiques and it is great fun to wander around and explore. Nytorget is a particularly pretty square that is the focus for different events, particularly during the warmer months. The streets surrounding the square have an outstandingly good selection of restaurants including Nytorget 6 (www.nytorget6.com) and the Urban Deli (www.urbandeli.org). A little further to the north is Stockholm’s most important church, Katarina Kyrka; it dates back to the 17th Century and was originally designed by the French architect Jean de la Vallée. The streets immediately surrounding the church are very picturesque and have an old-world feel about them. From the church you can walk down the incredibly pretty Mäster Mikaels Gata for more views over the city before heading back to the stairs or to Renstiernas gata or Katarinavägen to pick-up a bus back towards Slussen and the central Stockholm.

Below are a couple of places we love. If you have some others please share them with us all in the comments section.

If you love the vibe in Södermalm and want to explore more then the the website below is a good starting point for information on what’s going on in the area: http://sofo-stockholm.se/

Restaurants: Gastrologik – this is one of the hottest restaurants in the city at the moment and is an outstanding dining experience. (www.gastrologik.se)

Cafes: Everyone has their favourite, we have a passion for cinnamon buns and this trip enjoyed the ones made at Riddarbageriet on Riddargatan and Brillo in the Sturegallerian.

Where to stay: we’re not big fans of hotels and our preference is to stay at one of the apartments from Stockholm City Rental (www.stockholmcityrental.se) These guys are just incredible. They have the best selection of places in the city and can arrange just about anything you need – chef, personal shopper, art tour, you name it – they seem to have the contacts to get it done.

Umeå – European Capital of Culture 2014

Umeå is this year’s European Capital of Culture. Situated in the northern County of Västerbotten in Sweden, it is the largest city in the north and offers a great introduction to the region. Where else can it be -40 C in winter and +30 C in summer? It’s the land of the midnight sun, has eight seasons and catches the rays of the northern lights.

Umeå is a lovely city with traditional wooden buildings, birch lined streets and river walks. It has a vibrant arts and music scene, excellent museums and a sculpture park. This year, as the capital of culture it has a non-stop programme of events celebrating its Swedish and Lappish (Sápmi) heritage. Umeå is part of Sápmi – the lands of the Sámi people – Europe’s only indigenous people and the 2014 celebrations revolve around the 8 Sámi seasons. The pace picks up this autumn with an arts festival showcasing Swedish, Sámi and international artists; a contemporary circus festival; and a Food festival where you can discover regional delicacies such as salmon (Lax), fermented herrings, reindeer, smoked fish, wild mushrooms, cloudberries, lingonberries and the famous Västerbotten Cheese. As winter arrives celebrations move inside with a Jazz festival, a Film festival and the launch of new operatic and theatre productions.

The Västerbottens museum specialises in exhibitions based around Swedish and Sámi culture. Enjoy the fantastic photography of Sune Jonsson who has photographed the lives of the people in the region for over 40 years or the fascinating exhibition on Lappish (Sápmi) rock art. The Gammlia is their open air museum which has a collection of traditional Swedish and Lappish dwellings that give a glimpse into the regions traditional lifestyles.

The Bildmuseet is the new modern art museum that shows innovative contemporary exhibitions of art, photography, architecture and design. This year it is showcasing eight Sámi artists, one for each Sámi season. It has a fabulous location beside the river Ume and a delightful cafe looking out across the river. In winter gaze out over the frozen river and snow clad trees and in summer soak up the sun on its terrace beside the river.

Umeå is surrounded by beautiful countryside and is a great base for outdoor pursuits, both the Tavelsjöleden and Umeleden trails start within the city boundary. The coast is less than half an hour away and there are numerous nature reserves to explore such as Grössjön, Strömbäck-Kont and the Sävar River valley. Once the snow arrives there is skiing, skating and dog sledging to enjoy. For the true arctic experience head further north to Luleå and Kiruna and then on to the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park to see the northern lights at their most spectacular.

Information:

Visiting Umeå:  www.visitumea.se
Everything you need to know about Umeå in 2014. Its year as the European Capital of Culture:  www.umea2014.se
Programme highlights of events by Sápmi season: http://umea2014.se/en/8-seasons/
2014 Programme Calendar:  http://umea2014.se/en/event/
Umeå Food Festival:  http://umeasmakfestival.se/
Umeå Jazz Festival:  www.umeajazzfestival.se
Bildmuseet:  http://www.bildmuseet.umu.se/en/
Västerbottens museum:  http://www.vbm.se/en/home.html
Sculpture Park: Umedalen Skulptur:  www.umedalenskulptur.se

All photography has been kindly provided by Visit Umeå.

Northern Lights over Umea
Northern Lights: Photographic credits & copyright: Visit Umea

Exploring the Tavelsjöleden trail, Sweden

One of the great attractions of Sweden is its natural beauty and the chance to get out and explore nature. Even in the cities nature is never very far away. The Tavelsjöleden trail is a great example, starting in Umeå it winds its way through forests, across mountains, beside lakes and past villages to Vännfors, 39 kilometres north-west of Umeå. Whilst the full trail is 39 kilometres there are numerous options to explore different parts of the trail, so whether you want a leisurely stroll or a strenuous hike, a short walk or a long trek, it’s all here. This is one of the things we love about Sweden – adventure and getting out into nature doesn’t have to involve difficulties or challenges. Of course it can should you wish, but the key is that there is something for everyone and for all abilities.

Taveljobeget
View from the top of Taveljobeget

We explored the final section of the trail near Tavelsjön and were rewarded with fantastic views, caves, forests and more. We picked up the trail at the parking for Torrberget and Tavelsjöberget on the 363 road. There is a clearly marked trail that goes up to the peak, Tavelsjöberget, through pretty forests. It is the highest point in the region with beautiful views over lake Tavelsjön. If you continue on to the next hill, Vallberget, there is a specially constructed viewing platform strategically placed to give a 360 degree view over the lakes, forests and villages that surround the area.

Another lovely walk is the Tavelsjön Runt, this is the 23.5 km trail around Tavelsjön lake. The Tavelsjöleden trail passes by a small section of the lake but does not include the lake trail. The Tavelsjön Runt hugs the side of the lake and is ideal for walking, cycling and riding. There are 8 different parking points around the lake where you can leave the car and join the trail and each point offers a selection of shorter walks if you don’t want to take on the full 23.5 km circuit.

The Tavelsjöleden and Tavelsjön Runt are all year round destinations. In the summer it is a fantastic place for walking, mountain biking, cycling and riding. There are numerous swimming places and picnic spots and as the sun never disappears for very long in summer you can go at any time day (or night). In the winter there are clearly marked trails for skiing and skidoos. It is a focus point for outdoor events too; there is an annual half marathon, orienteering events and a Skidoo club.

Getting there:
Umeå is in the north of Sweden and is often referred to as “the gate way to the north” as it is the last city of any significant size before you hit the Arctic Circle. There are regular flights from Stockholm and other major cities. The best way to explore the area is by car but there is also a regular bus service to key access points along the trail. Information and timetables can be found at: www.tabussen.nu

Information:
More information on Umeå and the Tavelsjöleden trail can be found at: www.umea.se. Search the site for Tavelsjöleden and you will find downloadable pdfs in different languages.

For general information about Umeå see: www.visitumea.se

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.

www.stenegard.se
www.erik-anders.se
www.ovanaker.se
www.bollnas.se/turism

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.