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Winter getaways: the stunning Swedish region with something for everyone

If travel is finally back on your agenda, you may be dreaming of an idyllic winter getaway? Luckily, you no longer have to stop at dreaming.

Winter getaways: the stunning Swedish region with something for everyone
Photo: Anna Holm/Visit Dalarna

Whether you’re a family with children, a couple wanting a romantic break, or a group of friends looking to reunite, Dalarna in central Sweden offers a wealth of winter activities and some of the country’s most majestic sights. 

Here, one family tells The Local about their unforgettable trip to Rättvik in Dalarna last winter, while we also look at some of the many possibilities for exploring the rest of the region. Rättvik is around three hours and 30 minutes from Stockholm by car, while some parts of Dalarna are even closer – and even its mountainous north is only six hours from the capital by car. You’ll also find it easy to get to from even further afield, with two airports serving the region.

Want to escape to a Swedish winter wonderland? Find out more about Dalarna from Visit Dalarna

N-ice, affordable family fun!

In the heart of Dalarna lies Lake Siljan. Sweden’s sixth largest lake, its magnificent surroundings are the result of a meteorite impact 360 million years ago. Today, many towns on its shores, such as Orsa, Mora, and Rättvik, have a timeless quality thanks to the simple pleasures they offer if you just want to get outdoors and reconnect with nature.

Claire Hamilton and Antonio Morveto, chose Rättvik, where Antonio grew up until the age of 12, for their first family holiday with all their kids; Claire has one daughter and Antonio three. They booked a cottage on AirBnB for five nights at a cost of under 1,000 Swedish kronor per night.

“The kids were really excited about the first holiday we’d all taken together,” says Claire, originally from Scotland. “It was a super-cute little cottage with a really nice view down to a small lake.” Swedish-born Antonio, who is half-Italian, says the location is equally ideal for couples without kids. “It’s perfect for a romantic weekend – just get a cabin in the middle of nowhere,” he says.

Claire Hamilton and family: playing in the snow with a view of the lake

Both Lake Siljan and the smaller lake, 200 metres from the cottage, were frozen but the family were not short of ideas for things to do. Sledging (or sledding), including with huskies, is hugely popular in Dalarna. “We were sledging down the hill with the girls for a few hours on the first day,” recalls Claire. “The lake was completely covered in ice,” adds Antonio. “We saw lots of ice skaters and everything looked just beautiful.” 

If you’re fond of outdoor ice-skating, take a look at the Skating Dalarna network, which ploughs paths stretching for more than 70km across the region’s frozen lakes every winter.

The family also took advantage of a sauna for hire by the small lake, with the combination providing an opportunity for their own spontaneous ice bucket challenge! “We filled buckets with ice cold water from the lake,” says Claire. “The kids poured it all over Claire and myself,” adds Antonio. “Then we did the same to them! You all want to dive back into the sauna pretty quickly after that!”

The family in the sauna and playing by the frozen lake

The couple are also big fans of winter swimming and would happily have taken a dip if conditions had allowed. “I have a challenge with a friend that we have to take one dip every month all year round,” says Antonio. “Claire and her friend also have to be in the water every week for five minutes.” 

“You get such a buzz from it,” says Claire. “It’s so invigorating.”

From cosy cottages to hotels, check out your accommodation options in Dalarna

Skiing, snowmobile – or just a good old snowball fight?

If you’re looking for a ski trip (or a day or two skiing as part of a longer break), Dalarna has plenty of options. You can enjoy Alpine skiing at larger resorts in the north of Dalarna or smaller options further south. Many resorts also offer activities such as snowmobile driving and snowshoeing. Or you could opt for cross-country skiing. The region has many well-prepared and clearly marked trails, both close to urban areas and going deep into the forest, so why not give it a try?

Photo: Visit Dalarna

When the family wanted to go skiing locally one day last winter, they unfortunately found the slope was shutting for the day due to a lack of snow. But they didn’t let that spoil their fun. “We had a massive snowball fight on the slope with a wonderful view overlooking Siljan,” says Antonio. “It went on for hours!” adds Claire. “It was great fun and one of those moments you’ll always remember.”

Antonio advises anyone visiting this year that the Granberget ski resort, in Siljansnäs, near Rättvik, is ideal for families. “There are several small slopes and it’s perfect for children to learn how to ski.”

Walking on water

One of the most famous sights in Rättvik is the 628-metre pier, built all the way back in 1895 to enable a steamship to berth in the town.

Claire Hamilton and the children on Rättvik’s pier

“We took the girls down to walk on the frozen water underneath the pier, which was also pretty cool!” says Claire. “The holiday was during the pandemic, so we weren’t going out and spending lots of money. But we still found loads to do, just taking the girls on little walks and finding nice places to explore.” 

One special place to explore is Springkällan, just 7km from Rättvik. Here, you’ll find a natural fountain in the middle of the forest and in winter, the water freezes to create beautiful ice formations. If you fall in love with it, there’s even a slogbod available (that’s a wooden shelter where hardy souls can camp out overnight!

Having returned to his childhood home, Antonio is already thinking about the next trip to Dalarna. “It would be a great place for our youngest children, who are five and eight, to learn to ski,” he says. “I only have good memories of Rättvik; it’s the perfect place to raise a family.” Or for a well-deserved getaway when you all need to recharge your batteries! 

In need of a winter break? Discover Dalarna through Visit Dalarna and start planning your own trip to this Swedish winter wonderland

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TOURISM

Denmark’s ‘freetown’ Christiania hangs onto soul, 50 years on

A refuge for anarchists, hippies and artists, Denmark's 'freetown' Christiania turns 50 on Sunday, and though it hasn't completely avoided the encroachment of modernity and capitalism, its free-wheeling soul remains intact.

Denmark's 'freetown' Christiania hangs onto soul, 50 years on
Christiania, one of Copenhagen's major tourist attractions, celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sunday. JENS NOERGAARD LARSEN / SCANPIX / AFP

Nestled in the heart of Copenhagen, Christiania is seen by some as a progressive social experiment, while others simply see it as a den of drugs.

On September 26th, 1971, a band of guitar-laden hippies transformed an abandoned army barracks in central Copenhagen into their home. They raised their “freedom flag” and named their new home “Christiania, Freetown” after the part of the city where it is located.

They wanted to establish an alternative society, guided by the principles of peace and love, where decisions were made collectively and laws were not enforced.

Soft drugs were freely available, and repurposing, salvaging and sharing was favoured over buying new.

It was a community “that belonged to everybody and to no one”, said Ole Lykke, who moved into the 34-hectare (84-acre) enclave in the 1970s.

These principles remain well-rooted today, but the area has changed in many ways: tourists weave through its cobblestone roads, and the once-reviled market economy is in full swing.

Perhaps most importantly, it is no longer a squat. Residents became legal landowners when they bought some of the land from the Danish state in 2012.

Now it is home to some 900 people, many artists and activists, along with restaurants, cafes and shops, popular among the half a million tourists that visit annually.

“The site is more ‘normal’,” says a smiling Lykke, a slender 75-year-old with ruffled silver hair, who passionately promotes Christiania, its independence and thriving cultural scene.

Legislation has been enforced since 2013 — though a tongue-in-cheek sign above the exit points out that those leaving the area will be entering the European Union.

‘Embrace change’
It is Christiania’s ability to adapt with the times that has allowed it to survive, says Helen Jarvis, a University of Newcastle professor of social geography engagement.

“Christiania is unique,” says Jarvis, who lived in Christiania in 2010.

“(It) endures because it continues to evolve and embrace change”.

Some of those changes would have been unthinkable at the start.

Residents secured a bank loan for several million euros to be able to buy the land, and now Christiania is run independently through a foundation.

They also now pay wages to the around 40 people employed by Christiania, including trash collectors and daycare workers.

“Money is now very important,” admits Lykke, who is an archivist and is currently exhibiting 100 posters chronicling Christiania’s history at a Copenhagen museum.

But it hasn’t forgotten its roots.

“Socially and culturally, Christiania hasn’t changed very much,” he says, noting that the community’s needs still come first.

‘Judged a little’
Christiania has remained a cultural hub — before the pandemic almost two dozen concerts were held every week and its theatres were packed.

But it is still beset by its reputations as a drugs hub.

Though parts of Christiania are tranquil, lush and green with few buildings, others are bustling, with a post office, mini-market, healthcare centre, and Pusher Street, the notorious drug market.

Lykke says it’s a side of Christiania most could do without.

“Most of us would like to get rid of it. But as long as (marijuana use) is prohibited, as long as Denmark doesn’t want to decriminalise or legalise, we will have this problem,” says Lykke.

While still officially illegal, soft drugs like marijuana and hash are tolerated — though not in excess.

Since early 2020, Copenhagen police have seized more than one tonne of cannabis and more than a million euros.

“Sometimes I don’t tell people that I live here because you get judged a little bit. Like, ‘Oh, you must be into marijuana and you must be a smoker’,” says Anemone, a 34-year-old photographer.

For others, Christiania’s relaxed nature is part of the appeal.

“It’s different from what I know, I really want to see it,” laughs Mirka, a Czech teacher who’s come to have a look around.

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