Travel: 7 reasons why Swedish town Lulea is a top winter break
Winter breaks don't come much more special than the Swedish Lapland, says Sarah Marshall
ALTHOUGH far off in the wilds of northern Sweden, Lulea is one of the most rapidly developing cities in Scandinavia – dozens of families are setting up new homes and countless tech companies (including Facebook) have set up their servers in the cool environment.
It's set to become even more connected when a new direct SAS winter seasonal flight launches from London, making it possible to reach the snowy landscapes of Lapland, where northern lights dance across the night sky, in less than three hours.
Here are a few reasons why you should visit the region...
1. RIDE HORSES THROUGH FAIRY-TALE FORESTS
Mad about horses since childhood, Roger Laestadius begged his parents for lessons. When they refused, he took the second best option of learning to ride a cow.
Now, his family's 19th century dairy farm in Boden has been transformed into the Ranisgarden stables, where guests of all levels can take guided rides through forests of crystal-tipped trees and snow-covered farmlands.
Roger takes pride in teaching his students how to ride 'western style', with tips on how to hold reigns and control the horse with your hips.
Afterwards, warm up with coffee and cinnamon buns in his cosy saloon. Pop your head into the quirky Wild West theme park next door, where Christmas dinners take place in winter.
HOW: A 2.5 hour ride costs from 1,990 SEK/£157pp (based on two); ranisgarden.se.
2. SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN A HOT AIR BALLOON
Being (almost) at eye-level with the northern lights is a novel experience. Float up to the heavens in a hot air balloon tethered to the ground for a 15-minute observation of the night sky.
The new experience is offered by Lapland Ballooning, who have a winter base at Brandon Lodge from February 9.
From March onwards, when conditions allow, guests staying at the new Aurora Safari Camp also join a daytime expedition, travelling above the frozen forests of the Rane River Valley, searching for reindeer and moose. Help plan the navigation, according to the wind, and see where you end up.
HOW: A Ballooning, Dinner and Auroras experience costs from 3,150 SEK/£249pp; brandonlodgelapland.com. For prices of daytime trips, visit aurorasafaricamp.com and contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. MEET SOME MOOSE
Taking a screen break is always entertaining for Thomas Dahlquist. Moose regularly wander past his office window in a wooden cabin at Cape Wild.
Visitors can also meet, greet and feed bananas to the nine habituated animals living in his wildlife park, a 10-minute drive from Lulea airport.
Standing close to the creatures, who typically live in this region but are hard to see, is a chance to appreciate their goliath size – particularly male Zebbe, one of the first arrivals, who responds to his name.
Other attractions include wild pigs and a herd of reindeer, who come galloping to a trough when bags of tasty lichens are produced. A selection of moose memorabilia – including branded beer bottles and tea towels – is on sale in a souvenir shop.
HOW: Tours from 350 SEK/£27pp (minimum two); capewild.se.
4. LEARN HOW TO MASTER ICE BATHING
Even before Wim Hof championed ice bathing, the Swedes were masters at diving into cold waters. Anyone new to the wellness craze can break the ice with a dip in Arctic Bath's luxurious ice spa.
Frozen into the Lulea River in Harads, an hour's drive north of Lulea, the high-end hotel features a spa with several saunas built in a ring around a central pool filled with river water and kept ice-free year round.
Take part in a guided spa ritual, enhanced by essential oils and the encouragement to dip toes then quickly progress to half-body dunks and even full immersion.
The hotel restaurant is also gaining a reputation for its gourmet dishes made with local ingredients: try hand-pushed caviar from vendace fish caught in northern coastal waters, and fried reindeer moss sprinkled with blueberry dust.
HOW: Water rooms from 7,788 SEK/£616pp including breakfast and a spa kit; culinary experience from 1,295 SEK/£102pp. Visit arcticbath.se.
5. SLEEP IN A GIANT BIRD'S NEST
Even in mid-winter, Sweden's forests are full of life – especially in the Treehotel's new Biosphere cabin. Famous for their arboreal accommodation, the property in Harads (down the road from the Arctic Bath) already has a mirror cube, nest and UFO suspended from the forest canopy.
Designed by the Danish Bjarke Ingels Group, the new addition features 350 bird boxes attached to a floating glass globe. Each hole has been drilled to a different size, to attract a variety of species, although feeding trays are the cause of most commotion from woodpeckers, owls, great tits and red squirrels.
Creature comforts inside include a shower with a sauna and a ladder leading to a roof terrace, and a table set between the bird boxes – including one designed to hold wine bottles and glasses.
HOW: From 13,000 SEK/£1,027 per night; treehotel.se.
6. EMBRACE THE WILDERNESS
A wilderness hideaway with roaring fires and fine food is the perfect setting for a Lapland winter break. There are only three cabins available at this intimate eco-camp, hidden in the boreal forests on a river bend of the Råne River, close to the tiny village of Gunnarsbyn. Each one has a Jacuzzi, for keeping warm while gazing up and the northern lights, and there's access to a shared sauna.
An iPad in each cabin has a chat service linked directly to staff, meaning there's no need to step outside if you have queries about itineraries, or want to order a locally distilled forest G&T (with frozen berries in place of ice).
Although a raft of activities are available to book, it's tempting to spend some time sitting still, enjoying the scenery and savouring the Arctic silence.
HOW: Full-board stays from 10,000 SEK/£791pp (two sharing); arcticretreat.se.
7. WALK ON (FROZEN) WATER
The ability to walk on water is a godly power – unless, of course, it's frozen. Whether on a lake or the sea, Lulea's residents skate, hike and even drive across these solid expanses. But there's always an opportunity to fish for creatures still swimming below.
Dragging a sled filled with firewood and a portable grate, the team at Brandon Lodge have created one of the north's most comfortable ice fishing experiences. Drill holes with giant corkscrews and sit on reindeer skins while dangling bait from a toy-sized fishing line. The idea is to shift position every 30 minutes if nothing bites – even if the place ends up looking a bit like a mass of Arctic mole hills.
HOW: From 1,300 SEK/£102pp; brandonlodgelapland.com.
HOW TO PLAN YOUR TRIP
SAS (flysas.com) offers flights from London Heathrow to Lulea from £190 return, starting from December 9. There are direct flights from Dublin to Stockholm.
For more information on the destination, go to visitsweden.com.