Where to have a climate-smart holiday in West Sweden
As part of our guide to Climate Smart Holidays in West Sweden, Sarah Baxter tries out the options for a low carbon holiday
The glasshouse had curtains. But I didn’t draw them. Out here, in the lake-edge forest, there was no one to peer in except the birds, perhaps a beaver. So, exposed to the alarm clock of Mother Nature, I woke at first light, watched the day begin to form. Eventually I left my bed’s warm hug, flung open the doors, walked a few steps, over smooth rock and pine needles, and plunged into the lake’s chilled stillness.
Electricity? Hot shower? Who needs them?
It was the final day of my trip to West Sweden and I was getting used to such idyllic simplicity. I’d come to try out the region’s new Climate Smart Holidays, a new strand in West Sweden’s Stepping up Sustainability initiative. These are packages with the lowest possible carbon emissions, staying at small, family-run businesses, in unique accommodation, with local-sourced food, accessible by public transport (with pick-ups from nearby stations in electric cars, if required). At Dalslands Aktiviteter that meant low-impact kayaking down the Stenebyälven River, eating local-caught wild game, lounging in a wood-fired hot-tub and sleeping in the aforementioned glass cabin, totally off-grid, completely out of this world.
The fun had begun from my front door, having reached Sweden on a train odyssey via London, Brussels, Cologne, Hamburg (overnighting in Germany’s first cabin hotel), Copenhagen and finally Gothenburg. After an opulent sleep in grand Hotel Eggers, right by Gothenburg’s main station, it was a four-minute walk to pick up a Polestar, an electric car with a range of 400km, perfect for my eco adventure.
Soon, the city faded into tree-flanked highway, the roads squeezing progressively narrower and narrower as I drove east into the forests of Västergötland, to Erikson Cottage. This farm near the shores of Lagmanshagasjön Lake has been in the same family since 1850; now sisters Elisabeth and Katarina run it as a bakery, pizza-making workshop and place for people to relax and de-stress in their three gorgeous glass cabins.
“There’s no electricity,” Elisabeth explained as she showed me to my woodland dell, home to a glasshouse, and separate kitchen and toilet huts. “They can all be lifted off and taken away – you’d see no trace. We also have solar panels, our own well and septic tank, and a charging point for cars.”
They also have something special, a mood conjured from the exhalation of the trees, the lap of the lake, the smell of fresh-baked bread, the soft music and candlelight, the twittering birds and dashing deer. Ingredients, when mixed, that create something supremely comforting and delicious.
I could have stayed, sunk into Erikson Cottage, for days. But I had a date further north, near Hjo, where Jesper Uvesten has hidden a handful of off-grid cabins around his family forest. I was staying in Esther (named after Jesper’s oldest daughter), a cosy, self-catering bolthole for up to four with a large fire pit outside and a hare living underneath. Esther is also supremely smart: her solar panels power-up batteries that can last two days, even when the sun’s not shining; the waste from her toilet is turned to compost; her big water tank and meter mean you can happily shower, while keeping an eye on your usage.
She was a charming, secluded, peaceful place to stay. I cooked up a feast on the campfire, listened to the snap-crackle of the woods – perhaps wild boar, snuffling for acorns? – and cycled to nearby Lingonudden (Lingonberry Head) to watch the day’s last rays reflected in the little pond.
From Inforest it was only an hour’s drive to Lugnåsberget, one of the smallest mountains in Västergötland but – as I soon discovered from Pia Åkesson and Jesper Persson – one of the most fascinating. Determined to live a more sustainable life, the couple bought an old farm here 13 years ago; after two years of renovations, involving recycled materials, secondhand furniture, grazing goats and sheep, and plenty of hard work, they opened it as Lugnåsberget Ekohotell. Rooms are simple and comfortable, food is local-sourced and homemade, power comes from solar panels, heat from the biomass boiler. Of the five climate-smart properties, it’s the smartest: one night here creates around 0.2kg CO2-equivalent per person (the average hotel in Sweden creates around 6.8kg CO2-eq). I plugged in my car, fortified myself with one of Pia’s cinnamon buns and set off to explore.
The mountain, though small, is special. Cistercian monks, who came here in the 12th century, discovered its top layer of bedrock was especially well-suited for making millstones. For 800 years this industry was vital to the people here; more than 600 quarries and 50 mines were cut into the slopes. I hiked the 6km Stenhuggarstigen (Stonecutter’s Trail), which begins near the ecohotel, and found it littered with reminders. Abandoned millstones lay higgle-piggle among the oak and birch trees, wigged with moss; the ruins of a smithy sat by an overgrown quarry; old workers’ cottages were subsumed by the forest.
Lugnåsberget rises just below Lake Vänern and, next, I steered around the southernmost tip of Sweden’s largest lake, to enter the province of Dalsland. After a smooth two-hour drive, I arrived at Swedish Country Living.
This rural retreat isn’t far off the main road, or from the nearest train station. But it feels a million miles away. There are three individually designed tiny houses here, well-spaced between the native trees, pond and pasture surrounding David and Marie Naraine’s own home. Aesthetically, the hermitages are a delight. The Slate House, in which I stayed (picture bottom centre and right), looked snatched from a fairytale. It was handmade from wood felled on site, and clad in gingerbread-like tiles; inside were candle lanterns, sheepskins from the farm, antique kilims.
The hermitates at Swedish Country Living. Photos: Richard Hammond
But even more impressive was the couple’s eco-ethos, from their use of recycled building materials to the shower block’s circular water system to their regenerative farming techniques. “We learnt the skills as we went along,” David told me in the orangery (also built from secondhand glass and brick); it’s here the former chef serves delicious dinners. Tonight: slow-cooked lamb, reared and butchered on site, and homegrown potatoes, lemon, parsley and garlic. “We wanted to keep it small scale,” he added, “so you feel part of the family when you’re here.”
I felt it. Because, like all the other climate-smart places, David and Marie have created something sustainable without sacrificing the splendour, the cosiness or the joy of being in nature one bit.