Somewhere far in the north, the reindeer trot across fantastical icy landscapes, the northern lights flash and dance across the blackest of skies, and some of the world’s best chefs are dreaming up and creating the next greatest dish. Swedish Lapland – A wintry paradise of magic and snow. But wait, that’s only part of the year. I’m talking, of course, about the other half of the year; that magical time when the ice and snow have been replaced with tall grasses and fireweed, when the sun never sets or goes too far below the horizon, and children of all ages play and explore throughout the longest days of the year. Swedish Lapland is the place of adventure and exploration, and the small but vibrant city of Luleå sits at the edge of that great outdoors, a gateway between civilization and wilderness.
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Summer Journey to Luleå
Our journey started with a night train out of Stockholm’s bustling Central Station. There were twenty four of us headed north on the night train to Luleå. The journey would take about 14 hours so we clambered aboard, found our shared cabins (three to a room), stowed our gear, claimed our bunks, and retreated to the restaurant car for some late night snacks and camaraderie. It was getting about as dark as it gets in Sweden in early August so there wasn’t much to see out the windows but we managed to entertain ourselves with the refreshments available. Soon enough it was time to head off to sleep. I climbed up into my top level cot, rocking and swaying with the relaxing motion of the train and immediately went to sleep. I just love sleeping on trains, it’s so peaceful. Unfortunately, that meant I immediately began snoring. Sorry Winnie, Sorry Karen!
I woke in the morning refreshed and wishing for a shower. There’s one on the train but I wasn’t really ready for that adventure, especially knowing we would be checking into the Clarion Sense Hotel in Lulea later that morning. Instead I cleaned up and made my way back to the restaurant car for a boxed breakfast and some green tea (my usual morning drink). I had some time now to look at a map, see where we were exactly and start looking at where we were going. It was light now and the scenery was rolling by in swathes of emerald green grass and trees, and brilliantly popping purple flowers. Passing through one meadow I spotted a mother moose and her newborn calf. Wow! Just enough time to really take in the scene before, whoosh, she was gone. Fourteen hours seems like a long time to spend on the train but it goes quickly enough–reading, writing, catching up on business, and just watching the landscape roll by.
We were met at the station in Luleå, more of a platform really, and whisked away for a windshield tour of the town. I have to admit, having lived in the Alaska for several years, I knew what to expect. Sweden has Alaska beat, however, with it’s modern, simple Scandinavia design. The town is a mix of old and new, having originated as a seaport to serve the colonies in the north. Nowadays Luleå’s main source of income is the steel industry with a major move towards high tech business. In fact, Facebook just opened it’s latest server farm and data center there, but it’s not much to look at from the outside. The city has a very welcoming feeling and really embraces the role of being a wilderness city and the capital of the Swedish Lapland. There’s excellent biking trails, kayaking, fishing, and hiking right from the city center. You don’t have to travel too far in any direction to leave civilization behind.
As a matter of fact, that’s just what we did! As soon as we had checked in to the hotel we walked around the corner for a quick bite to eat at Friends–smoked reindeer pita and locally brewed beer. Then we went on over to Ouroboros Bikes where we were fitted for our afternoon activity, fat bikes! Here we met Eric and Susanne who led us on a three hour ride around Luleå. I had never been on of these surprisingly nimble bikes. Would the fat tires make it hard to steer and pedal? Not at all. I have to say, within a few minutes of pedaling across a bumpy, grassy field, I was a total convert. Wait, we can even ride across the sandy beaches? I was totally in to it. The best part about fat bikes, Eric assured me, was riding in the snow. With these incredible bikes you can ride all year long over and through mud, sand, snow, or even train tracks.
While you’re in the city, however, you have all of the modern conveniences of shopping, restaurants, and entertainment. In fact, some of the best food I’ve ever had was served up to me in one of Luleå’s culinary treasures, BarCG. Here we had a tasting menu of various gastronomical treasures paired with a selection of wines and local specialty drinks. Head chef Tomas Larsson and sommelier Petter Nyberg really blew us away with samples of fresh, locally sourced treats like reindeer medallions or origin labelled Kalix vendace roe all accompanied with wines from the extensive list.
Wow! What a great introduction to Luleå, Lapland, and Swedish cuisine!
- Luleå is a small city of about 75,000 residents and a numerous tourists year-round
- Connections to Luleå can be made by car, train, bus, or plane with twice daily train service and nearly hourly flights from Stockholm
- The city boasts a number of excellent restaurants and bars of all classes and tastes
- The city is the stepping off point for excursions into the Luleå archipelago of more than 1300 islands
- UNESCO World Heritage Site – Gammelstad Church Town – is a short drive to the north
- More tourists visit the city in winter than in summer, most of them seeking the Aurora Borealis
Have you been to Luleå? What was your impression of this northern city?
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Disclaimer: The Visit Sweden and Visit Luleå tourist offices sponsored our group of travel bloggers on this adventure. While they graciously placed us into the settings and adventures, all opinions in this article are my own.