More snow, please! Thanks!
My time in snowy Åre is coming to an end and I’ll soon be off to nearby city Östersund, but first I have one more morning on the slopes with an added bonus activity.
For my last day on the slopes, the weather has improved, the wind’s died down and there’s plenty of fluffy powder. Finally, that heavy feeling of my legs not quite obeying me has disappeared and I can do the red runs quite comfortably. As per usual, this happens just in time for me to move on and head elsewhere. This isn’t just a ski day though, I also have a beer-tasting session at lunchtime – it’s a hard life for the working journalist. I’ve never come across an on-slope brewery before, never mind skied to one. This will be exciting! Svartbergets fjällbryggeri, a micro mountain brewery opened in 2017, has promised to let me try some of their brews, even though I’ve confessed to being more of a wine buff (www.svartberget.se). Having come this far, I figure the least I can do is sample their beers and, blow me, they’re good. I try the Weiβbier, the so-called Tropical Blizzard – unsurprisingly with very fruity notes – Smoky Mountain and Stövelbranten, the latter a chocolate stout. Much to my surprise, I like all of them, but in particular Smoky Mountain, a rauchbier – it’s so smoky it smells like smoked ham (probably the reason why I like it so much). Stövelbranten (Boot precipice), by the way, is named after a nearby steep slope, which in turn got its name when two old geezers clearing the forest found a pair of boots dangling from a large spruce… Jämtland is full of slightly bizarre stories like that.
In the afternoon, I bid Åre farewell and hop on the train to Östersund, Jämtland’s main hub. Maybe it’s the beer effect – I’m suddenly shattered and struggle to keep my eyes open. The train’s final destination is Sundsvall, several hours further east and I don’t particularly want to wake up there, although I’m sure it’s a very nice town too.
Luckily, I perk up at the thought of doing Östersund by evening and as soon as I’ve checked in to my hotel, I’m off to explore the local winter baths. Unfortunately, I’m a bit early – by 2 whole weeks, to be precise – and although there is plenty of snow already, the so-called Winter Park, of which the winter baths form part, is not fully open yet (http://vinterparken.se/summary-in-english/). Still, I get to try out the outdoor hot tub, on the shores of Lake Storsjön with lovely views of the lit-up, snowy slopes opposite. When the park is fully operational, a lakeside ice hole is opened up, for the brave to dunk themselves in. Alas, said ice hole has yet to be created and, call me bizarre, but I am sorely disappointed. The hot tub is soooo hot, I would have welcomed an icy dip. Staying cool in Östersund in winter isn’t usually a problem though and once out of the hot tub, I quickly chill out again. Next up is dinner at Jazzköket and that’s quite an experience too (https://www.jazzkoket.se/english). Jazzköket is decidedly and unashamedly hipster. Your waiter will be telling you which farm the meat came from, there’ll be ingredients included that you can’t spell or pronounce, unless you’re in the know, and it’s all a bit “complex”. I feel oddly old-fashioned for not fancying a cocktail that contains actual cheese or chanterelles. In the end I opt for the cheese one – Ljugarbaronen – which doesn’t taste of cheese, but of soap, mostly. The food, however, cannot be faulted and after a rocky start, Jazzköket is a winner. I have set menu no.2 which includes a mushroom dish, a cod dish and, star of the evening, an oxtail dish, washed down with a glass of Portuguese touriga nacional red wine. Good start to my Östersund stay.
Cross-country skiing and biathlon:
Next morning I have a cross-country skiing lesson lined up, but sadly I’m not a very good student. Having grown up in rural Sweden, I feel I can already cross-country ski. Of course skis and equipment have vastly improved since I was a regular skier in the 1980s and I’m pleasantly surprised by both. My instructor, Mattias, valiantly sets out to improve my technique. I fall over twice and my approach is best described as “ass-over-tit”. I explain that I’d much rather just “hit the ski tracks” (for want of a better expression). Thankfully, he’s flexible in his lesson plan and we ski the 5-km track together, taking the scenic route through the forest, along the shores of a small, frozen lake and I’m loving it. When we get back after our ski session, it’s time for me to do some shooting. Yes, shooting. Biathlon shooting, that is. I have to confess I’ve never held a rifle in my life, not even a toy one and I’m slightly perturbed to be lying on my stomach, aiming at targets, rifle in hand. It’s quite uncomfortable and hard to aim but, much to my surprise, I manage to hit 2 out of the 5 targets. Beginner’s luck, undoubtedly. Shooting at the national biathlon arena is quite fun too, especially as they’re gearing up for the 2019 Biathlon World Championships ( 7th – 17th of March, http://www.2019ostersund.se/en/).
Winter culture – Jamtli:
Post-lunch I’m ready for the next instalment – a 2-hour guided tour of Jamtli Museum (https://www.jamtli.com/en/). The museum is huge, and we start by having a look at the open-air parts. The temperature has been hovering between -10C and -3C since I arrived in town, and at the moment it’s a fairly nippy -8C. Over 100 buildings from the whole region, dating from as early as the 1700s up until the 1970s, cover a large area on the shores of Lake Storsjön. We start in the 1780s and walk all the way to the 1970s, which I don’t feel I need to visit, as I’ve “been there before”, so to speak. Everything is covered in the thickest layer of snow and looks beautiful. For two months in summer, a lot of the houses have live-in actors, re-enacting the different eras. Indoors, I take a look at both permanent and short-term exhibitions. The permanent ones include the history of Jämtland, dating back to prehistoric times. There’s plenty to see from the Viking era, as well as exhibits focusing on the Sámi peoples and natural history. Temporary exhibitions include one about hair, hairstyles and attitudes to body hair, through the centuries – lots of furry fun. A branch of Sweden’s National Museum opened at Jamtli in 2018 – the first regional branch in the country. At the end of my visit, of course I have to check out the pièce de resistance; the so-called Överhogdalsbonaderna (try saying that ten times fast). These tapestries were found in 1909 in a trunk in Överhogdal church and turned out to be some of the oldest in Sweden, dating back around 1000 years, to late Viking times. They’re remarkably well-preserved, with lovely colours still visible, despite having had many uses over the centuries. Apparently one part was deemed too rough to clean windows with, while another piece was used as a doll’s blanket. But here they are now, displayed in all their glory. Well worth seeing.
Next morning, I have an outing by car to check out the crisp snow-scapes on nearby Frösön island, before it’s time to get back on the horse, literally. Head out to Sörbygården b&b and horse ranch in the afternoon, for my Icelandic horseback riding adventure (https://www.sorbygarden.se/English.html). It’s very cold and crisp now, with gorgeous sunshine and I’m looking forward to my ride. A whole group of us is heading out and Ann-Sofi, owner of Sörbygården, is keen to get us bonding with the horses first, so we bring them into the stables, where we brush and saddle them. There are 14 Icelandic horses in total and the b&b side of the business has 30 beds. Much to my delight, I get to meet Bosse, the farmhouse cat, who is exceptionally cuddly unlike Lúpa, my slightly cantankerous horse for the afternoon. After about an hour of preparations, we’re ready to ride and, much to my embarrassment, I need a stepladder to get onto my horse – graceful as ever. I feel like a sack of potatoes, but at least I’m in the saddle and, best of all, not cold. By now I’m used to wearing long-johns, two pairs of wind & weather-proof trousers, thermals, fleece and warm jacket, scarf, hat and gloves, this time with added riding helmet. We set off as the sun is sinking lower over the snowy farms and the views are magical. It feels a bit high and precarious, though. Lúpa can clearly tell I’m nervous and she keeps trying it on, cantering a bit too fast, getting too close to the other horses, or trying to eat what precious little greenery there is to find on trees and hedges. Occasionally she tries to pull me sharply downwards and I worry I’ll go flying over her head (that’s how I got my very first concussion back in Iceland as a teenager), or at the very least, pull a back muscle. Eventually I relax and we even do some “tölting” – the fast gait particular to Icelandic horses. The landscape is stunning and once I feel firmer in the saddle, I can really enjoy the views over the frozen lake at sunset. Taking photos while holding the reigns is a skill I have yet to develop, but Ann-Sofi helps me out and I get some nice shots. We return to the ranch and I meet Esmeralda, the Norwegian Forest Cat, who is extra friendly and incredibly fluffy. She comes to sit on my lap for big cuddles and purring. Then there’s tea, cake and glögg, the Scandie version of mulled wine, before I get a ride (by car, I should add) back into Östersund. Round off the day in a good, old English pub, Sir Winston Churchill which, despite the name, has hearty regional dishes. I enjoy local sausages with cloudberry mayo and chips. A tasty end to a good day and a cracking visit to Jämtland.
General information (and for booking activities):
easyJet (www.easyjet.com) flies direct from London Gatwick twice a week in winter.
Where to stay:
Clarion Hotel Östersund (https://www.nordicchoicehotels.com/hotels/sweden/ostersund/clarion-hotel-grand-ostersund/), centrally located on Östersund’s main square, all amenities, good restaurant.
Sörbygården b&b (www.sorbygarden.se/English.html), quaint, countryside b&b with activities including horseback riding.
Where to eat:
Östersund has a number of good restaurants, including Jazzköket (www.jazzkoket.se), Arctura (with great views) and Republiken.