Details of my upcoming talk, Life as a Travel Writer, and 2-week photography exhibition at Arvika library.
It’s been a little while since my last update – I’ve been busy enjoying summer and the fruits of my labour.
I’m pleased to say my first work of fiction, How Pat Got Her Five Cats – A Tale For Cat Lovers, is doing quite well and is currently available for sale on Amazon and via my website. However, I’m even more excited to announce my collection of short stories, Boldly Into Darkness Go, is also out and available for sale internationally.
This collection of 12 stories is a bit of a departure from the light and fluffy writing found in the recent cat book. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the kind of book that makes me happy my father’s grasp of English is rather limited. Most of the stories were written during the month I spent at an Andean retreat in Urubamba, Peru, last March and even though these aren’t travel tales, there are definite hints of Latin America lingering in some of the stories. Scandinavia has certainly sneaked in too and Scotland makes a quick guest appearance in the title story.
My Amazon author page has more information:
And so does my website:
(Still rather slow-loading, sadly.)
For the duration of this project I worked with the excellently patient and knowledgeable Pearl Howie, who helped me wade through the (for me) scary quagmire of publishing independently with IngramSpark and Lulu, as well as designing the book and formatting the stories.
She is running an interesting-sounding retreat, entitled Being The Storyteller, at the Beach House in West Wittering this September.
For more information on Pearl’s work and books see:
Fiction is, as you know, a fairly new venture for me and I’d love to hear from people who have read either of my two recent books. Reviews on Amazon or elsewhere are also welcome (with some trepidation).
I’m hoping to do a more formal book launch in the autumn and would love to see friends from the UK and further afield for the occasion – details to follow.
If anyone happens to find themselves in Western Sweden in the autumn, I’ll be going down memory lane, giving a talk on “Life as a travel writer” at the local library in Arvika on the 3rd of October (programme to follow):
The accompanying exhibition, with images from 16 countries, will be running from the 30th of September for two weeks.
I’m actively looking to take on more speaking engagements, so please spread the word. Needless to say, I’m happy to travel.
In the autumn, I will be spending time in Edinburgh and surroundings from the 10th of November and would love to connect with authors and other creatives while I’m in town. If you are based in the area, feel free to get in touch via my website.
Finally, I spent a wonderful, creative, and peaceful week at Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre, Moniack Mhor in June, which allowed me the time to move forward with a relatively new project close to my heart, a collection of tales based on my mother and her older sister when they were young girls, written in the local dialect of my region (I do like a challenge!). More information on this project to follow in the autumn, along with details of my third book – a winter’s fairy-tale about three sisters and the odd knight in shining armour (emphasis on “odd”).
Have a good rest of the (northern hemisphere) summer,
AM Hellberg Moberg aka Anna Maria
As some of you know, over the last couple of years I have been slowing down my travel writing career somewhat (although I still enjoy a good travel stint, every now and then), and instead branched out into writing fiction and poetry. This shift has been an interesting journey in itself, particularly after I decided, earlier this year, to publish independently. A steep learning curve, to say the least, but I’m very happy to announce that as of the 9th of May, my first work of fiction will be available on Amazon as a first edition hardback copy, as well as an eBook on Kindle.
The book, “How Pat Got Her Five Cats – A Tale For Cat Lovers” was first begun on a flight to Málaga in 2016 and then languished in a half-forgotten Word file for many months, before I picked it up where I left off, at a writers’ retreat in Scotland. Although a book with any cat lover in mind, it’s perhaps best suited to a younger audience, but hopefully that won’t stop adults from having a few good chuckles as well. For this book, I’ve been working with the talented artist Dani Bergson, who provided the fantastic cat illustrations.
You can take a look at the book here:
Or alternatively on my website:
Apologies, my website is rather slow to load, but bear with it – it does work.
Dani Bergson’s work can be viewed here:
So, who on earth is AM Hellberg Moberg? Well, after years of living with a surname that no one outside of Sweden can spell or pronounce, I decided to write fiction under a pen name. Admittedly, this one doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as Smith or Jones (or Svensson or Johansson), but it is at least one that I like, and comes complete with family history.
As Amazon does not link author pages, I have created a new one here:
For the non-cat lovers among you, I’m pleased to say I will also have a second book out, most probably in June. This is a collection of 12 short stories, exploring the themes of love in all its guises, with a hint of revenge thrown in. The current working title is “Boldly Into Darkness Go” and this will be available as a paperback and eBook.
I’m toying with the idea of sending out a newsletter on a regular basis. If you’re interested in receiving such a newsletter, please let me know and I will add you to my mailing list.
All the best,
AM Hellberg Moberg aka Anna Maria
I’m very pleased to announce my first work of fiction, How Pat Got Her Five Cats – A Tale For Cat Lovers, is now available on Amazon in hardback and on Kindle:
Also, just in time for Midsummer, my second work of fiction, Boldly Into Darkness Go – a collection of short stories, is set to be released.
After an intense six months of editing and publishing, I’m looking forward to my annual writer’s retreat at Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre, Moniack Mhor, this coming week. A peaceful writers’ haven if there ever was one! https://www.moniackmhor.org.uk/
I distinctly remember starting the story of How Pat Got Her Five Cats on a plane to Málaga in May 2016, scribbling furiously in my small notebook. I was on my way to Spain with a friend for a short holiday, before packing my bags and leaving my base in the UK to spend time with my father, who was going through chemotherapy over in Sweden.
That summer and autumn, pretty much all the writing I did was fun, light-hearted and frivolous – in stark contrast to what was going on in real life around me. I wrote fun stories to take myself away from the daily worries of helping an elderly man through his cancer treatment, and even though I might not have managed to write on a daily basis, I wrote as often as I could. My dad, I’m pleased to say, recovered well and I eventually returned to my writing base in the UK.
Pat’s Cats, as I call it for short, was one of the stories that started emerging in 2016, although back then I didn’t envisage it would be my first published work of fiction. In fact, I left the first draft lingering for quite some time, instead working on a young adult novel about two aging detectives (which I’m hoping will see the light of day later this year) and a number of short stories. After my mother passed away that same autumn, poems in Swedish and English, began to flow as well.
However, it wasn’t until the summer of 2018, at my favourite writer’s retreat, Monaick Mhor in the Scottish Highlands, that I took the time to revisit Pat and her cats and finalise the story, which is now about to be published in April.
Given my longstanding love of feline friends, those who know me will find it highly unsurprising that my very first book of fiction should feature five cats. If anything, they’ll think I’ve shown admirable restraint, when only including five. This fabulous five-some – Friendly, Frisky, Fluffy, Fickle and Fierce – has been beautifully brought to life by the very talented artist Dani Bergson, who worked on the illustrations and book cover.
The book itself is mostly aimed at a younger audience, but I feel it’s a chuckle-worthy story for any cat lover out there. The thing is, Pat never wanted a cat…
So, how did she get five? You can find out in April. More details coming soon.
Although this might sound completely crazy, one of the things I’m getting really excited about now that I’m writing fiction, is that I can invent a completely fictitious bus; a bus that can take any imaginary route, depart at any imaginary time, and needn’t bear any resemblance to real life. I think I will take an inordinate amount of pleasure inventing just such a bus…
Why on earth would that seem exciting to anyone? you might be asking yourselves.
I’ve worked on well over a dozen guidebooks in my time and in their case, the opposite is obviously true – guidebooks need to be full of facts. Had I invented “imaginary buses” back then, the publisher would most probably have been sued.
My first guidebook job was working on a guide to Mexico and anyone who knows Mexico will know that there is no “National Express”. Instead Mexico has a large number of private bus companies, covering different routes and when I started, part of my job was to check all of them throughout southern Mexico. Most of the schedules, routes and ticket prices weren’t available online back then. I literally had to trundle off to the bus station in each town I was including in the book and double-check all the information with each bus company in turn – the most time-consuming, least fun part, of the guidebook writer’s tasks.
I’ve probably been wanting to invent imaginary bus routes and times ever since…
The sheer relief of not having to stick to the facts would be enormous!
Travel writers have been known to take some liberties and bend the rules at times – I, myself, have on occasion woven two journeys to the same place into one, in my features, or changed the setting of an interview, or the décor of a bar, perhaps. Still, that’s a far cry from creating fiction. As a travel writer, to all intents and purposes, you are documenting the world as you see it, not inventing it as you go along. After many years of travel writing, fiction feels incredibly liberating. Finally no one cares what time the bus from Mexico City to Puebla leaves, the restaurant opening times are irrelevant and if I want to write that my character’s favourite bar in Coyoacán is open at 4am on a Sunday morning, I can. And maybe it is? Stranger things have happened in Coyoacán, the part of Mexico City where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera made their home in La Casa Azul.
Because here’s the thing – although I do far less travel writing than I used to, travel will always be a part of me, and it merrily spills over into my fiction. Places I’ve been, people (and cats) I’ve met, conversations I’ve had, things I’ve seen and experienced, food and drink that I’ve sampled – these things all form part of who I am as a writer and a person, and they regularly crop up in my fiction too. Hopefully these elements may even make my fiction more interesting and, perhaps also more accessible to people from different parts of the world.
That said, my first work of fiction, out later this spring, is not about exciting locations, culinary delights or international characters. Instead, it’s all about another favourite topic of mine – cats. Watch this space for further announcements. And when I finally get around to inventing that imaginary bus, I think a double-decker book launch is definitely in order.
Guest feature focusing on my recent visit to Riga, Latvia, finding out about the country’s literature scene.
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.
Keep bringing on the snow!
After a couple of days of fun and varied non-ski adventures, it’s time to pick up my skis in the afternoon. Much to my relief, I’m not hitting the slopes that day, as they close at 3pm when it starts getting dark, but at least now I have my skis ready for the following day.
I decide to head out in the evening and take a taxi from my on-slope hotel down to Åre town – £15 for a short ride, ouch! The taxi driver recommends Broken, as a nice place for a drink, but I step inside and immediately feel ancient compared to the rest of the clientele. It’s nice enough and not too busy, but certainly not the classy wine bar I had in mind. Instead I go for an Åre village walk in the snow, taking photos of the village still lit up with Christmas lights. A slightly tipsy man, wearing bright-pink ski gear, asks me if I want to take his picture too, but I decline. He is most offended, saying it would surely look great in any magazine…
In the end, I opt for Wersén’s (http://wersens.se/) for a glass of wine before dinner at Vinbaren, inside Åregården hotel (http://vinbaren-are.com/). The evening, which got off to a slow start, then turns a bit epic. My specialist waitress, Bree from Victoria, Vancouver Island, speaks good Swedish and clearly knows her food. She puts together a taster menu of 9 dishes and copious amounts of wine that have me nibbling and sampling for hours. I’m feeling adventurous and try the sweetbread with onion cream, capers and bay leaf, the charred salsify with trout roe and the slow-cooked pork belly with pumpkin and feta cheese, among many other tasty tapas-sized dishes.
The following morning, it’s time to get my skis on – I’m heading off-piste for the first time (https://www.skistar.com/en/inspiration/skiexperiences/are-off-piste-intro/). Sadly, the weather is on the foul side – high, piercing winds and heavy, icy snowfall. I opt for wearing as many layers as I’ve brought, including both of my ski pants on top of each other and a very good choice that is too. Looking suspiciously like the Michelin man – perhaps also something to do with last night’s food intake – I pick up my skis from the hotel storage. I’m supposed to be doing a whole avalanche preparation course off-piste, but with weather this bad, it mostly gets snowed off. Still, I get kitted out with a rucksack that straps on between my legs, around my waist and chest. A bit fiddly, but then I’m ready to get the lift and head up into the wilds.
The wind is whipping at some 30km/hr, it’s snowing very heavily and it’s cold, turning the snowflakes into icy spikes. We ski for a little while and I’m slowly getting into my stride. Reaching the forest, we stop for my instructor, Reidmar, to show me how the avalanche gear works. It’s all quite intricate – we both have sensors on, that can be detected if the sensor’s in search mode. He’s brought along the pole that’s used to mark the spot where a person is found, as well as a shovel to dig, but luckily this is just a course and we’re not actually rescuing anybody. We do a quick training session, with Reidmar explaining the gear. Having taken our skis off for the session, it’s quite tricky to stand around in a snow depth of 60-70cm and getting them back on is even trickier, but I manage with a bit of help. Back on the slopes, the wind is as piercing as ever, so after about an hour we stop for hot chocolate and decide to “abandon slope”. Most of the lifts higher up the mountain have now been closed because of the wind, but it’s still possible to ski down to leave the equipment and I also manage to ski back to my hotel, Fjällgården (https://www.fjallgarden.se/). Feel exceedingly happy to head back, despite only being out for a few hours – my face is battered by the wind and I’m feeling the chill. I gratefully return my skis to the storage, before hitting the hotel sauna straight away – bliss.
Snow quad safari:
By the afternoon I’ve warmed through and feel ready for my next adventure; the “night-time snow quad safari”. It’s hardly night-time at 4.30pm, when we start, but it gets dark here about 3pm this time of year, so it feels a bit like heading out into the night. Me and my guide are taking so-called snow quads – all-terrain vehicles equipped with tracks – out into the forest along snowmobile paths. I decline driving mine, having never driven one before, so I get to sit behind my guide instead. We don helmets and soon we’re off into the dark, snowy forest.
This is the part where I’m gonna be a bit of a spoil-sport and say, out of all the adventures in Jämtland, this was probably my least favourite. It’s dark, it’s quite uncomfortable and quite noisy. I hold onto my guide for dear life, thinking perhaps I should have tried driving one of these monsters after all. It seems something of a lads’ adventure, suitable for those wanting to go tearing through the forest in the dark and then call it “awesome”. I, on the other hand, feel slightly sad that we’re making such a racket in an otherwise still and peaceful environment. The magic for me, only happens when we stop and have a hot chocolate, lighting an open fire under the trees and wading through the deep snows. That moment is thoroughly worth the slight discomfort of getting here.
Next day I have more time on the ski slopes (https://www.skistar.com/en/ski-destinations/are/). It’s still snowing cats and dogs, with worse visibility than the day before, but I have found my ski legs now and I’m in my element as we ski down to VM6an chairlift. When I’m visiting, preparations are in full swing for the Alpine World Ski Championships (4th – 17th February, https://are2019.com/). This will be the third time Åre hosts such a major competition (they also hosted in 1954 and 2007). Unusually, many of the slopes are still open to the public during the championships, through a clever system of tunnels. I head up the slopes at Ullådalsbacken, take the lift to lunch and then ski down again – there’s something very lovely about being able to ski to and from one’s lunch! I also check out the slopes at Duved and Tegefjäll in a whirlwind tour, before leaving the skis for the day and descending on Åre village, visiting the local arts & crafts shop and stopping for tea at Krus, the pop-up branch of Michelin-starred Fäviken (https://www.krusare.se/krus). I try their “malt bun”, which has a sweet, toffee-like flavour, together with a pot of Earl Grey. The pot of tea is so warming and inspiring that, back at the hotel, I feel compelled to try the outdoor hot tub for more heat. Getting there is the real test, as you have to walk through the snow, barefoot, to get to the tub, but once in, it’s a lovely 37C. It’s a great feeling sitting there with snow falling on your hair, while you’re toastie warm. Chat to my fellow “tubbers” from Scania and Stockholm and enjoy a good soak, before a sauna session. Then it’s time to change for dinner at Copperhill Mountain Lodge (https://copperhill.se/en/).
Copperhill has got to be one of the most amazing hotels I’ve ever come across and there have been a few over the years. Named after a nearby old mine, it’s situated 7 km outside of Åre, up the mountain slopes. It was built, ten years ago, by star architect Peter Bohlin, and this hulk of a wooden building blends in quite nicely with its surroundings. To say it’s high-ceilinged is quite an understatement – the vast central part reaches over 30 metres and all the rooms are situated on 5 floors surrounding it. There are two restaurants, a lobby bar and an absolutely lovely-looking spa and relax facility. Apart from a hotel show-round, I’m also here to try out the dining options and settle in at Biblioteket (The Library) restaurant. After some bubbly to start, it’s Arctic char, followed by the rabbit for me, washed down with a nice glass of Nero d’Avola. Round the meal off with an ice cider from Brännland in Norrland, in the far north. Unsurprisingly I sleep like a log that night, before further adventures await.
To be continued…
General information (and for booking activities):
easyJet (www.easyjet.com) flies direct from London Gatwick twice a week in winter.
Where to stay:
Hotel Fjällgården (www.fjallgarden.com), Åre’s prime ski-in, ski-out hotel. Perfect location, cosy open fires, outdoor hot-tubs and the après-ski with live bands has to be heard to be believed.
Copperhill Mountain Lodge (www.copperhill.se/en), Åre’s most luxurious, also offers ski-in, ski-out options. Surrounded by pristine countryside, with excellent spa facilities. Highly recommended.
Bring on the snow!
Getting off my easyJet flight to Åre Östersund airport, an icy blast of cold hits me – a welcome wake-up call after the early departure from London’s Gatwick. The temperature is showing a cool -7C as I disembark on a glorious January day; blazing sunshine with a fluffy blanket of thick snow and deep frost covering the landscape.
My destination is Fjällgården, my hotel in Åre, (www.fjallgarden.se), Sweden’s key ski resort with some 1500 souls to its name. Dumping my bags at Fjällgården, I get ready to head off on my first adventure of the day; a so-called gastronomy walk.
Out in the wilderness, 7 kilometres outside of Åre proper, I meet my guide Emil, a soft-spoken Dane who seems truly at home in this mountainous, snowy environment despite hailing from much further south. I’m wondering where on earth all the restaurants for the gastronomy walk are hiding, but I’m of an adventurous bent, and figure things will soon become clear. Instead I focus on the gorgeous views of Lake Åresjön and Åreskutan mountain (1420 m) in the sunshine, perfect for a snap-happy journalist on assignment. As it turns out, our gastronomy walk involves strapping on some snowshoes and walking through the snowy scenery, enjoying nibbles along the way (https://www.exploreare.se/are-gastronomy-walk-winter-2/) – how groovy is that? I feel rather silly in my long coat and handbag, having assumed we’d be in posh restaurants, but at least I’ve had the foresight to wear enough clothes. The temperature has been steadily dropping since my arrival in Sweden and dipped down to -24C at one stage (luckily while I was still in the car from the airport). Now it’s hovering between -17C and -22C and I’m grateful to be moving about with snowshoes on – good exercise and a great way to keep warm. We follow a snowmobile track to our first nibble-stop, which has excellent views of the lake and snowy forest-scape. I enjoy a fresh, slightly sharp and tangy-tasting blueberry juice, containing nothing but pure blueberries. This is the only cold drink of the walk, for which I am exceedingly grateful. It’s accompanied by saffron biscotti – all local products – which are tasty too, although I find it hard to envisage this being a great place for saffron harvests… Then it’s time to walk a good, long way down the hill, making me wonder if we’ll have to walk back uphill as well. Sure enough, Emil is already preparing us for things to come, explaining we’ll be feeling much warmer going back up.
Emil makes us a nice “snow seat”, with some rubber mats to sit on and we continue grazing. Some hot meadow sweet juice (älgörtsdricka), two different types of local crisp bread and thin slivers of chewy, smoky reindeer meat are swiftly consumed. It’s thirsty and hungry work, this snowshoeing. After a goodly pause, we start trundling up the slope again, giving me ample time to ponder just how unfit I’ve become in London. I huff, puff and pant my way up the slopes with my snowshoes unstrapped at the back, to make moving uphill easier, but they’re starting to feel a bit cumbersome by now. The sun is setting behind the mountains, as we reach the top and make our way to a nice viewpoint. I enjoy the sunset while Emil makes a fire for hot drinks al fresco. This time we start with a warming reindeer broth, full of salty goodness and much appreciated in the increasing cold. Then there’s extra chewy, gamey and herby-garlicky sausage from nearby Michelin-starred restaurant Fäviken (www.favikenmagasinet.se), more reindeer cold cuts and freshly brewed coffee from a local coffee roasting place. It’s so palatable that for once I don’t miss milk and sugar. We round off this feast with cloudberry truffles. An unusual and extremely tasty gastronomy adventure.
Back at Fjällgården, the hotel is by now positively vibrating with the après-ski crowd, so I make a swift dash for my room. No point joining in before I’ve even skied, I figure. Åre is enjoying a fabulous amount of snow during my visit and when I try to admire the view from the balcony, it’s so full of snow, I can’t get the door open – window-views only for the time being.
In the early evening, I walk down the road to Hotel Granen (The Spruce, http://aregranen.se/en/). It’s been awhile since I was anywhere this rural and it soon dawns on me that walking down the road towards the village, there are no streetlights. Also, I forgot to wear those reflector thingies you’re supposed to pin to your coat. Oh well, it’s a nice, snowy walk and traffic is minimal. This isn’t like the Alps, where people wear their finery to dinner, it’s a lot more casual – at least on a January Sunday – and I feel somewhat overdressed for the occasion. The hotel is one of the older ones in Åre, dating back to 1916, and it’s suitably cosy. I settle in for a light Sunday dinner of mushroom risotto washed down with Barolo wine – a nice combo. The risotto is cooked to perfection with a slight crunchiness to the rice, a mix of Portobello, oyster and chanterelle mushrooms, baby spinach, truffle oil and parmesan. And what better time to try two different Barolo wines, all in the line of journalistic duty? As my hotel is much further up the slopes, I then opt for the cable car on the way back. It’s been a good, but long, first day in Jämtland.
The beds are extra comfy and I only struggle out of mine after some 11 hours. While I’ve been snoozing, the weather has turned and it’s snowing cats and dogs. Well, dogs mostly, as it turns out.
This morning I’m off on a dogsledding adventure with Åre Sleddog (http://aresleddog.se/en/). Determined to at least be dressed appropriately this time, I wear all my layers, but even that isn’t enough. Despite a much warmer day – only 6 or 7 degrees below zero – the wind has got up and the wind chill factor alone is enough to freeze you solid. I’m spending the morning sitting on the sled, not doing any mushing myself, so staying warm is even harder. It’s quite a rustic experience, without much in the way of creature comforts, but that’s all part of the charm. Tommy, who runs Åre Sleddog, suggests I borrow a snowmobile overall, which proves to be sound advice. We set off into the deep forest with me on a reindeer pelt on the sled, and Tommy mushing the 9 Alaskans huskies. We’re out for about an hour and the piercing wind is bitter. The sled is also somewhat on the wide side and I’m mostly used to sitting on an office chair, legs together. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride at first, along a forested track, but I soon get into the spirit of things and the dogs are clearly loving it, running at full pelt and frolicking in the snow. We slide through the forest and out onto the frozen Lake Helgesjön for a good stretch and it is an exhilarating feeling, discomforts notwithstanding. Dogs being dogs though, several of them take the opportunity to “do their business” while running and multiple wafts of doggie poo keep hitting my nostrils. Best to turn one’s head and focus on the scenery instead… The dogs are, on the whole, quite cute and I get the chance to meet and greet them pre- and post-dogsledding. The oldest out for a run with us is Zeus who’s 12 ½ years old (most retire at 11) and the oldest in the kennel, Baloo, is 14. There are 55 dogs altogether – all Alaskan huskies – and Tommy’s been working with dogsledding for well over 20 years. He’s competed quite widely in long-distance races, going for days on end. Sounds like remarkable feats to me! Dogsledding and dog cuddles over, we retire indoors for a much-needed, warming cup of tea.
In terms of winter adventures, so far, so good.
To be continued…
General information (and for booking activities):
Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) flies direct from London Gatwick twice a week in winter.
Where to stay:
Hotel Fjällgården (www.fjallgarden.se), Åre’s prime ski-in, ski-out hotel. Perfect location, cosy open fires, outdoor hot-tubs and the après-ski with live bands has to be heard to be believed.
Hotel Granen (www.aregranen.se/en), halfway up the slopes, less of a party place, good restaurant with great wines.