The winter paradise of Swedish Lapland is now even more connected thanks to a new direct flight

Arctic Retreat – PA Photo/Graeme Richardson

For two weeks of the year, before the first snowfall arrives, the lakes of northern Sweden freeze black. It’s a paradise for expert skaters like guide Michael Bergdahl, who glide across the surface as if floating on clouds. Eager to share the experience, I put on a pair of blades for the first time.

Shinier than a slab of polished onyx, the River Råne is decorated with rosettes of ice, the first buds of winter. It’s an inviting platform for a performance of flips and twizzles, but my dreams of impersonating Torvill and Dean were quickly cut short when, after an hour, I’m still holding Michael’s arm.

I’m not too old to try something new. But, at 44, I’m wise enough to accept that some things aren’t for me. Instead, I’m much happier on a kicksled, reveling in childlike nostalgia, until I’m told that the metal-skid-mounted Zimmer frame is the retirees’ preferred mode of transportation around town.

Sarah Marshall tries a kicksled on the River Råne - Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall tries a kicksled on the River Råne – Sarah Marshall

The people of Lulea were born on blades. The coastal city, which sits by the sheltered Bothnian Sea where waves crash between Sweden and Finland, swells in size when its archipelago of more than 1,000 islands is locked in ice.

Parents with prams skate along ice paths created by snow plows to reach island cafes selling hot waffles, and cars drive on 40cm-thick frozen seasonal roads.

Although it is 133 km from the Arctic Circle, Lulea is quickly becoming a great place to live. A new green steel industry is creating thousands of jobs, while tech giants like Facebook have taken advantage of cold temperatures by storing their servers in giant warehouses, turning the place into a northern Silicon Valley frozen.

Lulea - Maria Sward

Lulea – Maria Sward

The Swedish Lapland metropolis is about to get even more connected with a new direct SAS seasonal flight from London Heathrow, from December 9 to March 13. It’s a game-changer for fans of the winter wonderlands of Scandinavia, which previously required almost a full day of travel to get there; the only other direct routes from the UK are flights to Tromso in Norway or charters to see Santa Claus in Rovaniemi in Finland. It is now possible to go dog sledding, sledding or chasing the Northern Lights within three hours of departing London.

Sarah Marshall - Sarah Marshall

Sarah Marshall – Sarah Marshall

Even better, Sweden is one of the few countries where the pound remains strong; compared to 12 months ago, it fell from 11.98 against the Swedish krona to 12.63, according to XE.com.

A university town, with historical highlights ranging from the 17th century suburb of Gammelstad to the world’s first commercial centre, Lulea is a pleasant destination. But it really functions as a gateway to more fascinating places in nature.

Lulea really works as a gateway to more fascinating places in nature - Graeme Richardson

Lulea really works as a gateway to more fascinating places in nature – Graeme Richardson

The base of my (mis)skating adventure is Arctic Retreat, in the small village of Gunnarsbyn (from SEK10,000 / £791 per night full board for two; arcticretreat.se).

Three elegant Finnish-built pine cabins have been set around the Råne River, each with an outdoor hot tub to gaze at the sparkling treetops and the Northern Lights. Clouds wipe out any sightings while I’m there (although depending on the apps activity is high), so instead I sip a local forest-infused GnT, chilled with frozen berries, and enjoy the quiet. , without even a breath of wind.

Arctic Retreat - PA Photo/Graeme Richardson

Arctic Retreat – PA Photo/Graeme Richardson

This area has become a hub for boutique hotels, a trend started by Kent and Britta Lindvall when they launched the Treehotel in Harads 12 years ago. The couple recently sold their business, but when I arrive Kent is making the final adjustments to his farewell legacy: the Biosphere Room (from SEK13,000/£1,027 a night full board for two; treehotel. se). Designed by Danish architects BIG, the glass and metal dome is covered with 350 wooden birdhouses.

The Biosphere Room - Mats Engfors/Fotographic

The Biosphere Room – Mats Engfors/Fotographic

“The designers worked with naturalists to build holes suitable for different species,” Kent says, as a red squirrel weaves its way through the frosty treetops to steal seeds from a feeder. Built to boost biodiversity and help the declining populations of northern Sweden’s winged residents, the hall already attracts blue tits, woodpeckers and owls – even in winter.

Biosphere - Mats Engfors/Fotographic

Biosphere – Mats Engfors/Fotographic

A short walk away, the Hotel Arctic Bath is another design triumph (from SEK7,788/£616 pp including breakfast and spa kit; arcticbath.se). A circular structure set in the Lulea River, it has a sauna circuit and a central cold water pool. The gourmet restaurant also earns accolades. As part of a six-course menu, I dine on fried lichen dusted with blueberry dust and hand-pushed caviar from locally caught Vendace fish (dinner from SEK1,295/£102pp).

The Arctic Bath Hotel - PA Photo/Sarah Marshall

The Arctic Bath Hotel – PA Photo/Sarah Marshall

Sleeping in a floating chamber on the river, I listen to the ice heave and moan as it settles into a comfortable position for the next six months. At dawn, around 9 a.m., steam rises from the open water sheets, curling up against a pink opal sky. The trees turned into shimmering, brittle skeletons, their branches shining rose gold above the crystallized blades of grass.

Although Treehotel and Arctic Bath are both upscale, Brandon Lodge – closer to Lulea – is a more affordable option (cabin-only from SEK2,695 / £213 for two; brandonlodgelapland.com). Snowfall has already arrived at the coastal property, which offers 15 forest cabins and a buffet restaurant located on a north-facing slope, perfect for viewing the Northern Lights. Also open to non-guests, Brandon can organize typical winter activities as well as hovercraft rides on the frozen sea, dinners in a towed cabin on the ice and, from February 9, chasing the northern lights from a hot air balloon. captive.

Sarah stayed in a floating river room at the Arctic Bath Hotel - Graeme Richardson

Sarah stayed in a floating river room at the Arctic Bath Hotel – Graeme Richardson

Since the sea is not frozen yet, I spend a morning fishing on a nearby lake (from 1,300 SEK). While my guide, Nils, drills several holes with a giant corkscrew, I kneel on reindeer skins and dangle a rod so small it could have been pulled from a Christmas cookie. Sure, I don’t catch anything, but the novelty of drinking coffee around a fire while the water is flowing less than a meter below me is entertainment enough.

“I love the feeling of freedom of being really wild,” says Nils, who moved from Paris. Nodding at the monochrome landscape, he adds, “Sometimes I feel like I’m in a black and white movie.

Sarah fishing on a nearby lake - Sarah Marshall

Sarah fishing on a nearby lake – Sarah Marshall

One Lulean resident whose house really looks like a movie set is Western fanatic Roger Laestadius. Dressed in a Stetson and woolen poncho, Swede John Wayne welcomes me to his family’s former dairy farm in Boden, which now functions as Rånisgården’s equestrian center (a 2.5 hour ride costs from SEK1,990/£157 pp; ranisgarden.se). On the way back to the airport, this is a convenient last stop.

“I learned to ride a cow when my parents refused to buy me a pony,” says the capable rider while saddling my horse, Patrick. We ride through fields and forests, ending up in a Wild West theme park that Roger helped build. Despite my best cowgirl efforts, however, I fail to show Patrick “who’s boss” and conclude that winter riding is another activity that probably isn’t for me.

But in Lulea, the adventure is in trying something new – and if things don’t go as planned, there’s always the recourse to a beautiful landscape, a sauna and a GnT with frozen berries.

travel facts

SAS flies to Lulea from London Heathrow from £106 one way. www.flysas.com

For more information on Lulea, go to www.visitsweden.com

Have you been to Lulea? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments

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