I’m standing on the banks of the Klarälven river in Sweden’s vast, empty Värmland county and I must look apprehensive about the task at hand – constructing a raft out of 60 pine logs, then navigating it 10km downstream – because my instructor Jan is quick to offer up this stat.
He looks like he knows what he’s doing – suntanned skin, weathered hands, wearing waders like they’re not the most ludicrous things in the world – so I push aside my nerves, pull up my own thigh-high wellies and get stuck in.
About three hours north of Stockholm, Värmland – all 4,560sq miles of it – is renowned for its natural beauty, namely lakes (more than 11,000 of them), forests and endless opportunities for adventure.
Merely one day into our five-day trip around this wild, beautiful region and my boyfriend and I have decided it could be Europe’s best-kept secret for fans of the great outdoors.
Scenery comes in widescreen round here: tall, spindly pines for miles in every direction, those huge, crystal-clear lakes and mountains carpeted in trees standing dark and mysterious on the horizon.
It all looks exactly how you want Sweden to look. Plus there’s the added thrill of potentially spotting a moose or, gasp, a bear (rare, we’re told, but I keep my eyes peeled regardless).
Back to those logs. It’s a slow process, and Jan’s patience with me as he explains, repeatedly, how to perfect the art of the ‘half hitch’ knot is astonishing, but four hours, some serious lifting, rolling, rope-tying and teamwork later, and we’re standing in front of the good ship Lady Jane and she’s ready to go.
As we set sail, my departing exchange with Jan is fresh in my mind. Me, shrill: ‘But how do we steer it?’ Him, amused: ‘You don’t – the river will take you!’
We soon realise why this activity once made National Geographic’s ‘50 tours of a lifetime’ list. Floating down the river in silence overlooked by nothing but the endless trees, watching the water sparkle as it unfolds ahead of us, breathing what feels like the freshest air in the world, is about as peaceful – and safe – an experience as you’re ever going to get.
We take time to explore more of Värmland over the next few days, heading further into the forests and discovering riverside hikes, mountain bike trails, fishing and picnic spots, fields, farms and innumerable spots to stop for ‘fika’, the traditional Swedish practice of pausing for coffee and cake.
Cheeks become ruddy and shoulders sag as our lungs become accustomed to the fresh air and our ears attuned to the total silence, save for the odd rippling stream, kite call or crackle of the forest floor underfoot.
When the time comes to head home, reluctant to leave behind the landscapes, active endeavours and beautiful wildlife, I ask my boyfriend if he’d recommend it here. His reply? ‘Definitely, it’s amazing. Plus my mates would love it because you get to use an axe.’
So there you have it – an under-the-radar destination bursting with epic scenery and adventures where you can immerse yourself in nature and harness your inner lumberjack.
Rafting packages from £149pp for two days, or £297pp for five days, vildmark.se. For more info, see visitvarmland.com and visitsweden.com. Flights from London to Stockholm from £107 return, flysas.com
Remember to check entry requirements for the country you are planning to visit. Currently you do not need to quarantine on arrival to or return from Sweden.
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