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Exploring the Woods and Water of  Östergötland Sweden

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The FAM trip I took in central Sweden

I was pleased to visit Sweden for the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) Summit held in Gothenburg, Sweden, in September 2019. I hadn’t been to Sweden in a long time and was looking forward to a new adventure. 

Members of ATTA were allowed to pick one exciting side trip offered by the various 24 Swedish tour operators. I chose a 3-day easy hiking & foodie nature tour located in central southeast Sweden county of OsterGotland. I visited Mjolby, Omberg, Lake Takern bird sanctuary, Sartshoga Vineyard, and Vadstena, learning about the culture and history. I experienced a slower-paced countryside area with fresh air, clean water, and lots of forests.

Day 1: Stockholm to Mjolby

I arrived in Stockholm via SAS airlines and proceeded to take the train to the small town of Mjolby to start the adventure. It took a couple of hours to get there by train. It is not noisy nor terribly busy. In fact, I found it quite easy to disembark and make my way to the Mjolby Stadthotell across the street from the train station. My room was adequate for a single traveler with an en suite bathroom. The main dining room stayed open late so I could nap and get dinner later in the evening. The breakfast buffet is complete in the morning with everything for a healthy start to the day.

Day 2: Mjolby to Omberg

Six of us met up with our tour operator host the next morning to begin our journey. We piled in the luxury Peugeot van and started down the highway towards Omberg. Our tour guide Linda has owned her tour operator company, Woods and Water, since 2009. It was a great day to begin driving the highways of central Sweden.

Omberg for lunch and a hike and a fika

Upon arriving at the Stocklycke Café, we had a specially prepared delicious lunch as given by hostess Hannah. She explained how she and her husband purchased this property a few years earlier. We were given a tour of the grounds showing the various buildings and told of how there are popular concerts held on the grounds. 

Afterward, we hiked easily through the woods to see the pristine Lake Vattern’s beautiful rocky shoreline. There are miles of hiking trails through these woods, but we were there just for a quick visit to see what is possible. We also were told of the mythic fables surrounding the area, replete with giants walking across the lake to take possession of maidens for their own keeping. 😉 

Our tour guide preferred for us not to share GPS coordinates as she prides herself on keeping this area available only to those who can understand and respect the ways to reduce their carbon footprint. In other words, she doesn’t want throngs of tourists visiting to trash out the place.

Later on in the afternoon, we experienced an outdoor Fika session. Fika is the word for an afternoon coffee & sweets regularly enjoyed by the Swedes. Our host extended the experience for us to learn this way of life by teaching us how to light a fire in an open firepit, add water to the coffee pot, heat it up, then pour it over individual cups. Enjoyed with a traditional Swedish cinnamon bun, and you’ve got a delicious pick-me-up to keep going.

Unique Urnatur was naturally beautiful

Our next stop was at the unusual and astonishing Urnatur treehouses, where we spent the night. The 800 hectares started out as a creative project by Ulrike and Hakan, both PhDs, who had a vision for a sustainable living and playground unique to the area. Hakan handcrafted 20 Individual little cabins, some high up in the trees, others nestled on the ground with thatched grass roofs.

We made our dinner in the outdoor communal kitchen over an open fire we figured out how to start ourselves. A variety of garden vegetables in baskets were waiting to be utilized. It was an interesting experience to have six strangers, all with strong personalities, determine how we would mix, season, and serve this unique concoction we made. At one point, the fire was too strong (some had pyromaniac tendencies, haha), and the wind was blowing the heavy smoke to pile up in the area where others were chopping and preparing the vegetables. 

Fortunately, it was easy to walk out into the open grassy area in front of the communal kitchen, where Adirondack chairs and benches were placed around another small fire pit. Our communal dinner was finished with a bottle of local wine, and we retreated to our treehouses for the night. 

Bringing nature inside the cabin for an authentic experience

I had chosen “The Little Raven Nest” treehouse adjacent to the much larger “The Raven’s Nest,” which can accommodate a small family. I had a tree in the middle of the room, swaying all night with squeaks and groans. It took me a while to get used to this kind of quietude with the restless 100-ft tall forest conversing the whole night. 

UrNatur has no electricity (nor wifi) in any of the treehouses. There are candles to be lit with matches and small wooden stoves for heat. I bundled up in warm clothing and used my solar charger as my night light. It was about 50 degrees, so I didn’t think it was really necessary to light the stove for warmth. But during the night, I had to use the outhouse, which requires going down 50 stairs in the dark (save for my solar charger flashlight) and making my way through the soft underbrush to the lone outhouse with no-flush toilets.

It was fantastic to wake up in the morning (no curtains on the windows), so the light filtering through the swaying birch trees with hints of blue sky peeking through was a delight to see. Down the pathway to the other end of the complex was the bathroom/shower/sauna building. 

Breakfast was going to be served in the building they affectionately dubbed the “Tin House.” It’s about a 15-minute walk to that building, whereby you pass all the farm animals in a bucolic, serene setting who cautiously eye the newest visitors to their nature farm.

The Tin House (which has wifi) has a view of the lake if you sit outside at the wooden tables, or you can choose to eat inside. It has a coffee bar, complete with a silver Samovar, which inspired me to start up a conversation with Ulrike on how she obtained it when she lived in Berlin.

We had the rest of the morning on our own, with some opting for a sauna and quick dip in the freezing cold lake. I took a stroll around the grounds, just breathing in nature, hoping to take just a bit of it back with me to the states. 

We learned that in the ten years Ulrike and Hakan operated their unique venture, they have had companies host teambuilding events. I thought it was a perfect place for that with all of the various outdoor activities available, including kayaking, swimming, hiking, biking, communal kitchen cooking, outdoor wood chopping, etc. It really presents as a breakaway place to unwind and decompress from regular city life.

Day 3: Lake Takern marshland with thousands of birds

Bidding our farewells to such a nice couple, we left to continue our journey onto Lake Takern, home to 18,000+ protected birds and wildlife. At the Naturum, we were given a private tour discussing all the various birds that come here to nest and breed, including the ubiquitous Greylag Goose, which I mistook for a Canada Goose until I looked closer at the markings. (They both sound similar when flying overhead).

Swedish winery with an attached restaurant

We were also taken to the Sartshoga Vineyard, the only winery in the region this far up in Central Sweden. Nicklas, the owner, kindly provided a tour of the vineyards, describing the grapes he grows and giving us some insight into Sweden’s governmental regulations on his entrepreneurship venture through taxation. It is not allowed for him to sell his wine to visitors, but you can drink it with dinner at the restaurant he created adjacent to his bed and breakfast. 

We had lovely homemade pizza with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. While some of our group stayed in the beautifully renovated farm rooms, another member of our group and I were taken to a nearby Swedish guesthouse and given private rooms. 

Tidernas Landskap guesthouse

The guesthouse experience is that there are two shared bathrooms, a main kitchen/dining area open to use by anyone, and a comfortable living room with sofas for relaxing, reading, playing games, or just enjoying some quiet time. This guesthouse is adjacent to the Church and Cemetery. The backyard expanse offers a distant view of Lake Vattern and plenty of open areas to sit and relax or let children play.

Day 4: The King’s Castle in Vadstena

The hamlet of Vadstena was next on our tour, where we were given a tour of the ancient Church. Any visit to Sweden requires you should know who their founding father was, King Gustav Vasa. The King gave us a personally narrated tour to see his castle. (At the end of our royal tour, King Gustav portrayed by an actor, admitted he has a favorite place in the United States. He said Texas! Haha! Because he lived there and worked in the Oil Industry in Houston. wink.)

We had lunch at a local cafe and afterward walked around the city to learn why four different architectural styles existed on one corner square. It was also an Art Tour Walk Day (Konstrunda), and everyone was out on this beautiful sunny day. We saw more buildings of antiquity, including the original brick one that shows how open windows upstairs were the toilet norm of the day. 

Then it was off to Dahlstromska Garden, once a mental institution for rich men and now a preserved historical place, where we were given a tour by the owner. She explained her sustainable management practices, reducing her carbon footprint to zero. Of course, she added that she and her husband live very frugally and waste nothing.

Vaderstad: Moving on to another Fika and an open-air flea market

It was a relief to have Fika at the Vaderstand Centralkonditoriet, where every kind of pastry dessert was displayed. It’s listed in the White Guide, Sweden’s food bible. Next door to the bakery was an open-air flea market going on, which I sauntered through and wished I could’ve brought some trinkets home.

Ancient Ruins and Runes

We were given a quick tour of the only remaining real rune stone standing in all of Sweden; the Rokstanen. It was created some time in the 9th century. It is about 8 feet tall. It stands close to the road and a nearby church. It’s known for its cryptic inscription, which combines several hundred words into one sentence by Theodoric the Great.

We also quickly explored the Alvastra Monastery Ruins nearby. It was an abbey created in the 12th century by the French Clairvaux Monks. The land had been given to them by King Sverker. One hundred years later, a young Swedish woman named Bridget (Birgitta), known as a mystic since childhood, stayed there. She had revelations and visions. She devoted her life to charity and religion. Thus, she became a saint in 1391.

Day 5: Ellen Key house tour against the windswept shore of Lake Vattern

The Ellen Key house was impressive. You enter the grounds through a long walkway that winds down to the shores of Lake Vattern. On your way down there are incredible views to behold. There are also outdoor sitting places one can just relax and take in the surrounding natural space. 

The house was built in the early 1900s and is perfectly preserved. We were given a tour to learn not only about the house but also about the famed Swedish author, Ellen Key. This ended our touring of the OsterGotland municipality of central Sweden. 

It was a 3-hour ride back to Gothenberg where we said our farewells to Linda and scampered off to our hotels. Note that arriving at the Gothenberg Central Square made for an easy walk to all of our nearby hotels. I stayed at the Radisson Blue Scandinavia across the river next to a beautiful 18th-century park. 

That concluded my Pre-Summit Adventure (PSA aka FAM) which gave me a good idea on how easy it would be to rent a car and drive the surrounding countryside of Sweden, exploring this beautiful land independently. 

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