Is five star luxury always the fastest route to relaxation? Probably not, as Penny Bunting discovers when she goes off-grid in Sweden
What’s the best sort of holiday to take when you’re feeling stressed out? When the pressures of work and modern life become almost too much to bear, and you long to unwind? Many might opt for a five star, all mod cons luxury holiday. But are flat screen TVs and butler service really the best antidote to stress?
By the end of our first day at Naturbyn, we have already started to realise that on-tap luxury isn’t necessarily the fastest route to relaxation. Instead we have gone “back to basics” – staying in an off-grid, lakeside log cabin, in a forest in the Värmland region of Sweden. There is no electricity – light comes from candles and oil lamps – and no mains water.
What we do have, though, is four extremely comfortable beds, a fabulous view across the lake and plenty of privacy. Although there are four other forest cabins – including two rather luxurious and romantic tree houses, ideal for couples – these are out of sight, spaced discreetly amongst the trees.
These cosy cabins – nestled in the woods by a beautiful lake – are tranquil and feel pleasingly remote, but are by no means isolated: there is a small village with supermarket two miles away, along an easily accessible road. Being off-grid means that the environmental impact of the accommodation is virtually zero.
Owner Thomas hand-built all the cabins himself. The care, and attention to detail, that he devotes to managing the site is impressive. From the warm welcome given to guests on arrival to the candles and lamps dotted strategically around the camp: there are many small but thoughtful and carefully-crafted touches that make you realise you’ve arrived somewhere rather special.
Going back to basics does present some challenges, though. Our daughters, aged 14 and 12, have already taken the first two challenges in their stride. No electricity or wifi means no smart phones or social media – but the girls have been far too busy leaping off the jetty into the clean, deep water of the lake to care.
And, at first, the absence of a flushing toilet caused some concerns – but these were soon dismissed after a visit to the dry composting toilets, which turned out to be surprisingly pleasant.
In the morning a third challenge presents itself: making a cup of coffee. At home we simply flick a switch, but our caffeine-fix here was going to be a little harder to come by.
So we meander through the dappled sunlight of the forest to the communal cooking area. All cooking is done over an open fire in the large, covered fire pit. There’s a camp kitchen with washing up facilities and an electricity-free army fridge that Thomas replenishes with fresh ice early each morning.
Preparing breakfast is an elaborate affair. First the fire needs to be made. The children are set the task of stripping bark from birch logs for kindling, while Rich splits logs with an axe. I collect water for the kettle – a nearby spring gushes out of the ground, offering pure, clear, cold drinking water.
At first – still in the rush and hurry mode of modern life and used to having things like hot water and power instantly available – I am impatient. It’s taking too long, I think.
But then I watch as the children work together, breaking eggs into a bowl for French toast, while Rich feeds more logs onto the fire, and a new thought occurs to me: this is what we are doing now. Suddenly I find I am enjoying the moment, not thinking about rushing through this experience to get to the next one. We are working as a family, as a team, to fulfill a most basic need – nourishment – and are completely focused on the task in hand.
And soon enough the fire is blazing and the kettle is boiling. And my coffee, which has taken so long to prepare, tastes all the more delicious for the wait.
The day unfolds, without planning or tick lists, and we live in each moment as it arrives. After breakfast we swim in the lake, then go canoeing.
Lake Eldan stretches for miles through an unspoilt forest landscape. There are little islands with beaches that are perfect for swimming, and the lake is full of perch and pike if you want to catch your own supper.
We paddle across to investigate a small mountain of twigs and branches – a beaver’s lodge. Beavers are Europe’s largest rodent and are just one of the fascinating species that live in this region, which is also home to elk, lynx and wolves. There’s no sign of the beavers – they’re largely nocturnal – so we vow to return at dusk to see if we can spot them.
We’re also intrigued by a cabin, floating in the middle of the lake and accessible only by canoe. This is where we’ll be spending the final night of our stay.
Another of Thomas’s hand-built constructions, the cabin is anchored to the bottom of the lake with chains and revolves slowly in the gentle breeze. This reveals, in turns, a fire pit for cooking, a wooden deck for sitting, and floor-to-ceiling windows through which we catch glimpses of a comfortable interior.
Back on dry land we cook supper on the campfire: sausages, beans and toasted marshmallows. Then we light up the lakeside sauna. A wood burning stove heats the timber building, and before long we’re languishing on wooden benches and inhaling the fragrant steam.
We’re in Sweden so it is, of course, obligatory to race down the wooden pier outside and plunge into the cool waters of the lake immediately afterwards.
Arriving at the floating cabin by canoe the following morning is an exciting event. There are exclamations of delight as we explore – it’s simply but beautifully furnished in pine, with a large double bed, bunks for the kids, and everything we need to be self-sufficient. The cabin has its own dry toilet “en-suite” – so no need to paddle across the lake in the middle of the night to use the facilities.
We’ve brought plenty of food and water with us. So once we’ve settled in, there’s no desire to return to the “mainland”.
The decking makes an excellent diving board, and the weather is glorious, so we all take turns at jumping into the water. The still, flat surface of the lake also makes for easy paddling and the kids are confident enough, with their life jackets on, to take the canoes out and explore on their own.
Meanwhile, at the back of the cabin, swallows put on an impressive aerial performance. The birds have built a nest under the eaves, and the two adults are busy feeding their three babies, which peer down at us nonchalantly.
It’s a fantastic spot. Thomas canoes over to see if all is going well, and Rich tells him that his lovingly-constructed floating cabin is a work of genius.
Later, we sit on the deck with a glass of wine and enjoy the ever-changing view as the cabin turns slowly. The girls splash happily about in the water – swimming, diving and paddling – and the sun begins to set, streaking the deep blue sky with hues of orange and pink.
A flock of geese flies overhead in classic V formation, and lands with a pleasantly noisy kerfuffle further along the lake.
A feeling creeps over us, an unfamiliar feeling – and then I identify this new and curious sensation: complete relaxation.
At dusk, we head out in canoes to search for beavers. We spot an object streaming through the water, and paddle towards it. In the dim light, we can just make out a dog-like head – then there is an almighty splash as the beaver slaps its powerful tail upon the surface of the lake and dives underwater.
We make our way slowly back to the cabin, scanning for more beavers as we go – but by now it’s almost too dark to see.
Then we hear it – the unmistakable, long, low howl of a wolf. It’s a magical sound, and to think that we share this forest environment with these wonderful creatures is exhilarating.
WAY TO GO
The Bunting family went Back to Basics in Cosy Cabins with Nature Travels. This experience is available from 1 May to 30 October, and costs from £300 per cabin (sleeps 4) for 3 days / 2 nights, including unlimited use of canoes.
Nature Travels is the only operator in the UK specialising exclusively in responsible outdoor holidays in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Nature Travels works with small, locally-owned companies to offer environmentally and culturally sensitive experiences, and has a strong commitment to support and protect the environment, biodiversity and wildlife. For more information visit www.naturetravels.co.uk.
Green Adventures October 2015
That night – as we lay tucked up in our gently bobbing beds, enjoying the view of the night sky through the cabin’s huge windows – we all agree that this is the most unusual and idyllic place we’ve ever stayed.
“Back to basics” is far more luxurious than we could ever have imagined – and not a flat screen TV in sight.