Mid-summer weekend trip – Lake Vänern

Midsummer is one of the biggest holidays in Sweden and involves a lot of eating, drinking and frog- dancing around the maypole!

This year the midsummer holiday fell on 19 June – which was a Friday, making it a long weekend. A long weekend for us = trip! So I immediately set about planning it. Given that it’s still Corona times, we decided that a road trip would be the safest and also the easiest with our travel-loving pooch, Mia.

A maypole

After a few hours of research, I picked the area around Lake Vänern, the biggest lake in Sweden and in all of EU (not Europe). The lake consists of 22,000 islands and inlets and its shoreline includes meadows, deciduous swamp forests, and extensive wetlands and bird habitats. The region is famous for kayaking, canoeing, fishing, swimming and hiking. Or, you could be like us, and just soak in all the nature beauty from a lovely picnic spot!

Picking the destination was easy but finding a place to stay, not so much. What we hadn’t realised is that summer in Sweden is when everyone leaves the city. And given the virus, no one was traveling abroad. So this meant that there were very few self-catering options left to choose from and none in the preferred area. However, we found a cute cottage/cabin that was still available in Håverud, located near the north-western shores of the lake and about 400kms from Stockholm. This was slightly farther afield than what we were hoping for but hey-ho, beggars can’t really be choosers!

(Click on the images to view gallery)

Traveling on midsummers day

We left Stockholm around 10am on Friday, in our rental car – again, finding one last minute was expensive and with not many options to choose from. So highly recommend booking all summer trips way in advance.

Given that it was a holiday, the roads were really empty and it took us no time to get onto the main highway. The drive for the most part was completely stress and traffic-free. Driving non-stop would have taken us about five hours to get to Håverud, but we decided to make a few stops enroute and check out some towns along the way.

Our first stop was Kristinehamn, located on the shores of Lake Vanern. On a normal day, the town would be a lovely and vibrant place to explore. However, on midsummers, it was completely deserted. There was not a soul in sight – literally. We parked in the main town square and decided to take a quick walk to find a place to eat. The only places open were a kebab shop and a burger/steak place. We opted for the latter and surprisingly, the food was really good.

Fun fact: One of the world’s largest Picasso sculptures just happen to be in Kristinehamn!

We had also planned to stop at Karlstad but given our experience with Kristinehamn, we decided to skip it and instead stopped for coffee at Alsters herrgård, an 18th century manor where the famous Swedish poet Gustaf Fröding was born in 1860. The house is open all through summer and visits are free. There is a cafe/restaurant on the premises with a beautiful courtyard overlooking the gardens and the lake.

From here we continued towards Håverud, driving through some really picturesque landscapes and pretty towns. Summer days are really long in Sweden, so even though we arrived at our cottage just after 6pm, we still had plenty of daylight left to go exploring.

We had planned to pick up some groceries nearer to Håverud, but given the holiday, we didn’t find any that were open. So dinner was some takeaway pizza – which we were thankful to have found – with some wine (the only thing we had pre-planned and carried from Stockholm). Talk about getting our priorities right!

(Click on the images to view gallery)

Håverud

Håverud is best known for its aqueduct, where the rail, road and waterway intersect, and its locks. The locks are part of the 250 kms long Dalsland canal system that takes you through some stunning waterways. Initially, the canal was mainly used to transport goods but later the railway took over and now the canal serves pleasure boats, canoes and passenger boats. If you don’t have your own boat to sail down the canal, you can still enjoy it by booking a half or full day canal boat trip. The famous hiking trail, the pilgrim path, also passes through here.

Fun fact: There are 31 locks along the Dalsland canal, four of which are in Håverud.

The next day, we had planned to hike a part of the pilgrims trail near Åmål but the weather didn’t hold and decided to chuck buckets on us non stop. So we drove around the area, hopping from one view point to another! All along the lake, there are some really stunning spots where you will find yourself more or less alone, even on a busy weekend such as this one.

(Click on the images to view gallery)

Läckö Slott and Lidköpings

The rain did not relent the next day either. We had no choice but to carry on with our plans as time was limited. Our plan was to drive to Läckö Slott, a beautiful medieval castle on the shores of Lake Vänern. Although not as grand or imposing as maybe the castles of Germany or the chateaux of France, Läckö is charming in its own way.

Note: dogs are not allowed inside the caste but are allowed in the grounds.

From the castle, we headed to the fishing village of Spiken, only 10 minutes away. Spiken is Europe´s biggest freshwater harbour, bustling with cafes and stores in the summer months. Of Lake Vänern’s 60 or so professional fishermen, 13 operate at Spiken with catch including fish such as zander, burbot, pike, perch, vendace, salmon trout and salmon. So of course we didn’t miss this opportunity to try some of the local delicacies.

We made a quick stop at Lidköping, seat of the local municipality of the Västra Götaland county and well known for its iconic old town hall building.

Fun fact: At 9 a.m., midday, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. the bells of the Old Town Hall play different tunes

When we reached Havrud, the rain had stopped just enough to allow us to go for a walk along the canal and the lock. But before long, it started up again and we spent yet another evening listening to the drumming of raindrops in our cabin whilst enjoying some sizzling hot lasagne. Yes, we had finally managed to stock up!

The drive back

Despite the fact that we had not been able to really walk in the forest or hike up a trail as planned, we were glad to have made it out of the city. Since the lockdown in France in early March, we had not really ventured out except for our move from Paris to Stockholm. So getting away from the hustle and bustle, really felt invigorating.

The drive back was nice and easy, albeit a little long. Enroute we managed a quick pit-stop at Örebro, the sixth largest city in Sweden. The Örebro castle is located right in the city centre, surrounded by some beautiful parks, restaurants and cafes. We didn’t have time to visit the castle this time but perhaps another time.

(Click on the images to view gallery)

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