It’s only ninety minutes north by train from Stockholm to GÄVLE (pronounced “yerv-luh”, and confusingly similar to a much-used Swedish swear word), capital of the province of Gästrikland. Gävle is also the southernmost city of Norrland, the region – comprising almost two-thirds of Sweden – which represents wilderness territory in the minds of most Swedes. To all intents and purposes, Norrland, Sweden’s main reservoir of natural resources with vast forests and large ore deposits, means everything north of Uppsala; crossing into here from Svealand (which together with Götland makes up the southern third of the country) is – as far as the Swedish psyche is concerned – like leaving civilization behind.
Although Gävle is one of the bigger towns in Norrland, you can comfortably see everything in a day. Your first point of call should be Gamla Gefle, the old town district, where you’ll also find the town’s two museums, Joe Hill-Gården and Länsmuséet Gävleborg. Nearby, the Heliga Trefaldighets kyrka is a riot of seventeenth-century woodcarving and makes a pleasant stop en route to Gävle’s city park, Boulognerskogen, a vast expanse of forested parkland ideal for a picnic or a leisurely stroll.
Gävle’s town charter was granted as long ago as 1446, a fact that’s at variance with the modernity of the centre’s large squares, broad avenues and proud monumental buildings. The city was almost completely rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1869 and its docks and warehouses reflect the heady success of its late nineteenth-century industry, when Gävle was one of Sweden’s main ports for the export of locally produced iron ore and timber. Today, the city is more famous as the home of Gevalia coffee (“Gevalia” being the old Latinized name for the town), which you’ll no doubt taste during your time in Sweden and certainly smell in the air in Gävle.