There used to be a religious fervour about the town SKELLEFTEÅ, 140km northeast of Umeå. In 1324, an edict in the name of King Magnus Eriksson invited “all those who believed in Jesus Christ or wanted to turn to him” to settle between the Skellefte and Ume rivers. Many heeded the call, and parishes mushroomed on the banks of the Skellefte River. By the end of the eighteenth century, a devout township was centred around the town’s monumental church, which stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding plains and wide river. Nowadays, though, more material occupations, including computer and electronics industries, and the mining of gold and silver, support the town. Since there’s little to see in the town centre you would fare better concentrating on nearby Bonnstan, comprising an engaging collection of battered log cottages gathered together to form the kyrkstad (church town), plus the proud Neoclassical church, which houses one of Norrland’s proudest exhibits – the medieval carving of the Virgin of Skellefteå.
Nearby, the rickety Lejonströmsbron is Sweden’s oldest wooden bridge, offering elevated views of the Skellefte River. Skellefteå is also well placed for jaunts into the Swedish inland with good bus connections to Arvidsjaur and Arjeplog.Read More
Skellefteå’s church and church town, known as Bonnstan, are within easy striking distance of the centre: walk west along Nygatan and keep going for about fifteen minutes. An evocative sight, the kyrkstad here comprises five long rows of weather-beaten log houses, with battered wooden shutters. The houses are protected by law: any renovations, including the installation of electricity, are forbidden, making this the most genuine example of all Sweden’s church towns. You can take a peek inside, but bear in mind that these are privately owned summer houses today.
Next to the cottages is the landskyrka, a proud white Neoclassical church which so enthused Leopold von Buch, a traveller who visited here in the nineteenth century, that he was moved to describe it as “the largest and most beautiful building in the entire north of Sweden, rising like a Palmyra’s temple out of the desert”. Its domed roof is supported by four mighty pillars along each of the walls; inside, there’s an outstanding series of medieval sculptures. Look out too for the 800-year-old Virgin of Skellefteå, a walnut woodcarving immediately behind the altar on the right – it’s one of the few remaining Romanesque images of the Virgin in the world. Nearby, on the Skellefte River, the islet of Kyrkholmen, reached by a small wooden bridge, is a pretty place to sit and while away an hour or two. It’s home to an outdoor café that specializes in waffles with cloudberry jam (mid-June to mid-Aug).
From the church you have two walking routes back to the centre: either take Strandpromenaden along the river’s edge, interrupted by barbecue sites and grassy stretches; or cross Lejonströmsbron, one of the oldest and longest wooden bridges in Sweden, beneath the hill where the church stands. Dating from 1737, the bridge was the scene of mass slaughter when Russian and Swedish forces clashed there during the marvellously named War of the Hats, which started in 1741. Once on the south side of the river, you can stroll back to Parksbron, past the occasional boat and silent fisherman.
From Skellefteå it’s 70km north along the E4 highway to the superb sandy beaches and swimming complex of Pite Havsbad, northern Sweden’s main beach resort. Renowned for its long hours of summer sunshine, relatively warm water temperatures and sweeping strands of golden sand, it’s a great place to unwind. There’s even an official nudist beach: turn left along the beach and look out for a large rock marked “Naturist Bad”.
In the swimming complex, you’ll find open-air pools with water slides, and the indoor Äventyrsbadet, with fun pool, jacuzzis, saunas, steam room and yet more water slides.
In winter don’t miss the fabulous icebreaker tours onboard the Arctic Explorer, which was built in Finland in 1963. After retiring from official service, the boat now sails from Piteå out into the frozen expanses of the Gulf of Bothnia. There’s also the unmissable opportunity to don a survival suit and float off the stern of the ship amid the ice blocks the ship has just broken.