In many ways, the long wedge of land that comprises central Sweden – the sparsely populated provinces of Dalarna, Härjedalen and Jämtland – encompasses all that is most typical of the country. This vast area of land is really one great forest, broken only by the odd village or town. Rural and underpopulated, it epitomizes the image most people have of Sweden: lakes, log cabins, pine forests and wide, open skies. Until just one or two generations ago, Swedes across the country lived in this sort of setting, taking their cue from the people of these central lands and forest, who were the first to rise against the Danes in the sixteenth century.
Dalarna, centred around Lake Siljan, is an intensely picturesque – and touristy – region, its inhabitants maintaining a cultural heritage (echoed in contemporary handicrafts and traditions) that goes back to the Middle Ages. You won’t need to brave the crowds of visitors for too long, as even a quick tour around one or two of the more accessible places here gives an impression of the whole: red cottages with a white door and window frames, sweeping green countryside, water that’s bluer than blue and a riot of summer festivals. Dalarna is the place to spend midsummer, particularly Midsummer’s Eve, when the whole region erupts in a frenzy of celebration.
The privately owned Inlandsbanan, the great Inland Railway, cuts right through central Sweden and links many of the towns and villages covered in this chapter. Running from Mora in Dalarna to Gällivare, above the Arctic Circle, it ranks with the best of European train journeys, covering an enthralling 1067km in two days; the second half of the journey, north of Östersund (where you have to change trains), is covered in the Swedish Lapland section. Buses connect the rail line with the mountain villages that lie alongside the Norwegian border, where the surrounding Swedish fjäll, or mountains, offer some spectacular and compelling hiking, notably around Ljungdalen in the remote province of Härjedalen. Marking the halfway point of the line, Östersund, the only town of any size along it and the capital of the province of Jämtland, is situated by the side of Storsjön, the great lake that’s reputed to be home to the country’s own Loch Ness monster, Storsjöodjuret. From here trains head in all directions: west into Norway through Sweden’s premier ski resort, Åre; south to Dalarna and Stockholm; east to Sundsvall on the Bothnian coast and north into the wild terrain of Swedish Lapland.