Things have changed since Baedeker, writing in 1889, observed that “Lake Siljan owes much of its interest to the inhabitants of its banks, who have preserved many of their primitive characteristics. In their idea of cleanliness they are somewhat behind the age.” Today it’s not the people who draw your attention but the setting. Lake Siljan, created millions of years ago when a meteorite crashed into the earth, is what many people come to Sweden for, its gently rolling surroundings, traditions and local handicrafts weaving a subtle spell on the visitor. There’s a lush feel to much of the region, the charm of the forest heightened by its proximity to the lake, all of which adds a pleasing dimension to the low-profile towns and villages that interrupt the rural scenery. Only Mora stands out as being bigger and busier, with the hustle and bustle of holiday-makers and countless caravans crowding the place in summer.
Perhaps the most traditional of the Dalarna villages is LEKSAND, about 50km northwest of Falun. There's little to do here other than take it easy, but it's certainly worth making the effort to reach at midsummer, when it stages festivals recalling age-old dances performed around the maypole (Sweden’s maypoles are erected in June – in May the trees here are still bare and the ground can be covered with snow), and featuring kyrkbåtar boat races.
If you believe the tourist blurb, then TÄLLBERG, all lakeside log cabins amid rolling hills, is Dalarna. Situated on a promontory in the lake 10km north of Leksand, this folksy hillside village, whose wooden cottages are draped with flowers in summer, first became famous in 1850 when the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen paid it a visit; on his return to Copenhagen, he wrote that everyone should experience Tällberg’s peace and tranquillity, and marvel at its wonderful lake views. Ever since, hordes of tourists have flooded into the tiny village to see what all the fuss was about – prepare yourself for the crowds that unfortunately take the shine off what is otherwise quite a pretty little place. Tällberg today is also a prime destination for wealthy middle-aged Swedes, who come to enjoy the good life for a few days, savour the delicious food dished up by the village’s hotels, and admire the fantastic views out over Lake Siljan. To escape the crowds, walk down the steep hill of Sjögattu, past the campsite, to the calm lapping water of the lake and a small sandy beach; keep going through the trees to find a couple of more secluded spots.
Mora and around
At the northwestern corner of the lake, 60km from Leksand, MORA is the best place to head for hereabouts. An appealing, laidback town, its main draws are two excellent museums, one dedicated to the painter Anders Zorn, and the other to the Vasaloppet ski race. It's also handy for onward trains on the Inlandsbanan and for moving on to the ski resorts of Idre and Sälen.