North of Gävle, HUDIKSVALL, the provincial capital of Hälsingland, makes for a leisurely stop en route to the bigger towns and tourist centres further north. Its wood-panelled architecture and convenience for visiting the natural beauty of the nearby Hornslandet peninsula, jutting out into the Gulf of Bothnia, are the main draws. Train services are frequent along this stretch of coast.
Granted town status in 1582 by King Johan III and accordingly the second oldest town in Norrland, Hudiksvall has seen its fair share of excitement over the years. The original settlement was built around what had been the bay of Lillfjärden, at the mouth of the Hornån River, but when the harbour began to silt up, it was decided in the early 1640s to move the town to its current location: the old bay is now a lake, connected to the sea by a small canal.
The town has suffered no fewer than ten fires, the worst occurring in 1721 when Russian forces swept down the entire length of the Bothnian coast, burning and looting as they went. Hudiksvall, at that time an important commercial and shipping centre, bore the brunt of the onslaught. A further blaze, east of Rådhustorget, in 1792 led to a rethink of the town’s layout, and so the street plan which exists today was conceived.
Hälsingland's Gauguin: John Sten
If you’re visiting the Hälsinglands Museum, be sure to see the paintings by John Sten (1879–1922) on the first floor: born near Hudiksvall, he moved to Paris at the age of 30, where he was greatly influenced by Post-Impressionist master, Paul Gauguin. Tragically, Sten died of dysentery at the age of 42 in Bali; like many artists of his day he travelled extensively in Southeast Asia collecting impressions and designs, and became one of the first to work with Cubism, from which his work extends towards a more decorative, fanciful style.
Musik vid Dellen
Undoubtedly the best time to visit Hudiksvall is during the beginning of July, when the town hosts the Musik vid Dellen, a multifarious cultural ten-day festival, including folk music and other traditional events, held in churches and farms in the surrounding countryside. For more information, contact the tourist office or see wmusikviddellen.se
The decorated farmhouses of Hälsingland
The province of Hälsingland, located between Gävle and Sundsvall, is known throughout Sweden for its one thousand or so ornately decorated farmhouses, seven of which are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The buildings were constructed during the 1800s by well-to-do farmers who developed a rich tradition of handpainting to adorn their substantial timber homes. The paintings represent a fusion of folk art and the styles favoured by the landed gentry of the time, namely Rococo and Baroque. One particular characteristic of the buildings is the provision of a separate room or outbuilding known as the herrstuga, which was only used for special festivities.
Around fifty farmhouses, including two of the UNESCO-listed structures, are open to the public. There are full details online at Whalsingland.se/en/farmhouses-of-halsingland.