The one defining factor that unites the small settlement of Storuman with its northwesterly neighbours, Tärnaby and Hemavan, is the Blå vägen (Blue Way) – or E12, as it is less poetically known – running through all three villages. This major artery, one of northern Sweden’s better roads, is so named because it follows the course of the great Ume River that flows down from the mountains of southern Lappland to Umeå on the Bothnian coast. Water is omnipresent hereabouts, not only in Storuman, a sleepy little town which sits on the banks of the eponymous lake, best used as an access point to the mountains, but also all the way up to Tärnaby, a small-time skiing centre, and Hemavan, the start of Sweden’s longest and best hiking trail, the Kungsleden, leading 500km north to Abisko.
In 1741, the first settler arrived in what was to become STORUMAN, 68km north of Vilhelmina. His first neighbours didn’t appear until forty years later and even by World War I, Storuman, then called Luspen (the Sámi name for a river which emerges from a lake) numbered barely forty inhabitants working just eight farms. Things changed, though, with the arrival of the railway in the 1920s; today Storuman is an important centre for the generation of hydroelectric power. That said, there’s not much to the town: the centre consists of one tiny street that supports a couple of shops and banks. Whilst in Storuman check out the town’s emblem, Wildman, a giant-sized red figure who stands near Hotell Toppen madly brandishing a club, a traditional symbol for Lapland encapsulating strength, riches and determination.
Arriving at the train-cum-bus station on Järnvägsgatan, you can’t fail to spot the wonderful old railway hotel, on the opposite side of the street. Built in association with the Inlandsbanan in 1924, the wide-planked, tarred exterior in National Romantic style hides an ornate interior, complete with wrought-iron chandeliers and decorative wall painting (similar to folk art styles found in Dalarna), that’s well worth a peek. It now houses the local library (Mon & Wed 11am–4pm, Tues & Thurs 11am–7pm, Fri 11am–3pm).
If you find yourself at a loose end whilst waiting for buses or trains, one diversion is the worthwhile short walk signed “Utsikten” from the main square, which leads up to a wooden tower from where there are fantastic views out over the surrounding lakes and forest towards the mountains which mark the border with Norway; it’s around a 2km uphill walk to the platform from the town centre.
TÄRNABY, 125km northwest of Storuman along the E12, is the birthplace of Sweden’s greatest skier, Ingemar Stenmark. A double Olympic gold medallist, he occasionally spiced up his training here with a spot of tightrope walking and monocycling. It’s a pretty place: yellow flower-decked meadows run to the edge of the mountain forests, the trees felled to leave great empty swathes that accommodate World Cup ski slopes. Since there’s not much to do in Tärnaby itself, it’s a much better idea to explore the surrounding countryside: a popular walk leads across the nearby mountain, Laxfjället, which affords fantastic views down over the village. Another good walk for a sunny day leads to the beach at Lake Laisan, though the water is rarely warm enough to swim even in the height of summer; to get there, take the footpath that branches off right from the main Sandviksvägen past the campsite or ask the tourist office for precise directions.
Buses continue from Tärnaby to HEMAVAN, 18km northwest, which marks the beginning and the end of the 500km Kungsleden trail. This tiny, nondescript village, straddling the main road, is totally devoid of attractions. It’s purely and simply a service centre which provides accommodation and eating opportunities to hikers starting and ending the trail here. Hemavan can be busy during the peak summer season (mid-June to mid-Aug) and at this time it’s therefore wise to book a bed in advance to be sure of somewhere to stay.