We had heard so much about this beautiful part of Sweden, but three hours’ drive from Stockholm, that we
decided to go and see for ourselves. Darlana holds a special sentimental place in the Swedish psyche, so
no sojourn in Sweden would be complete without a visit to this legendary area. As part of our mission to
explore a different part of this country each year, it seemed appropriate to spend a birthday there. Most of my birthdays had been autumn ones in my native South Africa, so a spring one was novel indeed. We were not disappointed.
Cooler than we had hoped, and sometimes with lowering thunder clouds, we were nonetheless treated to
episodes of glorious sunshine, and equally glorious sunsets, especially over Lake Siljan, the focal point of
the Darlana scenery.
This rural idyll, not far from the Norwegian border, is predominantly farmland, with vast open fields – freshly
ploughed for new crops at this time of year – rolling, flower-scented meadows, picturesque valleys dotted with copses of new-green trees, and folksy wooden villages. There are also a number of ancient medieval churches, the
remnants of former mining colonies, and several ski resorts. The touristy lake-side villages, arts and crafts centres, and nature reserves such as the Orsa Bear Park, cover an area which gradually rises to meet the mountainous border with Norway, and is similar in concept to the “Midlands Meander” in South Africa.
Armed with an excellent illustrated brochure and map from the tourist bureau in Stockholm, we planned a
route that would take us to the main places of interest.
The entry point to Darlana is the small town of Avesta, presided over by the conspicuous 13-metre-high red
wooden Dalahäst (Dala horse), a model for the millions of smaller hand-carved souvenirs.
These iconic wooden pieces, dating from the 17th century, are painted in bright colours and decorated with folk-art flowers, and have become a symbol of Sweden. Whittling wood by the fireside was a favourite pastime during the long winter evenings, and the horse was the obvious subject, a symbol of work, companionship and strength.
The Gamla byn (Old Village) is also located in Avesta, and well-preserved since the days of a steelworks that was established here in the 1630’s.
Torsång is a tiny village where we enjoyed lunch at a traditional old-world café overlooking the picturesque Dalälven River: delicious rich broccoli-and-asparagus soup topped with bacon bits, served with a doorstep of country bread served and generous slices of cheese.
The grey stone and red-brick Tårsang village church is the oldest in Darlana province, parts of which date from the 12th century.
Much of the interior decoration dates from the 16th and 17th centuries,
and the detached, 16th century bell-tower, which is shingled and tarred, is shaped like two clasped hands.
I was amused by the figure of a standing man on the west gable, which may have represented either the heathen god Thor, or the Christian St. Olof – one of the patron saints of the church – evidence of the early Nordic Christians hedging their bets by representing both sides of the heathen-Christian cross-over period in medieval Sweden.
Borlänge was where I made a brief pilgrimage to the excellent Jussi Björling Museum; the centenary of this great Swedish tenor’s birth (1911-1960) was celebrate in 2011.
He was an opera singer, film actor, and radio and concert singer, and died at the age of only 49 from an alcohol-related heart attack. The museum, situated in the town where he was born, is something of a shrine to Björling’s art and life. Crammed full of memorabilia such as childhood photographs and objects, and opera costumes and programmes, this museum is arranged chronologically. It was opened in 1994, and contains documents, newspaper critiques, and letters, all gathered from the family, the Jussi Björlinggården Foundation, and the Royal Opera in Stockholm. It also has a small, well-organised research centre with a listening and study room, where visitors can read material, watch DVD’s, or listen to recordings of this “world’s greatest tenor” of the early 20th century.
I managed to sneak a photo of Maestro Björling perched on a rickshaw in Durban, during his concert tour of South Africa in 1954.
While I was happily engaged at the museum, Peter occupied himself in the nearby Geologiska Museet, which is
packed with rock samples, minerals and fossils from all over the world.
Tired after our day’s travels and sight-seeing, we arrived, via Leksand and Tällberg, at our pensionat in
Rättvik: Bruntegården, (brunte refers to a large work-horse), where we received a warm welcome from
Brita the pension tabby cat.
Bruntegården overlooks Lake Siljan, and stands at the foot of a ski slope disparagingly referred to by the
Swedes as a “Danish slope”, that is, a small and not very challenging one.
Supper was served in a lovely sunny, wooden-furnished dining room, over the lintel of which is carved the
delightful adage: Lägg hat och stav i stuguvrån, och lunga tankar under tröskeln. (Leave hat and staff
at the entrance, and heavy thoughts at the threshold). It was still so light at nearly 9 pm that a curtain was partly drawn across the window against the strong, late evening sun. I found this quite bizarre, with the
temperature outside akin to a Johannesburg winter night.
A delicious meal was rounded off with a tart raspberry sorbet, home-made in Rättvik village.
After a good hot shower, it was with delicious exhaustion that I snuggled under a soft, if rather worn but
spotless duvet, my mind filtering the memories of a happy birthday indeed.
A sunny Saturday morning was spent jostling through the crowds at the many crafts and goods stalls set
up in the streets of Rättvik for their annual Spring Market.
There were all manner of Swedish crafts for sale, as well as delectable edibles such as candy, home-made bakes,
and large, flat nut-and-dried-fruit chocolate clusters, household goods and white elephant junk, as well as
the predictable rubbishy clothes and toys from the Far East. It is said that one can buy anything from
tractor parts to hairpins at this annual spring market. Blaring popular music sounded from speakers, and the chill air was filled with the delicious aromas of barbecued sausages, vanilla buns, and strong, Swedish coffee.
The Carl Larsson’s (1953-1919) beautiful quaint museum-home in the picturesque village of Sundborn, is
one of Sweden’s most-visited tourist attractions. It stands near a river in the area that inspired so many of
This famous, iconic Swedish artist’s home, Carl Larssongården, is decorated with his own
murals and portraits of his children, as well as with the embroidery and tapestries wrought by his gifted wife Karin.
During the early 20th century their innovative interior designs represented an entirely new decorative style in
Sweden, its bright, warm atmosphere quite unlike the former dark and somber Swedish style. Lilla Hyttnäs
is a work of art in itself, full of brightness, humour and love. It is only possible to see inside the house with a Swedish guide, so we followed an over-crowded tour around this quaint old dwelling, understanding only a moderate amount, but nonetheless enjoying its whimsical charm.
Lunch was available in a disorganised but attractively quaint restaurant nearby: pork with cider sauce and fish with saffron sauce for us each, followed by a wickedly decadent hazelnut torte with a lemon filling and cream, accompanied by tall glasses of locally pressed lingonberry juice.
We then drove through pretty glades of ash trees, past tumbling brooks, farms and wooden holiday cottages, to Falun, the World Heritage Site of which is centered on the Great Copper Mountain. The complex includes a museum, a shop and several old buildings, and a massive open-cast hole known as “the Great Pit”.
The museum, which was unfortunately closed by the time we arrived, demonstrates what the mining techniques were like when ore was still extracted using wooden burners, wedges and sledgehammers. Essentially a mining town, Falun has evolved since the 11th century due to the rich copper deposits in the area – the reddish-brown colour of which is said to be responsible for the colour of all the wooden structures in Darlana, and elsewhere in the rest of szweden. The mine closed down as recently as 1992.
Supper in Rättvik that evening was at a delightful lake-side restaurant, Sjövillan (The Lake Villa), reached after
a short walk through the town and across the railway line. We chose a lightly crumbed and grilled cod fillet, served with broiled baby tomatoes with olive tapenad, and reindeer steak with a port-and berry sauce and colourful red and yellow peppers respectively, each with the usual Swedish boiled baby potatoes.
Our last day was spent at the Orsa Grönkiltts Björnpark (Bear Park) – Europe’s largest bear park – situated
in northern Darlana. Having expected a 255,000 square meters reserve with a self-drive scenario, we
were surprised to find the animals in massive fenced enclosures, rather like an over-sized zoo. Feeding
time, especially for the wolves, was also sadly rather contrived, the keeper whistling to the wolves like dogs to summon them from their dense woodland hide-outs for their pork treats.
I was concerned about one bear’s obsessive pacing up and down alongside his fence, while he had a vast area in which to roam freely. I suppose it is preferable that these endangered animals remain safely caged, rather
than risk extinction out in the wilds, where they would be at the mercy of human predators.
The Siberian tigers, snow leopards, illusive lynx, polar bears and wolverines were a novelty for us African visitors.
Other bears included a massive species that stands 3 m tall when upright, the Kamchatka bears
from eastern Russia. But they were far too busy enjoying their siesta in cozy hollows that they had dug themselves, to show us their full magnificence.
We were able to walk up tarred pathways to high viewing points which offer a splendid panorama of the surrounding forested countryside. We did not find the pair of Eurasian eagle owls, the largest in the world, and found only in the Swedish forests. They, too, were apparently having their day-time slumber.
Darlana has so much more to offer than we had time to see. Apart from the spring and summer
activities, it is also a popular winter sports destination, for skiing and skating.
More information can be found at their website here .