Searching for eco tourism & unusual accommodation in Scandinavia, I stumbled across ‘Sweden’s most primitive hotel’ and knew this was for us.
But after having never camped with my kids and with a child who is petrified of bugs (petrified-as in full on panic attacks and horror screams, as if witnessing something truly awful), I had know idea how this would pan out.
Just a two hour drive from Stockholm, in the center of Sweden, is Kolarbyn Eco-Lodge. An amazing ‘primitive hotel’ in one of the most beautiful forest’s I’ve ever had the privilege to spend time in. This history behind this place was also pretty awesome. The area had been producing charcoal for over 400 years in hand built charcoal kilns. As this trade began to die out, it was decided that 12 charcoal huts would be built at Kolarbyn, to keep the tradition going. These charcoal huts are where the workers slept, while living from the land. They would take it in turns to continually watch the charcoal kiln throughout the day and night. Today, the charcoal kiln still goes on while the site has been turned into a eco-tourism hostel and the workers charcoal huts have been turned into accommodation.
Our stay was for 3 nights. We stayed as part of an organized wildlife package with Wild Sweden (which included a Bever Safari & Moose Safari) but it is possible to stay at Kolarbyn for a single night. In true outdoor living style, there is no electricity or mains water supply at Kolarbyn. I liked the emphasis on everyone helping each other out. There is a log pile and equipment to chop the wood into smaller pieces, composting toilets, a communal hut that seats 45 and a food shed (which we loved) The food shed can be accessed at anytime to prepare meals. Some of the things we made were pancakes, stew, omelettes and campfire bread. There was also fresh ground coffee which helped keep my energy levels more inline with the kids!
Much of the previous 6 months, I had spent a lot of time debating with myself wether or not to tell D about this trip, but, as I know all two well, the unexpected and autism doesn’t mix well. About a month before our trip, we began talking about camping and all the nice things. We showed her photos (carefully selected ones that would not worry her) We didn’t mention bugs or boats or the dark, things that would send her anxiety into overdrive. I’ve learnt (and am very much still learning) to keep to the positive information, not to mention any ‘what if’s’ in front of her, not to talk about anything in a jokey way that may be taken literally. Even the calmest days at home can turn into a nightmare so I knew that this trip would push her to her limits. I knew her main problem would be with our sleeping huts.
Our huts were small and comfy. Each hut sleeps two on wooden beds, made more comfy with inflatable mattresses and sheeps skins. We were given sleeping bags and pillows which were really cozy but as there was an ongoing heatwave at the time, I slept on top of everything each night. In each hut there is a open fireplace, during our stay there was a country wide fire ban due to forest fires across the country so we didn’t use these, but it was mega hot anyway. In between both beds we could put a plank of wood and was told not to put much weight on it but it would be good for stretching arms/legs in the night. Somewhere around 2am, I was woken with K and A who had freaked each other out and decided they were too scared to stay in their hut and needed to stay with me. They bundled in with us and we slept in a bit of a pile for the rest of that night and for the next two nights as well.
A massive selling point for me was the ‘Floating Sauna’, being able to swim in a lake and the use of Canadian canoes. The canoes were big and fit all 4 of us in which was a real plus. Travelling alone with 3 kids often means we have to miss out on activities like this as we can’t usually fit in the same boat and I can’t supervise everyone So logistically this was perfect. The day we took the canoes out, we spent a few hours going to various little islands on the lake to swim. After an anxious start for D who is pretty scared of boats, the kids all had great fun taking it in turns to jump out of the boat and choosing places to stop and moore the boat.
The floating sauna was on the lake about 50m from our hut. To use this, we chopped firewood and headed down to the water. The kids enjoyed each step of getting the sauna ready. They all had a turn at chopping the wood and each carried some to the sauna. It was great that they all got to join in, back at home this more risky element would have been pre-done by adults so they enjoyed actually chopping the wood themselves. K helped to load the wood burner up and light the fire. While the sauna heated up, we all headed into the lake for a swim! We spent a good 4 hours getting in and out of the lake then sauna. We were grateful for the washing technique we had learnt at the Japanese Spa. We were able to wash ourselves and our hair using this japanese method, a cooking pot and a couple of shampoo and body bars from lush (all natural ingredients). I was surprised at how clean and fresh I felt after, not having the comfort of a shower at Kolarbyn was something I was worried about but this way of washing worked well!
As part of our trip with Wild Sweden, we had an evening Moose Safari and a Beaver Safari these we really fun and included a lovely dinner. These were late at night, arriving back to Kolarbyn at almost midnight on both evenings.
We met some lovely people over the 4 days, often chatting as we made our food on the fire. The kids particularly enjoyed the freedom. Four days of roaming free in the forest is something everyone should do every so often. The kids really got a chance to muck in and do ‘chores’ in a fun way. Cutting wood, collecting water from the spring, washing up with the water they collected from the stream, even sorting the recycling seemed more fun in Kolarbyn-at home they would never offer to sort the rubbish! K and A both agreed that the fresh air felt good, they loved the swimming, sauna, canoes.
And with a bit of pre-planning, some one to one attention (more than usual) and a lot of calming talk, this trip was amazing even for the smallest one. A perfect retreat from the hectic life we usually lead, if you need a break, I cannot recommend place enough.