A charming adventure in a dreamy region of Sweden

A charming adventure in a dreamy region of Sweden

Swedish children are thrilled by trolls. Stories that have been passed on to the generations are shown by the large noses that roam the forest areas to cause mischief in the cities.

Could it be that these rogues have overpowered my plans in Smaland, a wild region of southern Sweden? My troll boat tour was canceled because a tree fell that morning blocking the route.

But at some point I come to a forest edge, where sunbeams break through the canopy and lend silver cobwebs and birch bark another worldly quality. A scarlet toadstool glows in the moss like a ruby. A fairy will surely fly by soon.

Loneliness: An island hut at Orken Lake, where Siobhan spent a night

Loneliness: An island hut at Orken Lake, where Siobhan spent a night

Loneliness: An island hut at Orken Lake, where Siobhan spent a night

Sweden has a name for a place like this: "farmer forest". Born in 1882, John Bauer has captured a fantasy world of nature in his paintings for children's storybooks featuring giants, princesses, and trolls. This year marks its centenary. So I came to where he was born and died.

Smaland is a country with vast spruce, pine and birch forests, swamps and swamps – including a "swamp sea", called Storre Mosse – around 5000 lakes.

My first base is the John Bauer Hotel in Jönköping (pronounced "Yon-sherping"), 90 minutes from Gothenburg Airport. I explore its suburbs on the windswept banks of Lake Vattern, Sweden's second largest lake, and learn that the Swedes, despite their fantasy worlds, also have a weak side.

"This city has thousands of free parking spaces," informs my guide. "Smalanders are known as the Scots Scots – we do not like paying." Also free is the Jonkopings Lans Museum, which features an exhibition dedicated to the region's illustrious illustrator. It features "singing" moose kicking out of the walls.

On 19 November 1918, a boat took off with John Bauer, his wife Esther and two-year-old son Bengt. The next day, the only sign was a swimming shoe for toddlers. The steamer had sunk along with 24 people on board. Locals have no qualms about telling this story. Smalanders, however, were never head-in-the-cloud types.

One of them is Jan, an engineer who left the rat race to build Ramoa Adventure Village in the wilderness, an hour and a half from the city. Jan explains his master plan. "For the Swedes, being in nature is a spiritual experience. We want people to feel as close as possible to it. "

If you want, there is an adventure here, water sports on the lake in summer and skating in winter. However, the focus is on connecting to your environment.

The accommodation takes different forms. Jan gives some people a map and they go into the forest to find a hammock in the trees. I decide for a tiny island in the vast Orkensee, alone in a 2 x 2 meter wooden hut.

Adorable: John Bauer has captured a fantasy world of nature in his pictures for children's storybooks with giants, princesses, and trolls

Adorable: John Bauer has captured a fantasy world of nature in his pictures for children's storybooks with giants, princesses, and trolls

Fantasy: John Bauer has captured a fantasy world of nature in his pictures for children's storybooks with giants, princesses, and trolls

Jan says, "It was built for crayfish parties." (A Swedish tradition where everyone donates a hat with paper caps to feast on his train).

The growl of Jan's speedboat is dwindling and will return only in daylight. I feel a sense of concern.

But then it is so quiet. No disadvantages or distractions. No insects sing. The lake is still and the light of the full moon reflects it as if it were rolling out a glittering VIP carpet just for me. When I see fog in the morning against the sunrise, I remember Jan's deviant words: "If you see fog rising from the lake, it means elves have danced on it."

Bauer's friend believed that the artist, deep down, thought that all the creatures he painted really existed. After my night on this fairytale island I might agree.

TRAVEL FACTS

Rooms at the John Bauer Hotel in Jönköping (johnbauer.se, 0046 36 34 90 00) from £ 93 B & B. The Ramoa Adventure Village (ramoa.se, 0046 70 575 82 20) offers staterooms for two from £ 59 and over private island from £ 108 per night. BA (ba.com) flies back from £ 72 to Gothenburg. See visitsweden.com and visitsmaland.se/en.

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