Bike Touring in Sweden: From Stockholm to Fäviken
I squinted my eyes to keep the steady downpour of rain out of my eyes as I descended down a steep hill. I was tense, but got tenser when I realized we were about to bike across a two-lane bridge with no shoulder.
“Just hold tight,” I told myself, feeling the rumble of a 16-wheeler about to pass behind me. “There’s a restaurant on the other side… maybe we can stop there until the rain lets up,” I thought.
I rolled across the bridge, the truck passed, and water splashed into my shoes. I was uncomfortable and slightly miserable, but overall okay as I ducked under a small awning at the entrance of the restaurant-com-campground. I told Jon my idea.
“Sure,” he said, and pedaled down the dirt driveway to the unfortunately closed restaurant. We went in anyway and took out a few snacks while watching the rain.
It was the 4th day and 277th mile of a 7-day, 455-mile bike journey from Stockholm to Fäviken, a world-renowned restaurant located in a remote corner of Sweden’s Jaemtland region.
When that rainstorm hit, we were a measly 12 miles west of Sundsvall and about to enter 120 miles of sparsely populated Swedish countryside with no option to bail out with a car, bus, or train (also, few trains in Sweden let passengers board with bikes). With only two days to cover the remaining 108 miles to Östersund, we were in a bike or bust situation.
“Do you want to go back to Sundsvall? Give up? Take the train?” Jon asked.
The stars on the map = places we stopped or thought to stop in
I did. I really did. The trucks, narrow highway, and rain made for a terrifying combination. I was cold, wet, and still a little upset from an earlier disagreement about directions. But I knew he didn’t want to give up; that this was something he’d wanted to do for years.
“No,” I said finally, “Let’s just try to make it another 15 miles.”
Given the challenge, why had I agreed to the seemingly crazy idea of biking to Fäviken from Stockholm? An idea that required so much more effort and planning than simply flying and taking a taxi ride there? Well, there were a few reasons:
Travel is no longer just about what I want to do
As one half of a pair, travel is no longer just about my bucket list or the standards I’m willing to tolerate. This relationship has forced us both to shift our travel-ways. For Jon, it meant traveling more. For me, it meant less hostels and more hotels — but also taking my food-travel game up a notch.
So when Jon pitched his crazy idea to bike 455 miles to a two Michelin star restaurant in the woods, I said yes. I’d never thought about traveling to Sweden, but I love any bike adventure that ends with a good meal. So, why not go? Sweden may have been Jon’s idea, but it became our adventure.
Nothing has altered the destinations I choose to travel to or the experiences I choose to have more than being in a relationship (even more so than having a better salary). After all, there are two people’s set of dreams and ideas to use now.
Because bike touring simplified and focused my travel
When you travel, do you ever find yourself constantly looking up things to do? Places to eat at? Ways to fill an entire day? Don’t you hate how much work that is? Though helpful, it can be exhausting to meticulously learn so much about logistics, cultural norms, food, activities, etc. all while trying to enjoy it.
While biking across Sweden, I had no worries about planning anything other than a route (which, to be fair, got a little complicated in Sweden — Google’s bike directions kept putting us on a gravely set of “highways” that punctured our tubes at a miserably frequent rate).
Instead of “doing” Sweden, we had a singular goal (Fäviken or bust!) and the rest of it really didn’t matter as much. We would wake up each day, pack up our bikes, and let the rest of the day be a discovery.
It took us to places we wouldn’t have otherwise visited, like an old mansion in the middle of the woods that had once been a refugee center in WWII (above) and spending the night in a Thai temple. Had we not been bike touring, we would’ve skipped most of the towns we stopped at. Gävle — known mostly its giant, straw Yule Goat — was our second stop simply because it was 60 miles away from Uppsala but we had a blast drinking craft beers and stumbling on a hidden French restaurant for dinner.
With biking, you’re forced to stop at a mile marker, not a drop-pin, which makes for unexpected and unplanned experiences.
Who said you have to do something different because you’re in a different place?
Who said that you had to spend a day seeing museums simply because that’s what tourists do in Florence? Who said you had to spend your free time differently just because you weren’t at home? Yes, there’s something to be said about having experiences uniquely of a certain place and time (e.g. Midsummer’s festival in Scandinavia) but why force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy just because a place is famous for it?
When I travel, I want to bike, eat, and have adventures. I learned a long time ago that few museums excite me and that I shouldn’t feel bad about skipping the iconic landmarks if they don’t interest me.
By biking to Fäviken we were rejecting the idea that we had to check off a list of “must-do things in Sweden” and embracing a fully personalized adventure. I’m not even sure I could even tell you what’s worth seeing in Sweden but I can tell you is that Sweden is beautifully green in the summertime and full of bright red barns; that Swedes are ridiculously friendly; that Sweden is surprisingly similar to western Washington; that Swedish meatballs are delicious but fish-in-a-tube makes for a weird bike snack.
It’s taken a lot of years of travel and better self-awareness to figure out that just because a guidebook recommends something, it doesn’t mean I’ll be into it. You do you, no matter where you are in the world. For me, that means bikes + eats + adventure.
It was just as much about the food as it was the experience
On the day we arrived at Fäviken, we had 3 flat tires in 10 miles. But we also stopped at a river to catch a fish, drank wine while we changed said flats, and pulled up to the quaint, red-splashed barn on a beautifully sunny afternoon. A young, blonde college student who worked her summers as a server there came out in the lawn to greet us like long-awaited for family members.
“At Fäviken, we want our guests to talk with each other. We want to create a communal experience,” she later told us. They sat us with other diners for pre-dinner cocktails and dessert where we all chatted about food, restaurants, and what had brought us there. It felt a little like we’d just entered this secret cult of diners who travel the world for wildly great meals. “It’s not just about the food,” critics say, “it’s about the entire experience.”
You could say the same about our trip. Just as eating at Fäviken isn’t just about the food but about the whole experience (tastes, sights, scents, ambiance, conversation), biking to Fäviken wasn’t just about getting there either. It was about the whole adventure from Stockholm to Jarpen, and every little pocket of Sweden we stumbled on in between. As any of you who bike know, biking makes food taste 10x better than it should — be it a crappy hamburger or a carefully prepared 10-course meal.
Oh, and the food? It was incredible. The dinner was full of tastes I’d never experienced; ingredients I didn’t even know were edible: moss? flowers? The dishes were fresh and creative without being a science experiment. The wine pairing, which featured a mead made specially for the restaurant, was fantastic as well.
Wait… how do we get home now?
The morning after the dinner, we left our hotel room to a scene of empty wine glasses scattered about the outdoor tables, evidence of the “after party” other diners had held the night before. The place felt quiet and empty with just half of the guests left to fill up on a decadent yet balanced breakfast before hitting the road.
“Tonight is midsummer’s night; we’re all taking the day off to go camping in the woods,” the young server who had greeted us said. She was the only staff member left.
Slowly, each of the other guests went on their way too — leaving just Jon and I to fix yet another flat before biking over the hill to the ski/mountain biking town of Åre. The mood felt somber and peaceful, just as the morning after a great accomplishment should.
We had done it. We had biked to Fäviken, but we still had another 10 days left in Scandinavia and no route planned for getting back to Stockholm.
“Where to now?” I asked.
“Everyone keeps telling us to go to Trondheim. It doesn’t look that far,” Jon replied.
And so, with another destination to point our bikes at, we set off again towards the Norwegian border.