Every weekend millions of Swedes desert their lives in the city for a weekend home by the water. BOB HINCKS meets some of them…
Swedes have long been big on leisure time and small on the rigours of city life. Moving to the weekend or summer house is a ritual deeply engrained in the Swedish psyche. Before there was cheap and accessible international travel, many Swedes took advantage of something else cheap and plentiful: land.
All across this spacious nation, people built simple dwellings, often by the water, to retire to in the warm summer months; an idyll that for many still shapes their image of Sweden: red-painted cottages in an endless pastoral landscape broken only by a liberal scattering of beautiful blondes with flowers in their hair.
Traditions die hard in Sweden, and there are plenty of Swedes who still harbour that image. Despite the increasing number of foreign holidays sold, many people still own a weekend house; there are nearly 600,000 summer houses in Sweden. And more than 50 per cent of the population have access to one through family or friends.
So why does the Swedish weekend house attract generation after generation?
Anna and PG Wiklund, a teacher and doctor living in Umeå in the north of Sweden, have their own reasons for coming back, year after year, to their summer house in the Hälsingland region of Sweden.
“It helps you to escape the daily obligations you have back home”, says Anna, whose grandfather bought the lakeside plot of land in 1942 and built the house that she and her husband still use today. “And because you spend such a long time here, you feel that you live here. If you travel abroad for two weeks, there are so many things to experience and do; it’s not necessarily that relaxing. Most people have some sort of relationship to their weekend house environment, through grandparents or through their childhood, so they can completely relax there.”
For PG, time at the weekend house is about working – with his hands. “I dig holes, fiddle with bushes, fix things. And it’s not just me. When I look at our neighbours everyone is doing it. It troubles me that we work with our houses so much, but it pleases me too. After a week or two I begin to slow down, and I think that’s what I’m looking for: a gradual winding down to a very lazy state. It’s too much to go from daily life to zero in the time it takes to fly to Greece.”
Most weekend houses were originally built to a basic standard, without hot water (or any water at all), drainage, insulation or electricity – this sparseness being an important part of their attraction. But times are changing.
Expanding urban populations and increasing property prices mean that what was once a rural summer retreat is now a desirable property within commuting distance.
Magnus Gidlöf, a former marketing manager for real estate agency Skandia Mäklarna, says: “An increasing number of people want a rural house they can live in year round. Around Stockholm and Gothenburg in particular, young people are looking to get a piece of that red house back-to-basics dream, but with good communications.”
And nowadays Swedes are far from alone in wanting a summer house in Sweden. The number of foreigners who own summer houses in Sweden has doubled since 2000, with Danes, Germans and Norwegians leading the way.
BOB HINCKS is a food and travel journalist based in Stockholm.