Lifestyle / Travel

Soho in the Snow

Luleå, a logging port near the Arctic Circle, is a charming mixture of old and new. It’s a hot place to buy property, says DANIEL PEMBREY…

Daniel Pembry

Maybe it starts with a voyage to see the northern lights. Perhaps it develops with a return trip during the summer to experience the endless space and clean air. Whatever the prelude, putting down roots in Swedish Lapland is now a phenomenon and we should expect to hear more about it in 2021. Luleå has long since shaken off its sleepy image as a logging port Glass-fronted gleaming structures have joined the historical wooden buildings. In 2013, Facebook opened its first date centre outside the United States here: two vast buildings cooled by the Arctic air and powered by local hydroelectricity. Facebook is just one of several companies recruiting skilled employees who demand cosmopolitan amenities.

“In the eight years I’ve lived here, it’s become more like Soho,” says James Thompson, who relocated from the UK when his Swedish partner suggested they move to her home town. A head chef at the award-winning Villgot, Thompson has three daughters and a son. “Favourite places of mine include Emporio Barratini, and Italian delicatessen that does terrific antipasti, and Brothers, with its indispensable line in thermal socks and hats.”

“In 2013, Facebook opened its first date centre outside the United States here: two vast buildings cooled by the Arctic air and powered by local hydroelectricity”

The property market reflects the changes. “Over the past decade, house prices in the Luleå area have risen by around 150 per cent, and flats by 250 per cent,” says Daniel Tillstam of Fastighetsbryrån, Sweden’s largest chain of estate agents. “Though apartments typically incur a monthly building maintenance charge, they are not subject to 1.5 per cent stamp duty as houses are.” A duplex with panoramic water views recently sold for a record 5.6m SEK (£500,000). The penthouse is at present one of only two in the city to enjoy such a sweeping spectacle. More developments are being built, but not fast enough. Only six units – all two-bedders for upwards of 2.2m SEK (£200,000) – remain at Kuststad, a 324-unit art deco style marina address.

It may seem a long way north (around two thousand kilometres north of London) to travel to a housing shortage, but this overlooks the area’s wider appeal. “It’s a magical world,” Thompson says. “Of course it’s colder than the UK, but it’s also dry. The snow makes the most of the light. The lifestyle is geared to the outdoors. If you move here, you must get a cabin.”

Josefina Nordmark, an architect who designed three cabin-style houses on the edge of Luleå, says you can cross-country skin from the back door. “Moose come to nibble on the blackurrant bushes in the back gardens”. This best-of-both-worlds arrangement captured local imagination and the houses went on to feature on national television. No wonder that, despite costing 4.5m SEK (£400,000) each, they sold fast. Tillstam does have other homes available within ten mutes drive of downtown Luleå. One is just over a hundred metres from the water in Gammelstaden, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The property includes an attractive four-bedroom house with a sauna, a detached garage, a separate guesthouse and a well, on a third of an acre. The price, which will be subject to bidding, is expected to be around 5.5m SEK (£500,000).

Outside Luleå, pries plummet like the midwinter temperature. Some 160 kilometres inland, a British couple paid just 94,655 SEK (£8,500) for a seven-room cabin with outbuildings in need of some work last July. Crucially, the cabin has good road access and is connected to all utilities. It was work they could do themselves. “Most of what we did was cosmetic and fun,” Naomi Cave-Browne-Cave says. “I have a walk-in wardrobe, something I could only dream of in London. We may return to the UK for periods of time, but this is our home from home. People work their whole lives to retire somewhere like this. We thought, why wait? A larger cabin in the same village is available for 255,000 SEK (£22,000), still cheaper than a pair of electric snowmobiles.

“Moose come to nibble on the blackurrant bushes in the back gardens. People work their whole lives to retire somewhere like this. We thought, why wait?”

However, cabin prices are rising too. Daniel Nyström, a local estate agent, says the area is on the map “because of its beauty, and because local car makers winter-test prototypes here. An airport at the nearby town of Arvidsjaur has direct flights to German cities during the winter, and a daily direct flights to Stockholm year-round.” The thought of high-performance Audis fishtalling on frozen lakes may sound off-putting to some, but Nyström is quick to stress the space and nature. “Spring is wonderful, with the light and temperature. There’s still plenty of snow and the lakes are rich in trout, pike and grayling. It’s also the perfect area for a traditional Midsommar celebration.

For the truly adventurous, there are tantalising renovation possibilities The renowned Oslo-based architecture firm Snøhetta, which conceived a treehouse 10 metres up (ideal for spotting eagles and the Northern Lights), went on to create the Gapahuk, a cabin prefabricated by the manufacturer Rindalshytter. It costs (£14,000) before delivery, which could involve helicopters in more remove locations. The 156 square metre cabin features a roof that folds down on one side for protection form the elements, while angling up on the other light and views offering a combination of cosiness, a sense of space and Scandi cool.

DANIEL PEMBRY is an author and journalist.

For the latest Nordic news, follow @FikaOnlineBlog on Twitter.

This article has also been published in The Times.

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