With its proud tradition of music, dance, and handicrafts, Dalarna is Sweden’s folklore district. The charming rural landscape, dotted with red, wooden cottages, attracts many tourists seeking a quiet country retreat in the summer. In winter, the area’s mountain resorts, Sälen and Idre, are packed with skiers.
The main sights of interest are located around Lake Siljan. Mora, the largest of the lakeside towns, was home to one of Sweden’s best-known artists, Anders Zorn (1860–1920). Open daily, the Zorn Museum, at No. 36 Vasagatan, holds paintings by the artist, and you can also visit his former home and studio. Dalarna is famous for its midsummer festivals. In Leksand and Rättvik, you may see traditionally dressed locals dancing and playing musical instruments or rowing on the lake in wooden longboats during the towns’ colorful celebrations. Around 15 km (9 miles) from the provincial capital and largely industrial town of Falun is Sundborn, where Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853–1919) and his wife, Karin, a textile artist, lived in the early 20th century. Their work still has a big influence on contemporary Swedish design. The couple’s lakeside house is open to the public.
POINTS OF INTEREST
It goes without saying that Falun still has a colorful impact on Sweden. Wooden buildings painted in the distinctive Falun Rödfärg (Falun Red) can be seen everywhere. The paint has been made since the 17th century from powdered ore containing ferrous sulfate from the Falu Gruva (Falun copper mine), on the back of which the town was founded. Falu Gruva was the country’s treasure chest – at its peak, two-thirds of the world’s copper was mined here. The entire area, including Stora Stöten (the Great Pit, formed by a collapse in 1687), Falun’s historic buildings and industrial remains, and outlying settlements, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
Dalarnas Museum gives an insight into the cultural history of Dalarna with extensive collections of folk costumes, local paintings, and traditional craftwork.
The landscape around Siljan lake is especially beautiful, but the Leksand area is the most striking. One of the best times to see the lake is during the annual rowing race in church boats in early July. Another event worth seeing is Himlaspelet, one of Sweden’s oldest rural pageants. First performed in 1941, Rune Lindström’s play about a path that leads to heaven depicts the witch trials of the 1670s. The onion dome of Leksand’s 18th-century Baroque church can be seen from far and wide. Parts of the church date from the 13th century.
Karlfeldtsgården – Sångs i Sjugare was the summer retreat of author and Nobel prize-winner Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864–1931). It lies on Opplimen lake just north of Leksand. Here it is possible to follow in the footsteps of the author’s heroine, who came wandering over the meadows of Sjugare. Also worth a visit is the garden on the poet’s estate. Younger visitors to Leksand will be attracted by Äventyret Sommarland, comprising three amusement parks on the banks of Siljan lake: Waterland, Motorland, and Summerland. Insjön, 8 km (5 miles) south of Leksand was the birthplace in 1899 of the Swedish mail-order business run by Åhlén & Holms. The mail-order tradition lives on with Clas Ohlson, whose store attracts so many DIY enthusiasts that Insjön has become Dalarna’s most visited tourist destination.
The municipality of Mora and the town itself – beautifully situated between Orsasjön and Siljan lakes – offers a wide range of attractions. Mora is particularly associated with King Gustav Vasa (1496–1560) and artist Anders Zorn (1860–1920). Gustav Vasa’s travels in Dalarna in 1520 to mobilize local men against the Danish occupation have left many traces. Near Mora, the Utmeland monument (1860) shows several romanticized paintings chronicling Gustav’s adventures. It was built over the cellar where he is said to have hidden from Danish scouts. The annual Vasaloppet ski race (see p249) is another memorial to the king. At the finishing line in Mora stands Anders Zorn’s statue of Gustav Vasa and the nearby Vasaloppsmuseet recounts the history of the famous ski race and has a permanent exhibition. Anders Zorn became known internationally not least for his portraits of plump, naked local women. He was genuinely interested in peasant culture and an ardent collector of local handicrafts. In Zorngården, which he built himself, he reveled in a world of National Romanticism. On the estate, there are a number of older buildings that have been moved here, such as the 12th-century bakehouse which was used as a studio. The nearby Zornmuseet displays Zorn’s own art and private collections.
Nusnäs, 8 km (5 miles) south of Mora, is where the national symbol of Sweden, the Dala horse, is manufactured. Originally a 19th-century toy, the horses are carved with a knife and colorfully decorated. It is possible to watch them being made on weekdays. On the island of Sollerön on Lake Siljan is the boatyard where the traditional church boats used on church outings and rowing races between the lakeside villages are made. There is also a pretty church dating from 1785. Tomteland in Gesunda is the home of Father Christmas and his workshop, which is busy all summer making presents for children. The huge park offers various activities, including the witch’s school – for youngsters who want to learn about magic and how to help friends and protect the environment.
No one can fail to notice Rättvik’s landmark, Långbryggan pier. After docking at the pier on the M/S Gustaf Wasa, passengers have a 628-m (690-yd) walk to reach the mainland. The pier with all its fine carpentry was built in 1895 to allow steamboats to moor near the shallow shore. Rättvik also has a medieval church, beautifully situated on a promontory surrounded by former church stables – the oldest dating from the 1470s.
A search for older Dalarna buildings, rural communities, and paintings will be rewarded at Gammelstan in Norrboda, 35 km (22 miles) north of Rättvik. The village street is lined with old buildings, some of which date back to the 17th century. Tällberg, 12 km (7 miles) south on the shore of Lake Siljan, has many preserved timber houses in the classic Dalarna style. It is also known for its top-class hotels and guest houses, including the renowned Åkerblads with its excellent restaurant. At the top of the village, Holens Gammelgård features workshops selling traditional handicrafts. At Dalhalla, 7 km (4 miles) north of Rättvik, a limestone quarry has been converted into an auditorium. The quarry forms an amphitheater with unique acoustics which have been praised by the world’s top opera singers. Concerts are held in summer, and Dalhalla can also be toured in the day. The area was formed 360 million years ago when a meteor landed here, creating a crater that encompasses the whole of the Siljan region.
In the village of Sundborn is Carl Larsson gården, Lilla Hyttnäs, home of the artist Carl Larsson (1853–1919). The well-preserved interior contains wooden furniture, traditional Swedish textiles and influences from the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau. Sundborn’s shingled wooden church, built in 1755, features paintings by Larsson (1905) and the graveyard contains the artist’s family plot. Nearby, Stora Hyttnäs manor is a complete home from the early 20th century with a textile collection and garden.