Photo by Lukasz Warzecha, LWimages
Expat Chris Doyle, executive director Europe & Central Asia at the Adventure Travel Trade Association, reflects on West Sweden’s outdoor culture and how travelers can make the most of it.
A self-described “outdoor nut,” Chris Doyle spent childhood summers camping with his family in the Sierra Nevada. He served in the US Air Force, led ski trips for REI, and headed up public relations at Eddie Bauer before joining the Adventure Travel Trade Association in 2004. A few years later, he met Emma Karlsson, now his wife, on a business trip to Nepal. “I was already preparing to move to Europe,” Chris says, “and meeting Emma made Sweden an obvious choice.”
What inspired you to move to West Sweden?
We could have settled almost anywhere in the world, thanks to the Internet. But we opted to settle in the town of Mölndal just south of Gothenburg to be close to Emma's family and because it happened to fit my ideal living scenario—not an easy task!
For me, it’s essential to be able to get outdoors within a few minutes to run, swim, climb, walk, and commune with nature. And since I travel for a living, I must also be close enough to sizable city with great airlift. West Sweden offers all of that.
What are some of the things you love about living in West Sweden?
The Swedes innately follow friluftsliv', an ancient philosophy that encourages open-air living. Two of our four children went to an all outdoor school in their first year of pre-school—snowing, raining, whatever the weather, they were outside learning about snails, trees, and mushrooms. They were teaching me! It was incredible. Our kids are also in a popular every-other-weekend program where adults volunteer take the kids out to learn new skills, such as building fires and counting bird nests.
I also love that the train and ferry services are excellent. We can be in Oslo, Stockholm, or Copenhagen in three hours, and it’s easy to access the magical archipelago of West Sweden. It’s protected from inclement weather and incredibly well mapped; I'm not an expert in sea kayaking, but I sure like getting out there. I’m especially drawn to the islands of Brännö, Styrsö, and car-free Köpstadsö.
You’re an avid trail runner. What are some of your favorite trails in West Sweden?
The granite slabs go on for miles around here. When you get to the tops, you take in a never-ending landscape of rolling, forested hills and sea. Immediately from my house are trails that extend in all directions, most all of them have ancient human traces, mainly from the Bronze Age. The trails work for mountain biking in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. My favorite is Horsikan Flat Out Slick Rocks for mountain biking and trail running; it’s amazing and super accessible.
What are some nature experiences that you’d recommend to travelers?
Travelers should know they can camp just about anywhere with no restrictions, so long as they close farm gates and stay about 65 feet from people's homes. It’s all part of Sweden’s passionate commitment to the freedom to roam. I'd recommend using the existing ferry system to the nearby islands and bringing along a backpack and tent. It’s an especially amazing experience during the long summer nights.
West Sweden is an incredible destination to navigate quickly in a sustainable manner because trains can get you to almost any jumping-off spot and allow you to bring along bikes, kayaks, or other equipment. It’s also worth seeking out area UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as Tanum, a fascinating collection of Stone and Bronze Age rock carvings, and the biosphere reserve, Lake Vänern Archipelago.
How can people connect with nature even in Gothenburg itself?
One of my favorite aspects of Gothenburg is that you can sea kayak throughout the city in the channel to the sea. I've done this many times, and sea kayakers in the city are quite the spectacle for the uninitiated.
The trail systems are so well connected that you can also hike, bike, and cross-country ski throughout the entire Gothenburg area, and from each suburb to each suburb, mostly without having to take city roads. You really feel like you're deep in the forest—and you are.
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