The word “sommarstuga” in Sweden is not easy to translate: “summer cabin”, “summer house”, “summer cottage”, or “holiday cottage” all come close, but none quite sum up the spirit of the Swedish sommarstuga.
In the UK, it is considered a mark of comparative affluence to have a “holiday home”, a rural retreat, a weekend bolthole from the stress and overcrowding of urban life. In Sweden, there are around 680,000 summer cabins in the country as a whole. There are around 700,000 families in Sweden with an average of 2 children per family. Given that most summer cabins in Sweden are owned collectively by extended families and handed down from generation to generation, this means that the great majority of the Swedish population has access to a summer cabin and the opportunity to spend their weekends and holidays at their own private “holiday home” in the country.
But whereas a holiday cottage in the UK may, in other hands, serve equally well as a full-time dwelling, the vast majority of Swedish summer houses used by Swedish families (rather than available for hire to visitors) are an altogether simpler affair. Most will have modern conveniences such as electricity and cooking facilities, and perhaps running water in the kitchen area, but indoor toilet facilities are uncommon and showers and baths would be considered a real extravagance!
Instead, Swedish summer cabins generally have a dry outdoor toilet, or “utedass”, located in a small separate wooden building some distance from the house. Waste is collected in buckets and covered over with dry earth to prevent odours and aid rapid composting. When the buckets are full, they can be emptied into a composting area secluded in the forest and later used for compost. The Swedes had been doing eco-friendly composting toilets for generations before such ideas became fashionable in the UK!
Many first-time visitors to Sweden are often surprised to find that Swedish summers are, on average (and of course depending on how far north you travel) warmer and drier than in the UK. By the middle of summer, the lakes and archipelago waters are usually a fresh but very pleasant temperature for bathing and swimming. Most Swedish summer cabins will be located next to water, and it is a familiar morning sight to see a towel-clad Swedish family making their way from their summer cabin down to the water for their morning bathe.
These days, Swedish summer houses are often just that, private holiday retreats used during the warmer periods of the year. Most sommarstugor do not have the insulation required for modern standards during winter time, and so come autumn most families will close up their summer cabin for the winter. In earlier times, the cabins would have been lived in year-round, usually by ancestors involved in farming or forestry.
It sometimes seems as if all Swedes are born with an instinctive aptitude for carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. Certainly the vast majority of summer cabin owners in Sweden will do all necessary repairs and renovation themselves. This means that owning a summer house is a real commitment in terms of time and energy. Most Swedish families will pack up the car and drive out to their summer house (often referred to as going “ute på landet” or “out in the country”) almost every available weekend during the season, and will also spend at least a week or two of their annual holiday out at the summer cabin. It is much more common for Swedish families to take their summer holidays within Sweden than to travel abroad.
The Swedish summer cabin occupies a central place in Swedish cultural life – it is a focus of family leisure time, a demonstration of Sweden’s egalitarian principles where a private holiday home is not just the preserve of the wealthy, and an icon of the Swedish rural idyll with its beautiful landscape of deep forests and clear, sparkling lakes.
Rich or poor, old or young, most Swedes will be spending their summer weekends this year “ute på landet” at their summer cabins, painting the wood-clad houses red and white, picking flowers from the meadows to decorate the table at mealtimes and beginning each day with a refreshing dip in the lake. Summer at the family cabin is a Swedish tradition which harks back to a simpler, more innocent past, but which looks set to continue long into the future.
The Nature Travels Team
Nature Travels offers a range of log cabins in Sweden available in both summer and winter. Our simplest log cabin experience in Sweden, Romantic Adventure in Forest Log Cabin, is a unique romantic break available between May and September with simple facilities in a beautiful forest setting. Our other Swedish log cabin experiences, Log Cabin Escape in Värmland and the Northern Comfort Lodge, offer modern facilities and year-round accommodation ideal for families or groups. See our website for an overview of our log cabins in Sweden.