I spent a year living above the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. I helped Sámi friends herd reindeer, saw Aurora Borealis out of my bedroom window, skied in -30 ˚F degree weather, caught Arctic char under the midnight sun, and plucked cloudberries after a thunderstorm. I loved my time in Swedish Lapland, from the dark days of winter when the sun never poked above the horizon to the endless days of summer. There are two experiences that run like threads through most of my time there. One is fika (pronounced fee-kah) which can be loosely translated as “coffee and cake break,” and the other is friluftsliv which is a bit hard to translate, but roughly means a love of being outdoors and connecting with nature.
Fika is composed of strong Swedish style coffee, paired with delicious pastries, like cardamom rolls, cinnamon buns, cookies, or more elaborate cakes. Fika also includes a social component. It is a break at work that promotes relaxation, team-building, and increased focus. It is the way you catch up with an old friend or meet a new one. Fika can be a destination; an unknown place that you will hike or drive to and have coffee and pastries. Fika is more casual and spontaneous than the British “afternoon tea” and there is always time for fika. Fika can be used as a noun (“there is a nice fika place downtown”) and a verb (“we hiked and then we fika-ed”).
In order to have fika, a person needs some manner of cake or pastry to enjoy with their coffee. I am enamored with Swedish Kardemummabullar and Kanelbullar, sweet, fluffy buns spiced with cardamom or cinnamon. Kardemummabullar and Kanelbullar are readily available in varying levels of quality from gas stations (still freshly baked!), grocery stores, small shops, and bakeries. There are myriad other possibilities for fika pastries, from a simple roll of Ballerina cookies, to an elaborate Prinsesstårta.
Fika can be enjoyed inside or outside, and thanks to a Swedish concept called “ Allemansrätten ,” which allows everyone to access private and public land, there is no lack of good fika spots. When I moved to Sweden it was a fika that my wife and I had with a Swedish guide that landed me a job, opened doors into our community, and gave us new friends.
On the fly-fishing trip to Swedish Lapland that I lead, fika is introduced right away and becomes something that the clients (and guides) are always looking forward to.
Which brings us to friluftsliv (the Scandinavian love of being outdoors). Friluftsliv isn’t about scaling the highest mountain, or running 50 kilometers, or pushing yourself hard to some goal or destination. It is about savoring your time outdoors, enjoying the experience in an unhurried, relaxed, and deliberate way. Swedes love to spend time outside. It is part of their national identity, and it drives them outdoors even in the worst weather.
They have their own saying to promote their love of getting outdoors: “Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder.” There is no bad weather, only bad clothing. I immediately observed this ethos when walking past an elementary school on a 37 ˚F degree October day heavy with rain. The children were all outside, playing on the wet jungle-gym and slides, and stomping puddles in the school yard. They were all dressed in rain boots, rain bibs, rain jackets, hats and gloves, clothes that children are required to bring to school. Good clothes, not bad weather.
When we first moved to Sweden, our friends would say, “Bring a snack for our hike.” We would stuff some trail mix and granola bars in our backpack with a bottle of water. After a few hours of hiking, we would stop and crunch up our snacks. Meanwhile, our Swedish and Sámi friends would build a fire, roast sausages over the fire, then pull out a blackened coffee pot, and make coffee on the open fire paired with fika buns. They would carefully cook the coffee (kokkaffe) over the birch fire, and sip the steaming hot, strong coffee, furthering their enjoyment of their time outdoors. It didn’t take too many outings to convert us to the Swedish friluftsliv, enjoying our time in nature in an unhurried, relaxed way with a warm meal, a cup of hot coffee, and a pastry.
There are many things that make the fly-fishing trip to Swedish Lapland that I lead special. The extreme remoteness and solitude of the area, the midnight sun, the aggressively feeding fish, the eating of wild foods such as moose, reindeer, mountain fish, and cloudberries, the ability to safely drink the water out of the lakes and streams, and the beauty of the landscape. For people who like food and deepening their connection with the land, being able to eat some of the fish they catch, expertly smoked, sautéed, roasted over an open fire, or as sashimi, is a very rewarding part of the trip.
There is also a deep relaxation that permeates the experience. Perhaps it comes from being disconnected from society, internet, and news. Perhaps it is the timelessness that comes from 24-hour daylight. Our lives are reduced to simple actions: fishing, eating, sleeping, and drinking coffee (or tea) by a river. With fewer tasks and inputs, our minds and bodies seem to be able to focus more intensely on the things we do. The endless days mean we fish when the weather, our desires, and the feeding fish align. Often, time seems to cease to behave in a linear fashion. We may find ourselves with Arctic Char rising all around us for hours on end. We cast again and again, or maybe we stop and have fika. Either way we are beginning to live the friluftsliv, savoring our time and experiences in nature.
Would you like to experience Swedish “Fika” and “friluftsliv”, excellent food, and superb fishing for large wild populations of Arctic char, brown trout, and Arctic grayling in an extremely remote and stunningly beautiful area? Experience the adventure of Lapland where we can safely drink water straight from the streams, eat reindeer steaks and moose burgers, take a wood fired sauna next to a river, and lose ourselves in the spontaneity of endless daylight in nature.