Making a House within the Swedish Hinterlands

They tell me that there are no available houses in Laxsjo at the moment (the house they live in was already family owned) but if there are, the prices are very good. A neighbor’s home, a 1,000-square-foot lot, was bought five years ago for a staggering $ 17,000. The grandest house in the village, a huge, two-story, 400-square-foot place, was less than $ 100,000. Even so, they say that it is rare for someone to move here who has no family relationship with the area.

From Laxsjo we went north, about six hours by car to Norrbotten, Sweden’s northernmost and largest district (about the size of Austria). The spring-winter weather meant melting ice and snow. That made for interesting driving, especially when one of hundreds of lorries loaded with wood sprayed the car in a hair-raising and briefly blinding ice bath. The best parts of the drive were on the smaller roads where I didn’t see another car or person for miles. The air seemed to be the freshest and cleanest air one could ever breathe. At one point there was a quaint and extremely peaceful village with an icy river flowing through it. A full moon rose over the pines just as sunset had begun to cast the sky a pink and soft blue. A black ripa, or capercaillie, one of the largest birds in the region, fluttered across the road and landed high in a tree.

Pitea is an industrial city with about 25,000 inhabitants on the coast of Norrbotten. It’s an industrial city and the street is lined with freight trains laden with logs, imposing factory complexes and trucks in every direction. The paper mill dominates the skyline. In many ways it is a typical north Swedish city, strong and sharp-edged and quiet in winter. And yet there are surprises in spending some time here. In the small downtown area, a new high-rise hotel called Kust looks like something out of a much larger city, and has a well-respected rooftop restaurant and bar. Pitea is also home to the prestigious Music Academy. The adjacent Studio Acusticum Concert Hall is best known for its advanced organ, which was built for over $ 5 million. It has a chamber orchestra and an opera.

Johanna Brandstrom grew up in Pitea, but moved to Stockholm with most of her friends when they finished school. When she had children, she began to think about retiring. She eventually bought a 2,700-square-foot house in a quiet suburb with wood paneling painted classic Swedish “Falun Red” for about $ 150,000. In Stockholm you have a hard time finding a studio apartment in an unattractive suburb for this price.

Ms. Brandstrom, who used to be a hairdresser and is now studying digital marketing at a school in Pitea, stood in her pleasant, open kitchen and pointed out that people should be aware of the darkness, even though life is very beautiful up here. “I think you may panic coming here,” she said with a smile.

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