PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIKAEL JONSSON
The drive north from Stockholm to remote Umeå can take up to seven hours, but the elemental beauty of Sweden’s east coast makes every minute and mile worth the trip. European route E4 follows a corridor of land that arcs along the Gulf of Bothnia, past historic towns like Hudiksvall and Gävle that feature charming, well-preserved wooden houses.
The towns pale in comparison, however, to the natural wonder of the Höga Kusten (High Coast), a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of rugged shoreline and sheer cliffs. One of the most spectacular spots here is Skuleskogen National Park, about 80 miles south of Umeå. Stop for a hike to the Trollporten (Troll’s Door), a crevasse that’s famous for the rock sitting across its top. Alternatively, keep on driving north and take a short detour to Skeppsmalen to see the Skagsudde lighthouse standing sentinel over the chilly waters of the Gulf.
Your journey ends in subarctic Umeå, an offbeat university town of 120,000 that served as the European Capital of Culture in 2014. Visit one of its museums, such as the Umedalen Sculpture Park, on the grounds of an old psychiatric hospital; the
Bildmuseet, Umeå University’s contemporary art gallery; or Guitars—The Museum, home of one of the world’s finest collections of six-stringed instruments. Once again, while the urban offerings are pleasant, the real draw is a natural phenomenon: the northern lights. Aurora borealis season begins as early as late August and peaks during winter’s darkest days. Take in the “dancing green lady” on the shore of Nydala Lake, just a short walk from the university campus.
Volvo V60 Cross Country
As you approach the Arctic Circle, temperatures can dip as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit, so you should expect the roads to get icy. And there’s no better car for a Nordic road trip than a station wagon from Volvo, Sweden’s safety-conscious national brand. The new V60 Cross Country’s four-wheel drive and raised ground clearance help it cope with slippery conditions like an elk wearing crampons, while its turbocharged, 250-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine will have you sprinting like a wolf across drier stretches. The wagon is remarkably stylish as well, with a dash of minimalist cool—controls are consolidated into the 9-inch center console touchscreen to decrease the need for buttons—that comes as little surprise. We are in Scandinavia, after all. From $45,745, volvocars.com