Karesuando (Gárasavvon, in Sami), across the bridge from the Finnish town of Kaaresuvanto, is the northernmost church village in Sweden, and it feels that way: utterly remote and exquisitely lonely. Still, scratch under the surface of this one-elk town – a Sami reindeer herder community – and you’ll find some good reasons for having travelled this far north. The area revels in the romance of extremes: the midnight sun shines here from late May to mid-July, but in winter the temperature hits -50°C. Karesuando’s frontier feel is reflected in the four languages spoken by the locals (sometimes all at once): Swedish, Finnish, Sami and Norwegian.
Karesuando boasts Sweden’s northernmost church, built in 1816; the wooden altar sculpture represents local revivalist preacher Lars Levi Laestadius, his disciple Johan Raatamaa and the Sami girl Maria. Nearby is the Vita Huset, a folk museum with evocative photos depicting Finn civilians fleeing the retreating German forces in 1944. A short walk west of the tourist office is the Laestadius Pörte, the log cabin (24hr) which was home to Lars Levi Laestadius and his family between 1826 and 1849.
Sámiid Viessu, inside the old Viktoriahemmet – a building donated by Queen Victoria in 1922 as a hospital and shelter for the Sami – is now the headquarters of the Sami union, as well as a Sami art and handicraft exhibition and museum.
The choices for resting your weary head are Karesunado Vandrarhem, a riverside hostel with a well-equipped kitchen but a poorly ventilated interior (choose between fresh air or becoming a mosquito buffet), or Hotel Karesuando, opposite and under the same management as the hostel, with Sami-inspired decor and the village’s only restaurant.
The tourist office, next to the bridge to Finland, has information on the region, as well as Norway and Finland, and internet access.
Bus 50 runs once daily between Karesuando and Kiruna via Vittangi (Skr207, 2½ to three hours).