A lake archipelago of more than 1000 islands. A bike path that follows an old railway line alongside and over the lake. Loud loons and ospreys flying overhead at dusk. Ancient deciduous forests.
I’d never been to Sweden, but a bike trip around Lake Åsnen in the south of the country sounded lovely – as close to my dream trip as seemed possible – so I jumped at the opportunity to enjoy a three-day cycling holiday there in June.
In the region of Småland, Lake Åsnen has been developing its tourism in recent years with an eye to sustainability and local input. In 2022 the non-profit Green Destinations awarded Åsnen its highest award, Platinum, in its program for sustainable destinations. The contribution of local residents and businesses has created a thriving but considered region for tourism – one that prioritizes the local environment and I was eager to experience it for myself.
My cycling holiday took me mainly through Åsnen’s lakes, quiet villages and Swedish-heritage sites. You can choose your own itinerary if you visit this region or take the hassle out of planning by arranging it all through a local bike-rental company.
Day 1: Växjö to Torne
I got the train directly from Copenhagen airport and across the Øresund Bridge that connects Denmark with Sweden. After spending most of the previous day making my way to Scandinavia from Dublin, the silent carriage was a delight - connecting me directly to Växjö, where my bikepacking adventure was to begin. An easy and efficient trip.
The cycle route starts from Växjö train station. I picked up my bike (from RentBike.se) here. The plan was to work my way around the lake counterclockwise over the next three days, on a popular (and well-signposted) trail that involves a mix of cycle paths and road cycling, concluding back at the train station. I loaded up my saddlebags, donned my helmet and set out.
The initial part of the route was joyous – I had energy in my legs, and each bend in the road introduced a new idyllic scene with wooden houses and green fields everywhere. After 28km (17 miles), I took a well-timed stop at Huseby Bruk, an old ironworks with a preserved house and gardens from the 19th century. Now owned by the Swedish government, there are tours available, or you can just wander the grounds.
I learned some memorable stories about the estate and the family that once owned it. For instance, about a daughter who was nearly scammed out of the house by a prince and his accomplice, and a question mark over whether or not that same daughter was actually a daughter of the king. Come for the beautiful gardens; stay for the gossip.
Huseby Bruk is also an excellent gateway to Åsnen National Park, where you might encounter the so-called Big Five of the region: moose, white-tailed eagle, crane osprey and the black-throated diver.
After another 10km (6 miles) of cycling, I made it to Torne hot, dusty and tired. My home for the night was Torne Gård, a bed-and-breakfast where I was grateful for a traditional and hearty Swedish dinner of elk and wild pig burgers, carrots, broccoli, potatoes and salad, plus a thick and delicious gravy, that the owner, Edith Karlsson, cooked for me.
Day 2: Torne to Urshult
I left early the next morning, wanting to get most of my cycling done before peak heat-wave temperatures set in. With the window open, I could hear so many birds in the trees outside that I doubt I would have slept in even if I’d wanted to. After a filling breakfast, I set out on the next leg of my journey.
This section of the route was probably my favorite, a gorgeous trail through Åsnen National Park. At first, I was surrounded by trees, with occasional glimpses of the lake; then, I was cycling along an old train rail bed, with the lake on both sides, cradled by lily pads, insects, birds crying out and old forest. The path was quiet; I passed few others. I found some good spots to stop for a swim or a snack, as well as some hiking detours and extra routes to explore. I could have cycled it forever.
Toward the end of this leg, I was back on the road as I made my way to Urshult Camping, which occupies a peaceful plot on the shore of the lake’s south end. The campsite was filled with a mix of caravans, tents and cabins, yet still managed to feel quiet and relaxed. Guests could enjoy boats for canoeing, fishing or paddle boarding available, and swimming at a small beach area. I was lucky enough to snag the glamping tent for the night, which felt extremely luxurious after 35km (22 miles) of cycling. I sat on the pier on the calm lake, surrounded by forest, looking up at the blue sky with a blazing sun barely a hint of a breeze. It was absolute paradise.
I ate dinner at Kurrebo, a delicious vegetarian and vegan buffet restaurant with a view of the lake and forest, and a positive, community-driven, sustainable vibe.To round the day off, I experienced one of the best sunsets of my life back at the campsite: the sky and its reflecting lake turned the most extraordinary shades of pink and purple, with no sound but the occasional cry of a loon, and a boat or two coming back from an excursion on the lake.
Day 3: Urshult to Teleborgs Slott
On my third day of cycling, the temperature was due to rise to 27°C (80°F). I started out on a former train right-of-way with loose gravel (thank goodness for my cycle’s suspension!). I headed north, following the lake’s east side, down the peaceful and quiet trail, with a few gentle hills and a couple of very fun descents. At certain points, when I was cycling through the forest all I could hear was birdsong. The earphones came out then so that I could just listen.
The stop that evening was at Teleborg Castle (Teleborgs Slott), a palace built in 1900 as a wedding present for a local count, today a large hotel and restaurant on the lake, with lovely grounds. The rooms in the castle are large with high ceilings and shared bathrooms and the restaurant has an interesting local menu, though the ambiance is a little staid. That said, staying overnight in a castle was the perfect end to what had been an incredible three-day bike-packing trip.
How to make it happen
From RentBikes.se, you can get all sorts of bicycles – standard, mountain, electric and more – plus attachments for children, complete with locks, helmet, pump and repair kit. Packages start from $320, and include rental, accommodation and meals; additional fees apply depending on the type of bike you’re renting. You can also pay for luggage transport between accommodations so that you’re not carrying it all in your saddlebags.
The route should be possible for anyone of reasonable fitness. The path is mostly flat, and there are ample opportunities to stop, rest and refuel. Make sure you cycle with enough snacks and water to keep you going: some of the cycle involves long sections without seeing any shops or cafes. And bring mosquito repellent for when you’re by the lake at dusk.
Amy traveled to Sweden on the invitation of Visit Sweden. Lonely Planet does not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.