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Winter getaways: the stunning Swedish region with something for everyone

If travel is finally back on your agenda, you may be dreaming of an idyllic winter getaway? Luckily, you no longer have to stop at dreaming.

Winter getaways: the stunning Swedish region with something for everyone
Photo: Anna Holm/Visit Dalarna

Whether you’re a family with children, a couple wanting a romantic break, or a group of friends looking to reunite, Dalarna in central Sweden offers a wealth of winter activities and some of the country’s most majestic sights. 

Here, one family tells The Local about their unforgettable trip to Rättvik in Dalarna last winter, while we also look at some of the many possibilities for exploring the rest of the region. Rättvik is around three hours and 30 minutes from Stockholm by car, while some parts of Dalarna are even closer – and even its mountainous north is only six hours from the capital by car. You’ll also find it easy to get to from even further afield, with two airports serving the region.

Want to escape to a Swedish winter wonderland? Find out more about Dalarna from Visit Dalarna

N-ice, affordable family fun!

In the heart of Dalarna lies Lake Siljan. Sweden’s sixth largest lake, its magnificent surroundings are the result of a meteorite impact 360 million years ago. Today, many towns on its shores, such as Orsa, Mora, and Rättvik, have a timeless quality thanks to the simple pleasures they offer if you just want to get outdoors and reconnect with nature.

Claire Hamilton and Antonio Morveto, chose Rättvik, where Antonio grew up until the age of 12, for their first family holiday with all their kids; Claire has one daughter and Antonio three. They booked a cottage on AirBnB for five nights at a cost of under 1,000 Swedish kronor per night.

“The kids were really excited about the first holiday we’d all taken together,” says Claire, originally from Scotland. “It was a super-cute little cottage with a really nice view down to a small lake.” Swedish-born Antonio, who is half-Italian, says the location is equally ideal for couples without kids. “It’s perfect for a romantic weekend – just get a cabin in the middle of nowhere,” he says.

Claire Hamilton and family: playing in the snow with a view of the lake

Both Lake Siljan and the smaller lake, 200 metres from the cottage, were frozen but the family were not short of ideas for things to do. Sledging (or sledding), including with huskies, is hugely popular in Dalarna. “We were sledging down the hill with the girls for a few hours on the first day,” recalls Claire. “The lake was completely covered in ice,” adds Antonio. “We saw lots of ice skaters and everything looked just beautiful.” 

If you’re fond of outdoor ice-skating, take a look at the Skating Dalarna network, which ploughs paths stretching for more than 70km across the region’s frozen lakes every winter.

The family also took advantage of a sauna for hire by the small lake, with the combination providing an opportunity for their own spontaneous ice bucket challenge! “We filled buckets with ice cold water from the lake,” says Claire. “The kids poured it all over Claire and myself,” adds Antonio. “Then we did the same to them! You all want to dive back into the sauna pretty quickly after that!”

The family in the sauna and playing by the frozen lake

The couple are also big fans of winter swimming and would happily have taken a dip if conditions had allowed. “I have a challenge with a friend that we have to take one dip every month all year round,” says Antonio. “Claire and her friend also have to be in the water every week for five minutes.” 

“You get such a buzz from it,” says Claire. “It’s so invigorating.”

From cosy cottages to hotels, check out your accommodation options in Dalarna

Skiing, snowmobile – or just a good old snowball fight?

If you’re looking for a ski trip (or a day or two skiing as part of a longer break), Dalarna has plenty of options. You can enjoy Alpine skiing at larger resorts in the north of Dalarna or smaller options further south. Many resorts also offer activities such as snowmobile driving and snowshoeing. Or you could opt for cross-country skiing. The region has many well-prepared and clearly marked trails, both close to urban areas and going deep into the forest, so why not give it a try?

Photo: Visit Dalarna

When the family wanted to go skiing locally one day last winter, they unfortunately found the slope was shutting for the day due to a lack of snow. But they didn’t let that spoil their fun. “We had a massive snowball fight on the slope with a wonderful view overlooking Siljan,” says Antonio. “It went on for hours!” adds Claire. “It was great fun and one of those moments you’ll always remember.”

Antonio advises anyone visiting this year that the Granberget ski resort, in Siljansnäs, near Rättvik, is ideal for families. “There are several small slopes and it’s perfect for children to learn how to ski.”

Walking on water

One of the most famous sights in Rättvik is the 628-metre pier, built all the way back in 1895 to enable a steamship to berth in the town.

Claire Hamilton and the children on Rättvik’s pier

“We took the girls down to walk on the frozen water underneath the pier, which was also pretty cool!” says Claire. “The holiday was during the pandemic, so we weren’t going out and spending lots of money. But we still found loads to do, just taking the girls on little walks and finding nice places to explore.” 

One special place to explore is Springkällan, just 7km from Rättvik. Here, you’ll find a natural fountain in the middle of the forest and in winter, the water freezes to create beautiful ice formations. If you fall in love with it, there’s even a slogbod available (that’s a wooden shelter where hardy souls can camp out overnight!

Having returned to his childhood home, Antonio is already thinking about the next trip to Dalarna. “It would be a great place for our youngest children, who are five and eight, to learn to ski,” he says. “I only have good memories of Rättvik; it’s the perfect place to raise a family.” Or for a well-deserved getaway when you all need to recharge your batteries! 

In need of a winter break? Discover Dalarna through Visit Dalarna and start planning your own trip to this Swedish winter wonderland

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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