From coast to coast – A mid Scandinavian Train Adventure along St Olavsleden

We were curious about making a pilgrimage, but not curious enough to do St Olavsleden on our feet. We were more interested in the landscape and travel in a comfortable mode. The railway leading from coastal Sundsvall to Östersund, Åre and on to Trondheim in Norway caught our attention and so we made our way by train!

map pilgrimage st olavsleden
Map of the pilgrim trail St Olavsleden leading from Sundsvall on to Norway. Illustration: The railway runs parallell to the pilgrim path between Sundsvall and Duved. On the Norwegian side there is trainconnections from Verdal by Stiklestad to Trondheim.

By train from Stockholm to start our pilgrimage

After a few days in Stockholm we set off for the coastal ride up north by train to the city Sundsvall. The beautiful stone city was easy to grasp at the “Stenstan visitor center” by the town square. There were lots of interactive displays and movies letting us get a feel for the wooden industry in the area at that time forming a rich upper class. We booked a rooftop guided tour to see the splendid stone houses from above. Everyone got a helmet and a climbing harness and then we hooked ourselves up onto a wire along the rooftops. Imagine the whole city center with 600 houses was rebuilt in just six years after the great fire in 1888!

The next morning we took the early train heading west passing Bräcke and got off the train at Gällö station and took a short taxi ride to the Mid Sweden Ski Park. It is a former warehouse placed in a blasted cave, now made into a ski tunnel for cross country skiing! We rented our equipment on site and set off for a few laps. Some professional biathletes were practising in an adjoining tunnel. Now it was time for some local beer savouring. A taxi took us to Pilgrimstad, home to the famed small scale Jämtlands bryggeri (brewery) for a guided tour and beer tasting.

We hitched our way with some other guests at the brewery to see the church tower in Brunflo. The tower or “Kastal” was built for multi purposes, to work as a shelter and as a defence tower in the 12th century. The climb was hard but we enjoyed the view from the top!

Restaurangliv i Östersund | Foto: Sandra Lee Pettersson
Plenty of good restaurants in the commercial center for Jämtland Härjedalen - Östersund city of gastronomy. Photo: Sandra Lee Pettersson.

Östersund city of Gastronomy

We walked along the pilgrim path St Olavsleden from the church onto the main road and took a local bus bound for Östersund. We stayed for two days to get a chance to see as much as possible: the Jamtli Historyland with actors in the summer, the runestone and the beautiful home of the composer Wilhelm Peterson Berger called Sommarhagen. We even found the time to rent bikes and head out to the nature reserve of Andersön, an island 20 km from the city center with pebbled beaches and peaceful paths along the shores.
There are many restaurants and cafés in Östersund. We had previously read about Jazzköket with local artisan foods off the pedestrian area in central Östersund.


Hällmåning i Glösa | Foto: Erika Willners
Stone age rock carvings or petroglyphs at Glösa. Photo: Erika Willners

Heritage and natural cycles

Krokom was our next railway stop. After a visit at the old fashioned store “Gamla Lanthandeln” and trying to learn a few expressions in the local dialect from the shop owner we lent bikes and took off for the museum of one eccentric man Mus-Olles museum”. He collected everything it seems. The old packages were fascinating pieces of art. The weather was clearly on our side so we continued around the lake Alsensjön to Glösa Hällristningar (rock carvings / petroglyphs) and the reconstructions of a stone age hut.

Kretsloppshuset” (natural cycle house) in Mörsil turned out to be like an oasis to us with their well thought out architecture, organic foods and cosy little shop. Sitting in the shades of the plants in the greenhouse enjoying a cup of coffee after our meal felt like heaven as this was one of the warmer days of our tour.

Hiking at Fröå Gruva, Åre | Photo: Sandra Lee Pettersson
Mount Åreskutan forms a perfect backdrop whether you choose to go for an activity full of adrenaline or meditation on your own. Photo: Sandra Lee Pettersson

Åre is like a bustling city in village format

From Järpen we enjoyed a bicycle tour along lake Kallsjön past the village Konäs and onto the shieling Lillvallen. From there we hiked the 2,5 km up the mountain Suljätten (The giant of Sul´s nose) for a spectacular view of the surroundings.

We also made a stop in Åre for a guided village tour to learn about early tourism in the area. After which we took a ride with the Cable car up to the top of mount Åreskutan and had a ball throwing snowballs at each other from the small patch of snow we found near the waffle hut. That evening we treated ourselves to a spa treatment and a luxurious dinner in one of the local restaurants. Åre is a village in terms of number of inhabitants but boasts the regions highest number of guest beds. 

Vandrare på bro längs Jämtlandstriangeln | Foto: Niclas Vestefjell
Hiking at Storulvån mountain station. Photo: Niclas Vestefjell

Closer to the border between Sweden & Norway

Birdwatching was next on our itinerary. We stopped in Ånn and hiked from the railwaystation to the lake Ånnsjön and saw some amazing snipes, dotterels and even a phalarope from one of the towers built for birdwatching.

From Enafors we stepped on a bus bound for Storulvån mountain station. We did a short hike to see the old fir Old Pompe which is estimated to be some 5700 years old! After that we had a hearty meal and joined another party for an afternoon tour to the village Handöl to see the exhibit on the Carolean soldiers who unfortunately met their destiny in great numbers as they were marching back from a campaign in Norway around new years 1718-1719. The cinnamon buns in the café were as good as we had been told!

In Storlien we learned about the methods of Dr Westerlund. He prescribed fresh air, exercise, healthy food and cultural activities to people suffering from exhaustion syndromes in the aftermath of the industrialisation in the late 1800s. One of his “medicines” was for patients to walk up the mountain side to a named bench. Grateful cured people donated money for more benches and along the floral trail today there are almost 50 benches along the restored trail “Blomsterstigen” of 7,5 km.

Rypetoppen is an adventure park on the border between Sweden and Norway, close to Storlien and Kopperå train stations.

Entering Norway

In Storlien there is a change of trains since the norwegian track is not electrified. We took a taxi to the nearby adventure park on the norwegian side of the border called “Rypetoppen”. The adrenaline rush was massive as we took the zipline over the waterfall Brudslöjan and tried some of the other trails around the treetops before we took the train from Kopperå in Norway. Our next stop was set out to be Hegra.

Hegra festning is a World War II fortress with a story of some courageous men and women who held off German attacks before surrendering on 5 May 1940 as one of the last Norwegian units active in southern Norway. We enjoyed the storytelling provided by the guide and sent a thought of gratitude for living in peace today.

We also took a stop in Hell, and yes we took a picture (we know it is classic) of the Hell station building and the door saying “Gods Expedition” (freight services). A taxi took us out to the medieval fortress Steinvikholmen and also out to the peninsula Frosta, also called the garden of Trondheim. We bought some fresh vegetables and visited the nuns at Tautra monastery for an overnight stay.

The end of the line Trondheim was our last destination. The Nidaros Dome was of course on our bucket list as well as the Rockheim national museum of popular music. The buildings gave contrast and perspective on the time past between the the two building periods. Other highlights while in Trondheim was eating fresh seafood and the Ringve museum at one of their guided tours where the guide actually demonstrates the different historical instruments on display.