SWEDEN: Wellness Retreat
Åre, one of the leading Scandinavian ski resorts in Sweden, gives tourists a once-in-a-lifetime experience of yoga in snow cladded mountains and breathtaking white landscapes
The resurgence of Yoga - the ancient Indian mind-body wellness philosophy is unmistakable, especially in Scandinavian countries and if you are an Indian, there is every reason to feel proud of your ancestors. The soaring popularity of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi coupled with celebrity yoga Gurus like Ramdev, Bikram Choudhury and others of their ilk has meant that today yoga has become one of the hottest selling lifestyle brand.
A visit to the remote Swedish Ski Resort of Åre, located in Jamtland County with a population of just 1,417 reveals a truly Indian phenomenon on the rise - it's freezing outside, but you find groups of shirtless men absorbed in yoga poses in the early morning snow. And if they come to know you are an Indian visitor, they greet and embrace you with - "Oh, you are from Modi's land? Modi is great for the globe" kind of salutations, which even a decade back was unthinkable for Indian visitors.
In 2008, Åre was chosen as one of the ten best ski resorts of the world by Conde Nast Traveller and the best hotel in Åre - Copperhill Mountain Lodge made its debut the same year. Renowned American architect Peter Bohlin was behind the designing of this fabulous hotel, which till date is the only "Design Hotel" in the whole of Scandinavia. However, with the growth of tourism as an industry, many new hotels and resorts have sprung up not just in Åre but also in adjoining Duved and Storlien.
The manner in which Scandinavia has blended yoga into their lifestyle is nothing short of amazing as I was to discover for myself. The first thing that hits you in Åre is the raw mountain energy and as you begin to spend a few days with the snow-covered peaks for company, you begin to feel more profound. Add yoga into your lifestyle, and you experience a paradigm shift in consciousness and connect to a higher realm.
I was exposed to the power of peaks and snow in my childhood, courtesy three consecutive years of being a resident of Tawang (8,757 Feet) in India's North-Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. My Nepalese mountaineer friend - Ang Tshering Lama (Everester) is of the opinion that - "As someone who shivers at just the thought of cold water, it just makes so much sense to introduce yoga to a
community of snow lovers, who
physically challenge themselves every day. Plus, the issues affecting the mountain environments - be it Himalayan or Alpine, are something which every mountain aficionado should learn first-hand."
It was such a delight being stationed in the stunningly picturesque town of Åre. Actively resting as well as simulating dynamic movement for the slopes, it is amazing how yoga increases your riding capacity and technical competency at such rarefied heights.
Standard snow vacations are likely to centre around adrenalin pumping ski actions, coupled with loads of rich food, booze and nights that can leave you strung out and fuzzy. However, if you chalk out your Alpine vacations with connoisseurs of "Wellness Vacation", you not only ensure body-mind-soul nourishment and meditation but also allow your vacation to invigorate your spirit and tap into the energy of creation that connects you with a higher realm.
The annual Yoga Mountain Festival from November 15 - 17 conducted by Holiday Club Åre offers visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime transformative experience through the power of yoga in a truly scintillating Scandinavian backdrop - ice and snow everywhere, sauna and pool hangouts, spacious rooms with a view over the mountain or lake, options to indulge in SUP-board, in heat or along with live music. Price varies - 2,897 SEK for part in a triple room or 3,345 SEK for part in a double room which are inclusive of yoga sessions, lectures, outdoor workshops and accommodation as well as full board is included.
Many visitors also come to seize the opportunity to be guided by one of Sweden's foremost Ashtanga yoga trainer - Ann Svärdfelt, whose simple yet path breaking philosophy of "Yoga for Everyone" has been lapped up by thousands of yoga freaks worldwide, largely due to Ann's marvellous ability and her compassionate approach.
Yoga aside, Åre has evolved as a tourist destination since the 18th century. It used to be a resting place for pilgrims on their way to the grave of St. Olav of Norway. Visitors still trudge on the path of St. Olavsleden crisscrossing mountains, sparkling waters and Scandinavian forests.
Åre's first big move on its evolution as one the world's most spectacular Ski Tourism destination began in the year 1910 with the introduction of 'Åre Bergbana'- a funicular railway system that runs all of 790 metres at 398 metres above sea level to Hotel Fjällgården (556 metres). Even today, the Åre Bergbana is functional with a capacity to transport 600 people per hour.
It has been the venue for numerous 'Alpine World Championships' - 1954, 2007 and the most recent one being February 2019. Try to coincide your trip to Åre especially during the winter season, as it hosts many glitzy events that bring together the world's best Skiiers to Åre.
However, as an Indian used to living in the midst of overpopulated cities and towns bursting at seams, Åre, with a population of fewer than 2,000 people and 3,0 000 beds offers a huge change in terms of population density.
According to Yoga guru Ann Svärdfelt, "The summer tourism has grown in the past ten years. Cycling, hiking and fishing bring many visitors to Åre during the light summer days. Åre bike park is the largest of its kind in Sweden and has been listed as one of the best bike parks in the world. There are many events in Åre throughout the year. For instance, Åre extreme challenge is a multisport competition in early June and Västgård Game Fair is a fun weekend in late July. Regardless of when you visit, there will always be plenty to do and experience".
One thing that first-time visitors should embark upon is the Mountain Lifts that takes you high over the Scandinavian peaks and offers you stunning views. Once you reach the summit, you can then choose your own trail and hiking path.
Drop-in at Skistarshop Åre square or Skistarshop Holiday Club to buy your pass. Having a meal at Stormköket, the highest restaurant in Sweden can indeed be a surreal experience.