Hiking, paddling and outdoor cooking: discover forest bathing in Sweden’s Skåne region

Switch off and strike out to the serene forests of this southern province, where you can join tours combining mindfulness and nature.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020,
By Nicolline van der Spek
Photographs By Frits Meyst
Forest bathing is all about immersing yourself in nature, experiencing it with all the senses.
Forest bathing is all about immersing yourself in nature, experiencing it with all the senses.
Photograph by Frits Meyst

“Are you about to go tree-hugging?” My friend giggles after I tell him about my impending trip to a primaeval forest in the middle of Skåne. I’m going forest bathing, a mindful form of nature therapy currently doing the rounds. Originally from Japan, ‘shinrin-yoku’ is all about immersing yourself in the atmosphere of a forest and experiencing the surrounding nature with all your senses. And on this trip, I’m twinning the new-age-sounding stress-buster with hours of canoeing and hiking.

Skåne is a revered canoeing hotspot with 249 miles of coastline, more than 100 lakes and two meandering rivers: Helge å and Rönne å. There are several organisations that rent out canoes and kayaks as well as dry bags and camping gear — including a tent, grill and fire plate. Most will transport any bulky luggage you don’t want to carry, too.

A lesson in mindfulness

My guide for the two days is Felicia Eckersten, a landscape engineer and mindfulness instructor. We follow her into the forest and gather in a circle. She asks us to look at a raisin as if we’ve never seen one before. “Please close your eyes and smell it,” she says. “Squeeze it between your fingers and watch how it bounces back. Please keep it in the sunlight and stare at its colours. Put it on your tongue without swallowing it. What do you taste?" This would usually send me into a fit of giggles, but Felicia has left an impression on me, and I realise how quickly I normally eat without really taking in all the flavours and textures. This, I learn, is our first lesson in mindfulness.

When I return to my canoe, I pay a lot more attention to the environment: the waving cattails in the reed; a line of dancing seagrass under my canoe; and a pond skater walking on water. We paddle along the Rönne å, a river that twists and turns with the occasional small rapid. My senses seem supercharged. After the mindfulness session, the dragonflies appear to be bluer, the butterflies bigger, and I become entranced by a cow standing near the waters edge.

Paddling along the Rönne, a meandering river that twists and turns in Skåne.
Photograph by Frits Meyst

Friluftsliv: open-air living

We eventually switch from river to land. Rain starts pouring down as we pull our canoes ashore, but Per and Susanne, Felicia’s parents, come to our rescue with umbrellas. It makes me think of a Swedish saying: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

Next, we start off on the five-mile Skåneleden hike. I stare at the forest: the mossy rocks are almost fluorescent; I smell lavender; I hear the rush of the wind in the treetops. I look at the sunlight coming through the leaves like pixels of light. I take a photo with my phone and realise there’s no signal, no wi-fi and no contact with the outside world. No news, no messages, no social media. Just green. That is what friluftsliv is all about — a Scandinavian term that loosely translates as ‘open-air living’, focusing on finding the balance between body and mind in nature.

Along the way, we forage in the undergrowth for chanterelles, our starter. We’re doing some outdoor cooking tonight, and a pot of soup cooked by Felicia’s parents, made with freshly plucked nettles, is already waiting of us around the fire. I perch close to the smouldering coals before falling asleep in my tent, on a soft mattress of moss, to the coo of a cat owl.

We're reaching the end of our trip, but there's still time left for yoga in the morning. We grab our mats and stretch our arms to the treetops. It’s still early, but slowly, the sun gains strength. I hadn't heard of forest bathing before, but I just might be hooked.

During forest bathing experiences in Skåne, you can attend yoga sessions in the forest.
Photograph by Frits Meyst

Top three canoe spots in Skåne

Rönne å: A good intro for families and novices, this winding river combines gentle stretches with lively rapids, passing through green fields and swamps that resemble an Amazonian jungle. forceofnature.nu  kanotcentralen.se

Lake Immeln: Skåne’s third-biggest lake, which is peppered with more than 200 small islands, is a popular hangout for canoeists. Follow the lead of the locals and pull onto land after a few hours in the water for a memorable night of slow cooking under the stars. lakedistrictsweden.se

Kullaberg: There’s every chance you’ll spot bottlenose dolphins breaking through the water in this nature reserve. Here you can glide alongside the rocky coastline, where cliffs plunge into the sea and seabirds circle above. kullabergsguiderna.se  kullakajak.se

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