Nature’s own spectacle
– and a 375-year jubilee for a Sweden in miniature

TEXT: LINNEA DUNNE | PHOTOS © VISIT TROLLHÄTTAN VÄNERSBORG

Boasting a Scandinavian Riviera, highly entertaining historical sluices, and a notable reputation within arts and culture, Trollhättan and Vänersborg together make a popular holiday destination for both water lovers and fans of technical and automotive design. Whatever you come for, you will be rewarded – and likely refreshed by the incredible power of water.

“Every day at 3pm in the summer months, the floodgates open and 300,000 litres of water per second is released. It’s quite spectacular,” says Maria Engström-Weber, CEO of Visit Trollhättan Vänersborg. “People come here to experience this alone.”

Water has always been central to both Trollhättan and Vänersborg. In the case of the latter, an old marketplace, the waterway was key to the shipping and collection of iron found throughout the county, and the long beaches around Vänern – Sweden’s largest lake, technically an inland sea – made it a beneficial place to stay from both agricultural and safety perspectives. The importance of the lake for the position of Vänersborg, which got its town privileges in 1644, as a meeting point and trading hub cannot be underestimated. This year, the town celebrates its 375th birthday. A regional capital boasting generous nature and wildlife, it is sometimes described as a miniature Sweden.

In Trollhättan, it was the narrow water passages of the river Göta Älv that eventually led to what was to become the town’s pride, also contributing to its name. These passages caused more than a few headaches, as goods had to be reloaded to continue transportation on land. But it was not until 1800, after a range of different ideas and more than a few failed attempts, that the first sluice in Trollhättan was completed. The creation was dubbed the world’s eighth wonder and immediately became a popular place to go for a combination of technical enlightenment and a romantic setting. And the name? People thought that there were trolls in the waterfalls, their bonnets (hättor) sticking out like mini islets.

Wild waterways and peaceful lake lands

Many advancements later, both Trollhättan and Vänersborg still attract visitors thanks to their wild waterways and peaceful lake lands. “A lot of people come here mainly for the peace and quiet,” says Engström-Weber. “Vänern has 22,000 islands, so people come with their own boats and are amazed that they end up having an entire island to themselves for a week.”

Vänersborg boasts 100 kilometres of Vänern coastline with everything from sandy beaches to secluded cliffs, creating what is in summertime experienced as nothing short of a Scandinavian Riviera. Perfect for days of swimming and fishing, Vänern then transforms into a wonderland of winter fun as it freezes over to become a stunning cross-country ice skating arena, complete with the chance to try some ice fishing.

Water enthusiast or not, anyone fascinated with royalty will find the nature in Vänersborg of interest, as it is home to His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf’s hunting grounds, with uninterrupted views across all of Vänern from the plateau mountains of Halleberg and Hunneberg. The chances of seeing another king, namely the king of the forest, are even greater, as 93 per cent of visitors to local elk safaris can attest to.

Entertainment, music and design

Just ten minutes away, Trollhättan still centres around the falls and sluices, which attract visitors who sit down at the sluice café with an ice cream or shrimp sandwich, or stand right by the sluice to watch the spectacle ensue. “It certainly can be dramatic,” says Engström-Weber. “It’s a great laugh – let’s just say the communication is not always what it should be on board the boats!”

But entertainment comes in dry form, too. Trollhättan is known as a media hub, with the chance of spotting celebrities every now and again thanks to the fact that many of Sweden’s biggest productions are filmed here. Moreover, the town has a reputation for producing great music talent, including international stars, and in the summer, you can encounter spontaneous street entertainment everywhere you go.

More part of the area’s past than its present, yet crucial to its identity, is the former Saab factory, now the Saab Car Museum. “Needless to say, it’s a must-see for car enthusiasts,” says Engström-Weber, “but also those with an interest in design will enjoy following the entire process here.” The urge to create, she insists, is integral to the identity here. And so is, it seems, the ability to entertain; from the use and enjoyment of water to the creation of art and culture, Trollhättan and Vänersborg promise a spectacle you are sure to remember for a very long time. Perhaps this year, it will be more special than ever.

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