One with nature at Urnatur Wood Hermitage

It’s raining. The drops fall gently on the trees’ foliage with a quiet patter, forming a graceful filter, lightyears from Instagram. A deep breath of fresh, unmistakeable Swedish nature. Or virgin nature if you like. It is 14 years since Ulrika Krynitz and Håkan Strotz lopped the first pine on their journey to completing their environmentally friendly mammoth project Urnatur Wood Hermitage, which opened seven years ago. Two pioneers in eco-tourism then, living yardsticks in the steadily growing international industry today.

So, it was no surprise that they raked in the Grand Travel Award’s Eco-Tourism prize 2012 or that the German giant Der Spiegel ranks Urnatur as one of Sweden’s coolest green destinations. Rather, it’s just another two confirmations that the time is right for the couple’s genuine life philosophy and business concept. Everyone is happy. And soon Ulrika and Håkan will be too. Håkan only has time to say a quick hello before heading off to Stockholm where he is partaking in an event on green tourism at the Central Station.

“I prefer to be here on the farm, but sometimes I have to go out among people,” he says with a slightly self-deprecating laugh.

It´s all too easy to think that Håkan Strotz and Ulrika Krynitz are your typical reactionary counterurbanisers. A misconception that couldn’t be more wrong. At Urnatur, it’s full speed ahead. Here, you are met by the future, not the past, with nature as an obvious hub of the activity, and of the whole existence.

“We are not very good at self-praise. We received an award in Germany as one of the 100 best hotels in Europe, and as one of the 10 best in our category. They sent a certificate that we could put up, but I’m not sure we want to publicize it. People who find their way here can make up their own minds. We don’t talk a lot about everything being ecologically sustainable and locally produced; to us it goes without saying. But there has been a big change. Five years ago we were seen as a bit odd and strange, and people wondered how our ‘Stone Age village’ was going, but now, everyone who has some awareness agrees that climate change is a serious problem that we must deal with.”

Håkan is the extrovert forest officer, nature school teacher, ideas man and very practical person who is happy to start new and seemingly impossible projects, and Ulrika the biologist, artist, visionary and realist. Well, to tell the truth it is a bit of everything, of both, perfect symbiosis that is in its element: Holaved Forest, a few kilometres outside Ödeshög. It’s time to try Ulrika’s culinary skills.

We crouch through the low door of the food cottage. Behind a curtain, we hear clattering, spluttering and chatting. This evening, Ulrika enjoys the help of daughter Siri who recently finished upper secondary school and has worked on the farm since then, apart from a stay in Berlin. The fire in the fireplace warms us and dries the wet clothes on our backs. The candle flames flicker in the natural draught and spread light in the darkness. Soon, Siri comes in with a tall carafe with water that she places in the centre of the table.

“Help yourselves, birch sap!” Well, what else. We pour ourselves a glass each and try it. The fresh, slightly sweet taste is not bad at all. In a blindfold test, we may have mistaken it for sugared water, but the mere knowledge that every drop has been extracted from an incision in a birch tree makes us drink with dignity and moderation. A little later we finally get to find out what has been hiding behind the smells that have whetted our appetites behind the kitchen curtain. We are served lamb mince steaks from the farm on generous plates with wild garlic butter and a glorious mix of beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke, mushrooms and sunflower seeds. And, with that, a bottle of Raccolto Cabernet Sauvignon. Organic of course. The flavours are fantastic: rustic, home-made, healthy, with a mix of spices that brings out the natural flavours. The atmosphere naturally adds to it. For dessert, we are served lovely soft panna cotta with stewed fruit. A perfect end to dinner.

Håkan Strotz and Ulrika Krynitz at the sheeps barn near their home in Sjögetorp outside Ödeshög.

Ulrika comes and joins us. We start to talk about the philosophy behind Urnatur’s wood hermitage. “It took a while for the concept to spread and to get people to understand what we were working on and for. The idea is for the business to be based on the farm and to use what the farm offers. We only serve our own lamb and, as far as possible, our home-grown vegetables and herbs, and our own eggs. We do of course supplement this, but the farm is the basis.

“We are very interested in nature conservation and biological diversity, and by living off a farm and on it – one that is today considered too small to live off – we are making a contribution to both these interests. And thanks to this, we have created an environment that attracts guests from the whole world and, at best, we may influence them to think a little about how we live and how we manage our resources in today’s society. It is a win-win situation.”

Where do your guests come from?

From all over Sweden and the whole world, though our international guests are mostly from the USA, Switzerland and Germany. Some only stay a few days.

What do you think then?

It’s cool, and at the same time it’s two-fold. If you work with eco-tourism, the environmental aspects are two-fold when it comes to guests who have come a long way. But often they come to Sweden for some other reason, and they have read about us and try to combine it.

No offence, but what do your guests do when they are here?

Well, that is the crux, and the beauty. There are a lot of exciting places to visit nearby, but our guests just want to stay here. And I suppose that is what we suggest on the homepage, that people can just come here and just be, land and discover the surroundings. You miss such a lot if you always try to maximize the programme.

What are your plans for the future?

We are quite happy really. There is always a risk of overdeveloping. We cannot take more than 16 meal guests, and we already have 23 beds. It all becomes a bit awkward. We don’t want to lose the exclusivity and genuineness.

Is that why it is not signposted from the road, so that your guests will be left in peace?

Yes, if they pay to stay here, people shouldn’t suddenly come walking in the forest and look in through the windows. That’s not great. If people are curious, they should book instead. Though it does happen that people call and are curious, and if we don’t have any guests, we may let them come and have a look anyway. What do you do to treat yourselves? We feel that we have everything we need here, so when we have a quiet moment, we have so many lovely places to be in, so we like to enjoy what we have created.

Urnatur, is it your life’s work?

Yes, in a way I suppose we have tied ourselves down here, but at the same time we both make sure we remind ourselves that we chose this, and if we should get tired of it and feel that we don’t want to do it anymore it wouldn’t be good, so then we would have to hand over to someone else.

As the raw dampness in the air has got under my skin, I end the evening with a good session in the wood-burning sauna. Clad in just a towel, I then fumble about quickly to my wooden house. It is pitch black so I navigate by the light from the lit paraffin lamp that shines through the windows and makes the house look like the Holaved Forest has had an inquisitive visit from outer space.

 

Text: Albin Wiberg

Photo: Johnny Franzén and Ulrika Krynitz

 

To the Urnatur website