Enclosed by the dense and verdant forests and mountains of Dalarna in Sweden is Torgåsgården, a family owned hostel run by Moa, her husband, Bjorn, and sons, and their 5 (yes 5!!) dogs. From hiking and biking, to kayaking over the property’s lake and enjoying a sauna, make Torgåsgården your home for a night on our Scandinavia trip.
Natural beauty and charming hosts makes Torgåsgården a quaint and magical stop on this generally magical trip, and you’ll be able to learn all about Swedish traditions (which involves a walk accompanied by furry companions) and gain Norse mythology knowledge to put Marvel’s adaptations to shame!
I caught up with Moa one sunny afternoon to chat about her home, her love of the outdoors, and how our Contiki travellers fit into the lovely equation.
Hey Moa! Could you tell me a little bit about Torgåsgården and its origins?
“Hello! Yes, of course. So Torgåsgården was built in the 1800s and it was actually used as the local village prayer house in 1886. It’s been rebuilt quite a few times since then, the YMCA bought it in the ‘60s and redid it with a bunch of new rooms. Ownerships were passed around and eventually, six or seven years ago, we bought it.”
“It was rather run down when we bought it, so we spent some time redoing it and getting it to a place where it looks nice. We thought about how we would like to travel as a family or as a group and what we’d like to have when you come to a place like this – and that’s how we made our decisions.”
“Customers started to visit quite quickly and eventually both Bjorn and I quit our jobs to work here full-time. We figured out that only so much of life should be spent working and that the work here was much more fun and sustainable for our health, finances, everything. It’s been great for our life balance.”
What are the facilities like at Torgåsgården?
“Torgåsgården is a hostel and we have 11 rooms in the house capable of sleeping up to 55 people (if we really squeeze), and groups can rent out the property, like Contiki, as well as youth groups and schools. We also offer breakfast and dinner.”
“Because we have a huge outdoor area – patio, seating, but also land – there’s a lot to do here. You can come to be active: we have a football field, a lake, nearby hiking trails; and you can also come to relax: we have a sauna, and the outdoors is always a nice place to sit and think or read.”
You mentioned your husband and you run the place, do you have any other employees?
“Generally it’s just Bjorn and I, and our eldest son helps in the summer sometimes. But recently we have been so busy that we hired a few extra hands in the summer and we have one extra year-round employee, Marie. She helps out in the kitchens mostly and it’s great as it frees up some of my time so I can attend to our guests and actually spend some time with them.”
What kind of activities do you offer at Torgåsgården?
“So, we offer hiking tours, and those are done with either myself or Bjorn on one of the nearby trails. As I mentioned we also have a football field with lots of equipment our guests can borrow like footballs, goals, etc. We like to encourage our guests to move around.”
“And then we also work with local companies nearby so that people can go biking or rent canoes and stuff like that.”
“There are a few companies to rent equipment from, but there are a few that we like and know personally that we recommend to our guests. This way it also offers some more unique experiences, for example, there is a canoe company that we work with and we can drive our guests up to the centre and then from there they can canoe all the way back down to our house. They might not be able to do that with another hostel or another canoe company.”
Is it important to you to hire local people and work with local companies?
“Working with local people and local companies is one of our most important values, and it also falls into our sustainability pledge as a member of the Swedish Tourist Association.”
“We help with the local community where we can. By hiring local people and working with local companies, but also in other ways. For example, we let the schools and other youth groups borrow toys and amenities for a day or two for free if they need them; or if any associations need a place to hold fundraisers or charity events we’re always happy to host them here.”
Can you tell me more about the Swedish Tourist Association’s sustainability pledge?
“Yes, so the pledge is about trying to make tourism in Sweden as low on its carbon footprint as possible, and that extends to us as a hostel. Our accommodation is eco-conscious: we try to be mindful of the energy and water we use and limit that amount as much as possible. We also source our food locally or try to grow a lot of the produce ourselves, and all products used, including cleaning supplies, are environmentally friendly.”
“Part of our sustainability pledge also extends to our guests, we try to help our guests be as sustainable as possible while they travel as well. For example we make it easy for them to sort their trash, and when we have Contiki groups we ask ahead of time who will be having what food so that we don’t make extras that might go to waste. Any food that we have too much of we package up and deliver to a lot of the elderly people in the area, and anyone who we know might need a hand.”
“Really it’s about trying to be kind, though, to our neighbours, our guests, and the world around us, and hoping that that kindness is infectious and returned.”
One of the activities Contiki does with Torgåsgården is a nature and mythology hike. How long is it?
“The hike is roughly 4 km long, and we’ve made sure to choose a trail that’s quite accessible so that hopefully everyone can participate. It’s an old trail, probably about a few hundred years old, and while we hike we talk about Swedish history and Swedish folklore. We walk around the lake and the rivers and the mountains. It’s very green and very peaceful and the summer, when we get most of our visitors, is the perfect time for it.”
Can you tell me a little bit about the folklore you discuss? Is any of it linked to locations on the hike?
“Only 3% of Sweden is built up and lived in, most of Sweden is forest and nature. A lot of our folklore is built around that – we often say that the forest is our church because of our close proximity to nature.”
“One of the stops on the hike is at a 300 year old charcoal stack, where they used to make charcoal, and now it’s overgrown with blueberry bushes and greenery. Here we talk about the Lady of the Forest who is a creature that is just always all around you in the forest – sort of like an atmosphere. She’s similar to Freyja in Norse Mythology.”
“Then we talk about the giants living in the mountains. There is one giant in each mountain, and on one of the mountains there is a house where trolls live. Trolls and giants are a big part of Swedish folklore, I think it’s the creature we’re most known for.”
“We also talk about Midsommar and how, during that time the veil between the other worlds is much thinner, so there are little traditions you can do. If we have visitors during Midsommar we encourage them to put little flowers under their pillow when they sleep, for example, that way they can have dreams about their future.”
What is fika?
“Fika is a time when you get together and you have a hot drink and something sweet, like a little cake or a pastry. The tradition says it should be something sweet, but of course you can have what you like, but it’s not a big deal. Most people in Sweden do it, and it’s held twice a day. If you work in an office, for example, everyone takes 15 minutes together to have fika, maybe at 10:30am and then again at something like 2:30pm.”
“We have a fika when we go on the folklore hike. It’s my favourite part, actually, and the favourite part of many travellers. I have huskies and a little terrier and they come on the hike with us with little backpacks so they can carry the food and drink and reusable mugs. It’s very cute. I buy sweet buns from a local bakery in the morning and that’s what we all eat together in the forest.”
Can you tell me a little bit more about your dogs?
“Of course! We have four huskies and our lead dog is Snö, which means snow. He’s all white, hence the name, and he acts like the King, always taking all the space on the couch. We usually bring him and his sister Sól, which means sun, and they walk together with us.”
“Then we also have 2 more huskies, Kuling (which is a word for the howling of the wind) and Storm – both of them are very loud so their names are fitting. And we also have a cairn terrier named Lucy – she’s just a little dog so she doesn’t do any dog-sledding in the winter or anything, she gets to enjoy the ride instead.”
What is your favourite part about your job, if you have one?
“Meeting the guests, of course! I just love to meet people, genuinely I do. The Contiki Trip Managers give me a call 20 minutes before they arrive, and I always sit outside and wait for the coach because I’m excited to meet everyone. Taking care of our guests and making them feel like they’re home is a great part of it too. I think that’s what’s so nice about Torgåsgården: we welcome people into our own home and I hope to make it feel like theirs as well.”
What part of your job makes you the most proud?
“Partly I’m so proud of what my family and I were able to build. As I mentioned, when we bought Torgåsgården it wasn’t in very good shape. The way that it is and looks now, we did that all ourselves and I’m very proud of that.”
“We’re not from the area, and I think we’ve managed to integrate ourselves well in the community, but also bring something of use to everyone as well. I think the locals approve of what we do and appreciate it. And all our visitors, I want to make them feel welcome and like they’re home, and I think we do. They leave with good memories, and I’m really proud of that.”