Dalarna (Falun, Mora, Leksand and more)

6:52 min

On now to Sweden's heartland, the province of Dalarna, up in the hills to the northwest of Stockholm, on the Norwegian border.

The problem is what city we should profile? Falun, the county capital, and its slightly larger neighbor Borlänge each have a population around 40,000. But it’s the smaller communities in the countryside that Dalarna is probably most famous for: Mora, population 11,000, Leksand, with 6000 inhabitants, Rättvik with around 5000, and tiny Sälen with less than 700.

Let's do them all.


The name Dalarna means “the Dales”, which is a pretty good description of the geography, with its hills, and valleys, and lakes. Sometimes it’s anglicised as “Dalecarlia”, from Dalkarl, which just means a man of Dalarna.

The area was the heart of the old medieval Swedish kingdom, and is perhaps most famous for the visit of the nobleman Gustav Vasa in 1520, looking for support to drive the Danes out of Sweden.

He was rejected in Mora, and so set off on skis for the Norwegian border and exile. But the men or Mora changed their minds, and sent off skiers to find the would-be king.

They caught up with Gustav Vasa in the village of Sälen, brought him back and launched the successful revolt against the Danish occupation.

To commemorate the event, the Vasa race, the world’s largest cross country ski race, is held every year between Sälen and More.

Skiing is a major sport in Dalarna, but the province is also a center for a very minor sport here, baseball.

Besides hosting a team in the top Swedish league, Leksand is also the home of a high school level baseball academy, sponsored by Major League Baseball in the United States, as part of an effort to spread the sport.

It’s hard to say why the area become a center for baseball, but during World War Two more than one thousand American fliers had to make emergency landings over Sweden and were interned here for the rest of the war, and two of those camps were in Dalarna. So they might have taught the locals.

With its strongly preserved folklore traditions, Dalarna is a tourist attraction.

The painted wooden Dalarna horses are Sweden’s most popular souvenir. They come painted in a variety of colors, but always exactly the same shape.

Apparently they caught on internationally when a giant horse was part of the Swedish exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Darlarna was also the home of two very prominent Swedish artists in the late 19th century, early 20th century. Anders Zorn, who lived in Mora, was famous for his portraits, especially his nudes of young local women.

His neighbor Carl Larsson was perhaps more conservative, famous for painting scenes of traditional family life, with his designer wife Karin and their eight children frequently included. He was actually born in Stockholm, but their house in Sundborn in Dalarna was the subject of many paintings, and is today a museum in the artist’s memory.

Dalarna is probably at its most exciting at Midsummer, with people in traditional costumes raising the May Pole, followed by folk dances, all to the tune of the province’s famous fiddle folk music.