Brändön is a village where nature plays the leading role, both for the villagers and for visitors from around the world. "I have started to see everything we have around us with different eyes, thanks to all of the people who travel from half a world away to experience things that we take for granted," says Sofia Johansson.
Her family have been Brändön residents for as long as anyone can remember. The village has many large families whose generations live side by side. Sofia Johansson's family is one of them.
She grew up in Brändön and now lives with her own family in what was once her paternal grandmother's childhood home, a house that has been refurbished and enlarged. Closeness to nature and family is a central part of life here.
Fishing trips, kayaking, walks in the woods, mushroom picking, long-distance skating, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and a cup of hot chocolate in a snowdrift. Sofia's son Tage, aged 9, is growing up with the same traditions as his mum.
"We live by the seasons and we love the outdoor life. Here, we have everything we need. We have both the sea and the forest just outside the door. Our family fishes for our household needs; others live off whitefish and salmon fishing. Hunting is also a central part of life for many villagers.”
Just outside Brändön the archipelago opens up and Sigridsön, Nagelskär and Svartön are just a short boat ride away. The Brändön villagers are a maritime people and this has long been a fishing village. Sofia's family also spend a lot of time on the water.
Another defining characteristic of Brändön is entrepreneurial spirit. The many small, independent businesses are run by carpenters, painters, electricians and other tradespeople. Here, you'll find Brändö Conference/Brändö Lodge, a workplace for many of the locals that provides summer jobs for the youth and permanent employment for adults.
"I worked here during holidays from the age of 16 and was later hired on permanently. I have watched the company develop; from local conferences to large groups of businesspeople from all of Europe and vacationing families from England, Canada, India, Australia, Holland and, well, virtually every nation of the world."
Snow, ice and the Northern Lights attract many visitors who have never experienced a real winter.
"Seeing the children's eyes sparkle when they're sledding down a hill, or sharing the joy of a family as they build snowmen together lets me see, with their eyes, what we have here. Our foreign visitors have also taught me to see just how exotic the Northern Lights really are and how wonderfully exciting dogsledding and snowmobiling can be," says Sofia.
In summer, the bright nights, fresh air and pristine nature, around both the forest and the sea, are Brändön's winning features.
For Sofia, the Brändö spirit is what makes the village and life here so special. Naturally, the villagers all join in for the traditional Midsummer celebration, offering their time and labour before and after the festivities. It is an event that attracts thousands of visitors. Everyone gets involved in the big summer party and there is a family feeling in the air.
But smaller events are also frequently held. Village seniors take turns baking and running a café, and the youngsters arrange both Halloween parties and other themed get-togethers. The local village hall is booked most of the time.
The Brändö spirit creates a special kind of community which extends to neighbouring Örarna.
"Örarna's general store is a central meeting place for everyone. This is where you meet other locals, as well as cottagers on their way to and from their summer retreats. The general store has an amazing range of goods and I think it's one of the best places in Luleå to find fishing gear. Mentally, Örarna and Brändön are one and the same. We belong together.When Örarna arranges its dumpling party, Brändö residents are at the top of the guest list and the party vibe is mutual. Everyone is welcome."
Sofia says the strange thing is that, whoever you meet, there is always a common point of contact in Brändön.
"I usually say that all roads lead to Brändön. Everyone has a relationship with our village."
Text: Birgitta Lindvall Wiik
Translation: Mark Wilcox
Photo: Daniel Holmgren, Sofia Johansson