Nordic Summer Houses Are A Home Away From Home

An Indian transplant living in Denmark discovers why summer houses are cherished in the Nordic countries
A typical Nordic summer house offering an escape into nature
A typical Nordic summer house offering an escape into natureIllustration: Nitin Chaudhary

This will be my 15th year in the Nordic. There are many elements that have fascinated me about life in this frosty corner of the world, and they continue to do so till today. Take, for example, the game of light—stretchy sun-filled days in summer complementing the scanty hours of grey light in the long winter months. Or, touching on human matters, I am surprised till date about how deeply rooted trust is baked into this well-functioning society. It is inherent, and spans across trusting not only your next-door neighbours but also strangers, the larger society, and the government.

Yet, despite many things that make me curious, one that stands out is the concept of owning a summer house. Most Danes, Norwegians, Finns, and Swedes I have met either own a summer house or have inherited one they share with their siblings. Strangely, many of these summer houses are only an hour or two away from their homes or apartments in the city. When I first came to Denmark and heard about summer houses I was intrigued, for why would one own another expensive house so close to the other “regular” home, and spend only a few days, or at most a few weeks, every summer?

A summer house in Denmark
A summer house in DenmarkFlickr: Kåre Gade

Coming from India, my idea of a vacation was to escape to some place far away, explore places unseen, be on the move, and unearth new experiences. My mind, conditioned to this way of exploring, found the concept of owning summer houses inscrutable. Yet, I kept my reservations to myself all these years.

However, when I met my good old Danish friend Morten last weekend, I could no longer keep my curiosity in check. We met at an old Danish pastry house, tucked into a corner of the main walking street in Copenhagen. Morten used to come here during his childhood to eat cakes. Now recently retired, he had time at hand to revisit his childhood memories so I accompanied him to the café. Once seated inside, I asked Morten about his summer plans. “Same as last year,” he said. “I will go to my summer house, carry out a few essential repairs, and stay there for a few weeks.”

A trendy summer house
A trendy summer houseFlickr: Дмитрий Кругляк

Morten sounded excited about his plans of going to the same place he had been to for many years. “But are you not bored of going to the same place year after year?” I asked. Morten gave me a bemused look and said, “You get away from the city and into nature. For a few days you are away from the bustle, can take long walks, and just breathe the fresh air. Best of all, I sometimes don’t even get network on my phone!”

The thought stayed with me and reminded me of the farmhouses back in India that some of us have the luxury of owning. These farmhouses, nestled in a village, away from the overcrowded cities, slowed the tempo of life. In the Nordic regions, this easy access to nature appeared to be available to everyone.

Do I need to travel far away to relax and untangle myself from habituated patterns? This question remained with me when I left Morten and thought more about these summer houses peppered across the Nordic countries. A setting that distances me from daily conduct and brings me closer to nature is what I have been seeking when travelling. Does it matter that I need to sit on a plane and travel long distances? Not if I can find that experience in a familiar setting nearby.

A summer house in Sweden
A summer house in SwedenFlickr: Kaj Bjurman

We have attached the idea of travelling with a nomadic existence whereas travelling is a means to an end. For many, these experiences are to be found in the bustle of overcrowded cities while for others, it’s to be revealed in being closer to nature. And for those seeking quiet, familiarity does not breed contempt or boredom as I learnt from Morten. The same summer house provides respite while serving as a familiar backdrop.

And that’s why to give a new dimension to my holidays this year, I have decided to rent a summer house to while away a few weeks.

How to get there: Head to Copenhagen Airport in Kastrup and take the metro to the city centre 15 minutes away. Take advantage of the city's expansive cycling network, board the metro, step onto a harbour bus, hail a taxi, or simply walk and take in the sights. The best way to travel within the country is by train. A journey from Copenhagen to Aarhaus takes three hours.

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