“Welcome to our lifestyle lab!” Flemming Hansen said, grinning at us, as one of the masterminds behind Stedsans in the Woods, he had to know what he was talking about. He had just pointed us towards our accommodation for the night with instructions to: “pass by the gardens, walk halfway down to the lake, look for a sign with the number two on it, follow that into the woods and I’ll see you for dinner.” After leaving Flemming at the makeshift reception with these cryptic instructions, walking on a dirt road towards a line of trees, my wife and I couldn’t help but smile at each other. We had been following tiny dirt roads for kilometres to get here and were excited to finally arrive somewhere hidden deep in the Swedish woodlands of rural Småland.
“No electricity, no running water – it was just nature and us”
Walking down the forest path and looking for our cabin, we occasionally stopped to pick overly ripe raspberries from bushes. They were delicious – juicy and warm from the summer sun. We found the sign Flemming had mentioned and started trekking into the woods to find our cabin which turned out to be a small, tent-shaped, wooden construction located smack in the middle in the forest and equipped with nothing but a massive bed. (They call this style: ‘permaculture-meets-wabi sabi-meets-Nordic interior design). No electricity, no running water – it was just nature and us. Through the cabin’s massive floor-to-ceiling window we were able to take in all the beauty directly from our aforementioned bed.
“I started to wonder what kind of place we had come to.”
We used the time before dinner to take a quick dip in the lake. Sitting on the sun deck of the floating sauna and enjoying the silence of the large body of water, Flemming’s words from earlier echoed in my head. “Stedsans is neither a hotel nor a restaurant” he’d said, instead making the point that the space operates as some sort playground for ‘a future lifestyle’. “The climate crisis is real, we know that things need to be done differently but instead of just talking about change we’re giving guests real examples of how a sustainable lifestyle looks” he’d continued. I started to wonder what kind of place we’d come to.
Stedsan’s owners are a Danish couple, Mette Helbakk and Flemming Hansen, who made a name for themselves running the organic fruit and vegetable shop Din Baghave in Copenhagen, early 2010. “We actually supplied many restaurants during the initial days of the ‘new-Nordic’ food movement before many of them had cultivated direct relations with farmers” Flemming would later mention to me. After the success of the shop, Mette and Flemming took over operations at the rooftop garden ØsterGRO in 2015, opening what later became the first version of Stedsans. This first incarnation already worked at the forefront of sustainability and farm-to-table cooking, using only produce from the organic rooftop garden and hardly any electric equipment in the cooking processes. Mette and Flemming also put a lot of emphasis on educating their guests on food opportunities beyond supermarket grocery shopping.
“…in the restaurants all the food is cooked over an open fire”
When Mette and Flemming moved their project to an forest in Bohult, Sweden in 2016, it was all part of a master plan to realize a sustainability project far beyond anything they’d done before. The Stedsans’ new location in the southwestern Swedish woods offered them everything they hadn’t been able to find back home in Denmark. It essentially consisted of an estate by a lake with several hectares of space – large enough to allow them to realise their vision of a fully self-sustaining hotel and restaurant business alongside a permaculture farm. The reality of this set up means there’s no running water (Stedsans is 100% water neutral with the exception of outsourcing its bed sheet laundry) and no electricity in either the guest accommodations or in the restaurants. Battery- and solar-powered lamps light the way through the darkest parts of the forest at night, elevated water tanks replace running water, and in the restaurants all the food is cooked over an open fire.
“Circled around pits of smoking coal and burning embers we tossed together a glorious summer potato salad”
The accuracy of the fire-cooking statement was demonstrated to us first hand during dinner. We’d arrived at the barn with the other guests only to be told that whilst weekend meals were served in the forest restaurant, weekday dinners were self-cooked by the guests over the communal fire by the main barn. We were invited to help ourselves from a massive offering of beautiful ingredients including brightly coloured tomatoes, new potatoes, crisp kale and fresh pike perch, which each group then cooked over the open fire pits. Circled around smoking coals and burning embers we tossed together a glorious summer potato salad with roasted vegetables and pan-fried pike perch in brown butter. The beverage offering was far from extensive but on request a fabulous bottle of Sancerre from Sebastien Riffault was unearthed from one of the fridges, the perfect compliment to our meal.
We sat for a longtime at one of the tables on the lawn enjoying the mellow summer evening. And as the hazy summer night set in over Bohult we went for one last swim in the warm lake, breaking into the moon’s reflection on the surface. We used a flashlight to find our way back to our cabin where we fell into a deep sleep, waking to the first rays of light that found their way through the treetops and into our fluffy bed. My barefoot walk to the toilet located 50m behind the cabin was perhaps not the most convenient of morning routines, but stopping for a second to feel the moist moss under my feet and enjoy a sublime concert of forest birds was truly magical.
“…we fell into a deep sleep, waking to the first rays of light that found their way through the treetops and into our fluffy bed.”
After breakfast –a heartwarming affair of coffee, freshly baked breads and sensational dairy products from neighbouring producers– enjoyed under the crisp, Swedish morning sun, we saddled up for our drive back towards electricity, phone reception and running water. Stedsans had been equal parts a Swedish midsummer night’s dream come true and a 24-hour enrolment in a thought-provoking lifestyle experiment.
A stay at Stedsans isn’t for everyone. It’s priced like a 4-star hotel with neither room service, warm water nor a concierge, offering plenty of bugs and all the other inconveniences that come from living in a forest instead. The more I reflected though, the more I started to understand the vision of Mette and Flemming and their strategy to provoke lasting reflection and inspire behavioural change. I’m convinced that everyone will benefit from this rare glimpse into a life without luxuries and all the things we take for granted, especially since Stedsans is packaged so beautifully in a gift wrap of Swedish summertime – bursting with nature, laughter and great food. If you come with the right expectations, this place will unfold true magic and inspire you, ultimately, to make a difference.
Stedsans in the Woods will only be open weekends during the 2019 season. The weekend restaurant will eventually move down to a tented location on a peninsula by the lake, providing a unique setting for meals in direct proximity to water. The weekday cook-it-yourself meals have been put on hold and guests will be served family-style meals by the Stedsans’ team at the lakeside restaurant instead. Please check the Stedsans’ website for the most up-to-date information.