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Swimming, sailing, pleasure cruises - Lake Vanern has them all. This ancient lake is the largest lake in Sweden and the third largest in Europe, spanning almost 1,400,000 acres. Formed when the last ice age retreated, the lake has existed since about 5600 B.C. Originally, the lake covered Sweden completely, finally retreating to near its current size as the earth rebounded from the weight of the ice. Testament to its importance in distant history, a Viking ship was discovered resting on the bottom of the lake recently. With over 20,000 islands and rocks, Lake Vanern holds the world's largest freshwater archipelago. The lake still supports life landlocked here since the end of the ice age, including a salmon sub-group related to the Baltic Sea salmon that lives its life entirely in fresh water. The salmon spawn in small lakes connected to the northern part of Lake Vanern. More than 20 small tributaries empty into the lake, but the only outlet is the Gota River.
Lake Vanern has been an important economic center in Sweden for centuries. Castles dating to the 13th century still stand in the area. Some villages still depend on fishing for their economic health, but others developed industries which utilized the easy water transport of the lake. Freight transportation and industry along the lake greatly increased after the Gota Canal was begun in 1810 along the Gota River outlet to the North Sea. A series of locks were installed to ease ships past the small waterfalls and differences in elevation. The Gota Canal was continued from Lake Vanern east to Lake Vattern, then on to the Baltic near Stockholm. This allowed for the growth of the paper industry that takes advantage of the heavily-forested areas north of the lake. Up to 4,000 ships a year pass through Lake Vanern ranging in size from small ocean-going vessels to pleasure craft.
Lake Vanern has developed into one of the favored vacation destinations in Europe. Pleasure boaters regularly travel the Gota to Lake Vanern to enjoy a week at one of several small harbors. Marinas along the lake offer varying activities for vacationers, including guided tours to the islands and around the archipelago. Experienced sailors appreciate the challenges of navigation around the rocks and islands. Djuro archipelago, which has been given national park status as Djuro National Park, surrounds Island Djuro in the middle of the lake. The lake has two sections, divided by peninsulas. The western body of water is known as the Dalbosjo in Dalsland Province; the eastern arm is known as Varmlandsjon, its northern parts in the province of Varmland and the southern in Vastergotland. A popular tourist attraction located near the southeastern shore of Lake Vanern is the mountain plateau of Kinnekulle. This 886-foot ridge is the best spot for viewing the vastness of Lake Vanern.
Charter fishing is a popular activity at Lake Vanern. The local variety of landlocked salmon grows to nearly 40 pounds. The fall season is particularly popular for trolling for salmon. Fishermen also cast for perch, trout and zander. Five species of whitefish inhabit the lake, along with smelt. There are cycling trails and a roadway that encompass nearly the entire lake. Birders enjoy the chance to view various species of terns and gulls, sea eagles and cormorant. Rarer birds sometimes sighted are the black-throated diver, turnstone and Caspian tern.
Gota Canal has become a focal-point of vacationers wishing to sail through the inland waterway, either via their own watercraft or aboard a cruise. Twentieth-century cruise ships do a booming business providing canal cruises, either for the day or with full accommodations for a week or more. Watercraft, including kayaks, canoes and sailboats are available for rental as are bicycles for cycling along the old towpath. Many of the small locks are the responsibility of the boater to operate and instructions are available at most vendors along the route. Vacation rentals and youth hostels are strategically placed along the canal for those who wish to spend several days either hiking or slow-boating. Several points of interest are available to the visitor such as the Karlsborg Fortress Museum on Lake Vattern.
An unusual but popular treat awaits the traveler when they get to Lake Vanern; a floating wood-fired sauna can be reserved to ease sore muscles from cycling, hiking or trimming sails. Traditionally, the sauna is followed by a dive into the lake just off the deck. This should refresh both body and spirit before the visitor-turned-explorer begins investigating the architecture in the old towns along the shore. Ranging from small villages to cities with more than 50,000 people, the towns provide every amenity the visitor could wish for. One of the more popular is the harbor at Mellrud, near the archipelago. Lidkoping holds the famed Rorstrand porcelain factory and has the longest and nicest beach on the lake, Svalnas. Any amenity and activity a visitor could wish for are available here, including golf, tennis, horseback riding and nightlife.
Vacation rentals and real estate for long-term use are available in most cities along Lake Vanern and along the Gota Canal. Come and experience nature the Swedish way; you'll find lake living you never knew existed.
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