Urnatur Skogseremitage, Ödeshög
If only people like Ulrika Krynitz and Håkan Strotz had been in charge of the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960’s. Hippies would have been heroes, communes would have had waiting lists, and environmentally, we’d all be way ahead of the game by now. The couple, a German and a Swede, respectively, did the opposite of dropping out: they got degrees in biology (Krynitz) and forestry (Strotz), traveled, studied some more, taught, designed, and then, in 1993, bought a farm. And only naturally, very organically, did that farm develop into Urnatur Skogseremitage, an eco-reserve in green parlance, a summer camp for grown-ups in realspeak.
Three hours southwest of Stockholm on small Lake Visjö, Urnatur is like a demonstration model for the live-smart movement and a destination for those who wish to not so much turn back the clock as to slow it way down. In a place named for a Swedish phrase that means both “ancient nature” and “made from nature,” everything that’s in the woods is of the woods. From storm-felled trees, Strotz hand-built one main cabin, six guest cabins, two tree houses, and a bathhouse—the only structure with both electricity (solar-powered) and plumbing. (Strotz read the bibles of the American back-to-the-land movement, the Foxfire books from the 1970’s, which inspired much of his craft and woodsmanship.) An apprentice constructed that most rare specimen, a delightful outhouse. Three of the cabins have roofs of peat and moss that spawn wild strawberries in late summer, and meld into a forest carpeted in plush, intense green. At Urnatur, nature and design dovetail seamlessly. Pulling from Swedish, Amish, Shaker, Russian, and Japanese traditions, each cabin is unique but uniformly enticing. I wanted to stay in them all.
A 10-minute walk from the cabins, along a path bordered by pastures for Swedish heritage breeds of cows and sheep, brought me to the lake. Here, inside the “tin castle,” a metal-roof building that’s the largest at Urnatur, or on its deck, guests gather for conversation, a glass of wine, and Krynitz’s fine meals, their ingredients pulled mostly from the farm. It was just before dinner, 8 p.m., and the sun was nowhere close to setting. I walked out onto a dock projecting into the lake. Calm waters mirrored a sky scattered with backlit clouds. It was hard to imagine a place more peaceful.
Urnatur is all fresh smells and new experiences and no rules. If you want crayfish for dinner, you can row out on the lake and check the traps with Strotz. Herbal tea? Forage on the grounds with Krynitz. When the sky finally darkens, you light your way with lanterns, your cabin with candles and kerosene lamps. After all, Strotz says, “What is more beautiful: a lightbulb or a burning candle?” When you want to bake in the sauna or stargaze from the hot tub, both part of the immaculate bathhouse, you advise Strotz, who stokes the fires that heat them.
Even taking into account their formal education, I was astonished by Krynitz and Strotz’s knowledge—of carpentry and blacksmithing, of plant material and food and cooking, of animal husbandry, of Swedish history and lore, of current events and contemporary design, and simply of people. Here was a couple as attuned to human nature as to the natural world, quietly engaging hosts who knew when to step forward and when to pull back. Not just the creators and caretakers of Urnatur, they are its soul, making it a paradigm impossible not to want to emulate, impossible to replicate.