Egbert Venema and Sandra Hilbrands, both 45, did what many dream of doing – they emigrated abroad. Now, though, their family and friends in Holland want them to move back ‘home’. And that perplexes them – they consider that they have found ‘home’ right here in northern Sweden… Burträsk’s new…
Going Dutch in Burträsk
Egbert Venema and Sandra Hilbrands, both 45, did what many dream of doing – they emigrated abroad. Now, though, their family and friends in Holland want them to move back ‘home’. And that perplexes them – they consider that they have found ‘home’ right here in northern Sweden…
Burträsk’s new camping site owners live exactly according to the advice on their website: “Find a place where you can go astray”. There is something beautiful in a place that has large areas where you can avoid crowds and instead find silence, solitude and fabulous nature. But at the same time, there is also choice with Burträsk right on the doorstep.
“Burträsk has everything we ever dreamed of back in Holland,” says Egbert. “In fact, the contrast with how we used to live there couldn’t be greater!”
In Holland, he explains, their local town was Apeldoorn, one hour from Amsterdam. They still have siblings and parents there, and last summer their loved ones saw Egbert and Sandra pack and move to the north of Sweden to become camping-site owners in Burträsk.
“They do not understand why we have moved here; many think it is too far away,” says Sandra. “But we think it is enough to just take in the view. It’s amazing, and it’s not crowded here. In the Netherlands, 17 million people live on land that is just one tenth of Sweden’s area,” she adds.
She pauses, thinks about what she has said and turns to Egbert:
“Having said that, your dad is visiting for the fourth time. So he obviously doesn’t think it is too shabby!”
A PERFECT START
An overcrowded Holland means that house and land prices are extremely high, for starters. When we met, the couple had just bought a house in central Burträsk.
“It is cheaper than renting a house and we have many things that need to be stored somewhere. You get a lot of house for your money here, a tremendous amount compared to what we are used to, and it only takes a few minutes to get to work at the camping site. There are many advantages,” says Egbert.
The couple got off to a perfect start in Burträsk. The first week Norran published an article about the new camping site owners and the following weekend there was the local market. Of course, Sandra and Egbert went.
“A large number of Burträsk residents took us by the hand and welcomed us. They were so happy! This made us feel very welcome, which was warming,” says Sandra.
DRIVEN BY WANTING LIFESTYLE CHANGE
The couple’s plan of becoming campsite owners started to take shape some 15 years ago. The couple stress that they had no interest in becoming hoteliers, and are keen to draw the distinction
“One of the advantages of running a camping site, we thought, would be that we would work hard during the summer and then take it easy in the winter. It was the lifestyle we were looking for and to create our own company so we could make our own choices. We like working with people who are happy. It’s so uplifting, and working outdoors in this environment is really rewarding,” adds Sandra.
Three years ago they made their move. Egbert had already begun to become dissatisfied working as a municipal manager, when Sandra lost her job as an administrator.
“We then realized that we needed to take the leap and try something new,” says Egbert, and Sandra nods in agreement.
KEEPING THEIR EYES OPEN FOR OPPORTUNITY
The pair kept had their eyes out for possible venues, and travelled around Europe looking. Austria had the advantage insofar as they knew the language and liked the country, but nothing suitable was for sale. Egbert and Sandra also camped their way through Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, and their home country of Holland.
“The prices are very high in relation to what you can earn. By chance, we ended up in Sweden, and eventually we arrived at a camping site in Värmland. We immediately liked the people, the nature and the lack of traffic. So, we realized that Sweden was a really good option,” says Egbert.
They headed north from Värmland, looking at Sundsvall, Örnsköldsvik, Vilhelmina – and constantly with an eye on Blocket (an online Swedish auction website). Suddenly, Burträsk Camping turned up on Blocket and they got in touch. In January 2017 they visited the camping site for the first time, seeing Burträsk in its resplendent winter wardrobe.
“We saw the potential of the whole site and we loved the location by the lake. So in May we returned, in June we signed the contract and on July 1 we opened the camping site,” says Sandra, laughing at the memory of how quickly everything sailed through.
VÄSTERBOTTEN CHEESE ADDS TO THE SMORGASBORD
However, the idea of putting their feet up in the winter was an illusion that quickly fizzled out. In the first winter, a Dutch travel agent got in touch and booked a package for alpine skiing in Bygdsiljum, including snowmobiling and ice fishing.
“The guests had a fantastic time and were extremely happy,” says Egbert. “We intended to do all that ourselves, but were only able to drive a scooter for the first time a week before the guests arrived…”
Burträsk not only has fantastic nature. Västerbotten cheese is, of course, a major draw and now they have managed to meet local partners and have put together a cheese tour.
“Many come here to visit the cheese museum, but we wanted to show tourists the whole process. We know a Dutch farmer in Flarken who delivers the milk for the cheese and we also visit the cheese store in Ånäset. The visitors then get a clear idea of how everything involved in producing this wonderful cheese fits together,” explains Sandra.
If anyone got the idea, though, that Sandra and Egbert want to create a Dutch colony in Burträsk, that is absolutely not the case, the couple explain.
“Our aim is not to have lots of guests from Holland,” says Egbert. In fact, 85 per cent of our guests are Swedes and we want to maintain that. We want it to be a Swedish camping site, not least for the rural community centre that is located next to us.”
And Sandra expands, “On the whole, it can have a little Dutch touch, but we do not want to create a Dutch camping site in Sweden. Everyone is welcome, but we will not specialize by targeting our old homeland.”
NO RED TAPE FOR THE ORANGE COUPLE
In the cosy café on site, Sandra sells homemade cakes, apple pie and, naturally, a Swedish meatball sandwich. The camping site was in such good condition that they could start operating immediately without needing to do any major renovation work.
They have not only been well received by the Burträsk residents but also by the municipality, and contact with the authorities has gone swimmingly.
“We succeeded in creating a limited company in July in the middle of the summer break, and that is just one example,” says Egbert. “Initially, we believed it would be a little ‘mañana mañana’ but we were wrong. The permits and paperwork moved along smoothly. And the license to serve medium-strong beer only took a morning!” he marvels.
After less than one year in Sweden they both speak Swedish extremely well and understand almost everything.
“SFI language studies are good,” says Egbert. “We learn a lot and the Burträsk residents are happy to speak Swedish with us to help. But when we do business we speak English, otherwise we might say yes to something we don’t know about,” he says with a smile.
LARGEST INCREASE SINCE 1991
Sweden’s population statistics for 2017 show that Skellefteå municipality has increased its population by 457 in total over the past year. The last time Skellefteå experienced a similar increase was in the years 1989–1991. The total increase this year was also mainly made up of immigration from overseas, but in 2017 domestic immigration increased more rapidly. Behind two of the figures you’ll find Sandra and Egbert who now think Burträsk feels like home: “We have a future here,” concludes Sandra.