MAIN-IMAGE-

A Winter Wonderland in Finland

Dashing through the snow on a one horse open sleigh, not quite, I WAS dashing through the snow, but it wasn’t on a sleigh,it was, in fact, a snowmobile dashing through the picturesque, Narnia like landscape in Finnish Lapland, an exhilarating, slightly scary experience, but one that is so worth it. It is magical and almost surreal as you zoom through forests glistening with pristine white snow, glide swiftly over frozen lakes, all the while trying to follow your guide and keep in the especially ploughed paths.

The views at the half way point are absolutely breathtaking, and if you’re lucky you may just see a stunning sunset over the Russian/Swiss borderand this was all part of an amazing four day trip with www.inghams.co.uk in Finnish Lapland.

We were staying atthe recently opened Star Arctic Hotel, located on top of the Kaunispäämountain offering spectacular views overSaariselkä and the Finnish landscape.

With forty Nordic cabins in total,(thirty scenic view suites, eight glass cabins and twoscenic view suites with a private sauna), all of which have two storeys and are decorated comfortably and elegantly, with tones of neutrals and greys, underfloor heating, comfy beds and stunning views of either the Artic landscape or the Northern lights. Each has its own private balcony, and the experience of opening the door to a glistening white landscape, minus degrees and your hands wrapped around a steaming hot drink is truly amazing. A great retreat to return to after a busy day enjoying the many memorable experiences on offer.

Enjoy a buffet style dinner in the large open plan restaurant, with hot and cold dishes made from fresh local ingredients, that set you up perfectly for an evening of snowshoeing through the forest. A little more advanced than the tennis racket snow shoes of the past, but still they took a little getting used to – legs apart as you walk trying not to trip, but trip I did into soft fluffy snow in a forest full of snow-laden trees that look like giant twig menas though reaching out to help you up, as you gaze above them hoping you might just spot the Northern lights overhead.

There are plenty of opportunities for seeing the Northern Lights including an overnight stay in anaurora glass roof cabin at the www.northernlightsvillage.comin Saariselka, an enchanting way to enjoy the wintery star-filled sky, and if you’re lucky enough the Northern Lights will put in an appearance. Snuggling up on your warm comfy bed, looking out of the heated glass domed roof above, the only thing that separates you and the cold twinkling sky outside, a real magical moment, one you’ll want to cherish, I dare you to shut your eyes and go to sleep!

The Northern Lights Village is also home to the Ice Bar and Restaurant, a truly unique dining experience, built fresh each year entirely of ice at a cost of 100,000 Euros, with 20cm thick walls and ranging from -5 to -13 degrees inside. The ice tables are lit with blue lights and chairs are tree trunks with reindeer skins on them, all rather cosy despite the minus temperature. Food is delicious, be sure to try the salmon soup with toasted rye bread, and of course when in Finland no meal would be complete without reindeer, either as a steak or in a stew. Then there’s the drink, you would think a nice warm hot chocolate, but no the drink is a gin and tonic (Napue Gin) with lingonberries, whether you love a gin and tonic or not this is a definite hit and after dinner if you decide it’s too early to go to bed, why not embark on a private aurora hunt, where your own personal guide will drive you to various locations where the conditions are most optimal for the Northern lights to appear – Did we see them? We certainly did – slightly faint but spectacular none the less.

The search for the Northern lights is constant whilst you’re here and another fabulous way is to play Bear Gryls and survive in the wilderness for the evening, not as cold and scary as it sounds. YourNorthern Lights Wilderness experience has you being driven out to the edge of a frozen lake, where your personal guide is waiting for you, he helps you search for the Northern Lights. Once you start to feel chilly, you can head inside to a cosy cabin on the edge of the lake where a delicious three course meal is freshly prepared for you, serving such delights as fresh salmon cooked over the open roaring fire. In between courses you can pop outside to see if the Northern lights have decided to make an appearance, another bewitching experience on this amazing trip.

There are plenty of places to taste true authentic Finnish food, but LaanilanKievari restaurant has to be amongst the best. A wood panelled cabin with a roaring fire in the middle that you cannot only sit around, you can also watch your dinner being cooked over. Built in 1904 and originally a guest house, LaanilanKievari is a restaurant that prides itself on ingredients harvested from their own yard and surrounding forests and it’s here you can enjoy dishes such as bear, salmon and of course reindeer – This time shoulder of reindeer that just falls away from the bone and melts in your mouth!

It’s not only on your dinner plate that you’ll find reindeers, they are all over Finland, roaming free in the forests as well as in working reindeer farms. and it’s here you can enjoy a reindeer sleigh ride within a working farm that’s run by Sami people ( since prehistoric time, the Sami people have occupied the northern parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia) – after your sleigh ride you can feed the reindeer some lichen, and enjoy some refreshments whilst learning all about the reindeer, their habits, personalities, etc.

Tip: DO NOT ask a Sami person how many reindeer they have, it’s an insult and like asking someone how much money they earn.

With the minus degrees, over 5 layers of clothing and at least 4 pairs of socks it was slightly daunting when we headed toKakslauttanen Glass Igloo Village for a smoke sauna and ice swimming – the smoke sauna sounded perfect but ice swimming, had they gone mad?

You book a private smoke sauna for you and your friends with your own exclusive dressing room complete with roaring fire (perfect for warming your socks) don’t forget to add the beer and your fire and ice experience begins – warm yourself up in the smoke sauna, then take a run down the path that leads from the sauna to the lake (with your heated woolly socks) and literally take a dip through a hole in the ice into the refreshingly cold spring water – Madness? I’ll let you decide for yourself!

The whole trip is like going through a bucket list and ticking off each experience as you complete it, each one seeming your favourite as you do it – but at the end of the trip, you really can’t make up your mind what one really was!

BOOK IT

We visited Lapland in February, when daylight hours are longer and the temperatures are generally warmer.

Inghams offers seven nights on half board (including hot buffet breakfasts and three-course buffet-style evening meals) in a standard suite at the brand new four-star Star Arctic Hotel in Saariselkä, Lapland, from £1,519 per person based on two sharing in February or March 2019. Price includes return direct flights from Bristol, Manchester and London Gatwick and airport transfers. For more information and to book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/Lapland or call 01483 791114.

The following excursions can be pre-booked through Inghams:

  • Snowshoeing from £39 per person
  • ‘Learn to Cross-Country Ski’ package from £110 per adult (including three days’ tuition and seven days’ equipment hire.
  • Snowmobile safari from £59 per person based on two riders sharing.
  • Sámi museum and Inari Village visit from £59 per person.
  • Overnight stay in an Aurora Cabin at the Northern Lights Village from £199 per person.
  • Reindeer safari and farm visit from £49 per person.
  • For groups of eight or more, ice swimming and a smoke sauna at Kakslauttanen can be organised in resort via the Inghams

 

We flew Finnair on the on the new route from London Gatwick to Ivalo (www.finnair.com).