Located on the edge of the Arctic Circle, Lapland is a land of open fells, lakes and pine forests where reindeer roam. It is also home to every child’s favourite person – Santa Claus! – says Angela Youngman
Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland where, during long summer days, it can be surprisingly warm while in the winter temperatures can fall dramatically, at extremes reaching -30ºC. Then it becomes a land of ice and snow, with long polar nights when the moon constantly shines and the sky can come alive with the beautiful, pulsing Northern Lights. Lapland is often described as the ‘land of the midnight sun’ which occurs around June 21. There are direct flights from many UK airports to Helsinki, from where groups can take connecting flights to the Kemi, Rovaniemi, Enontekiö and Ivalo airports in Lapland. Flights to Helsinki take around three hours, and a further hour is required to reach Lapland. The main languages spoken in the area are Finnish, Swedish and Sámi but English is widely spoken. Sámi is the language of the indigenous people who have lived in this area for centuries, often practicing a nomadic lifestyle accompanying herds of reindeer. The best time to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is between September and March. This spectacular colour show often features swathes of yellow, green, red, blue and violet across the skies and they can provide as much light as the moon at their brightest.
SNOWY SAFARI Whatever the time of year, the best very way to explore the spectacular countryside is to take a safari. During the summer, this is generally by car or via guided hikes and canoe trips in national parks such as Hangasjarvi, and Oulanka. In the winter, the safaris take on a very special character as visitors travel through miles of snowy forests and ice-covered lakes, often illuminated by stars. Typical of these safaris are the Ranua Wildlife Safaris, which offer opportunities to travel by night across the snow to see the aurea borealis, as well as daytime trips by huskies or snowmobiles. Expeditions can run for up to four days, travelling through the wilderness, seeing the wildlife and staying overnight in log cabins. All necessary equipment is provided. Lapland has thousands of miles of snowmobile routes, enabling visitors to quickly leave behind inhabited areas and discover the wild expanse of the Arctic countryside. www.wildlifesafaris.fi/safari-info
SKIING AND SNOWSHOEING Downhill ski trails open in October, remaining open until May Day, whereas the cross-country ski trails last until the Kilpisjärvi Midsummer Skiing event. Each year the 90-km Sámi Ski Marathon is held – this follows an ancient mail delivery path between the village of Kautokeino in Norway to Hetta Enontekiö in Lapland. Guided downhill skiing trips can be arranged, including overnight accommodation in cabins and meals eaten around campfires. The Lapland Super Ski Pass offers unlimited skiing across six days in any one week, and provides access to 60 ski lifts serving 120 slopes. Most resorts have access to several slopes such as the 61 slopes at Ylläs. Most downhill ski resorts have slopes suitable for snowboarding, including 100-m snow chutes perfect for performing a variety of jumps. At Suomutunturi, more experienced snowboarders can practice snowboarding through snowy forests. For something different, why not try snowshoeing? It’s simply a case of attaching snowshoes to your walking boots and following a local guide on scenic trails.
GO FOR A RIDE Huskies and reindeer have long been used to pull sledges across the snow. Visitors can learn to drive the animals or sit back and enjoy the ride. Reindeer trips can include lunch in a tepee. A visit to a reindeer farm enables visitors to learn about reindeer and reindeer management, while learning about the Sámi lifestyle.
Journeys can cover just a few miles or several days. Speeding across the snow on a sledge pulled by huskies is a memorable experience, especially when combined with overnight stays in cabins equipped with saunas. Hetta Huskies on the borders of the Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park is one of the main companies offering husky experiences. Visitors can take dogs for training walks around an agility course or maze, and even groom and massage them. At night there’s an evening feed experience, learning how to feed and care for the dogs. For those who want to learn more, there are intensive ‘insight’ training courses lasting less than a week, allowing visitors to discover more about the life of sled dogs, and learn to drive them. Longer guided walks with puppies, hiking along various trails, provide the opportunity to discover the local landscape. Each participant walks with a dog attached to what is known as a skijoring line, attached to their waistband. In the summer packages can be booked where part of the day is spent on the farm with the guides and dogs, with the remainder kayaking between the Lakes Muotkajarvi and Ounasjarvi. www.hettahuskies.com
BREAKING THE ICE A novel experience available throughout Lapland is to try winter jigging – ice fishing. You’ll be shown the traditional skills which involve breaking a hole in the ice and trying to catch a fish. If it appeals to your group, fishing competitions can even be arranged. There are many appealing tourist attractions. At Tankavarra, visitors can try panning for gold during a visit to the only museum in the world devoted to gold panning and prospecting. The international Gold Prospector Museum (www.kultamuseo.fi) tells the story of Finnish gold, alongside the story of gold rushes worldwide. In the Pyhä-Luosto National Park, there are guided tours around the Lampivaara Amethyst Mine (www.amethystmine.fi/) highlighting the stories about amethyst and mining methods. This is followed by an opportunity to dig for amethyst. All gold and gems found at either of these sites can be kept. Adventurous short cruises are offered on the Gulf of Bothnia, on board the icebreaker Sampo. Guests can enjoy a guided tour of the ship, while the hardiest of travellers may like to take the opportunity to put on a survival suit and take a swim in the freezing cold water! Welcome hot food is provided immediately afterwards. www.visitkemi.fi/en/sampo-icebreaker SÁMI HISTORY At the Ranua Wildlife Park, arctic animals such as lynx, foxes and bears can be seen living in natural surroundings. www. ranuazoo.com A visit to SIIDA at Inari offers insights into the world of the Sámi people. There are workshops dealing with local crafts, an exhibition focusing on their history and culture, as well as a large open-air museum. These range from ‘sod huts’ and Sámi lodges to a gold prospector’s cabin, the Mirham court house and an original Sámi farm. www.siida.fi/contents/sami-museum SNOW AND ICE An irresistible draw is the annual Snow Village built at Laino. Approximately 20 million kilos of snow and 350,000 kilos of natural ice are used to create a Snow Hotel, Ice Restaurant, Ice Cocktail Bar plus a spectacular display of art works and sculptures. The Snow Chapel with its furnishings made out of ice snow is a popular wedding venue. Activities available at the Snow Village include Aurora Borealis snowmobile safaris, ice sculpting classes and snowshoe treks, as well as visits to reindeer farms and husky sledging. www.snowvillage.fi/ Over at Kemi, the annual SnowCastle involves the building of a magnificent castle with elaborate interior carvings of swans, historic and legendary scenes, faces, nature and ships. These are complemented by a variety of light effects which attract thousands of people every year. Visitors can stay in overnight in the hotel, where arctic sleeping bags provide warmth on the snow beds. www.visitkemi.fi/en/snowcastle A country of snow and ice, of vast expanses of open countryside perfect for outdoor activities as well as Santa Claus – Lapland clearly has much to offer groups seeking a unique experience.