Life & Style | Travel

The world's winter wonderland

Stretching across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia – Lapland, the home of Santa Claus, is the ultimate festive season getaway

  • By Gemma White, Editor, Scene magazine
  • Published: 09:58 November 21, 2012
  • Scene

Lapland
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • “It’s one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been to,” said Hanna star, Saoirse Ronan of filming in the Finnish part of Lapland. “It’s like a winter wonderland. It’s so enchanting.”
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It’s going to be cold, so make sure you wrap up warm if you’re heading to the Arctic Circle this festive season – what awaits is a pure white, glittering wonderland, where each fresh fall of snow will leave you feeling like the first person ever to have set foot there. Watch Mother Nature’s fireworks, aka the northern lights, through the roof of a glass igloo whilst lounging on sheepskin rugs, sup cocktails in a hotel made entirely of ice, visit Santa’s home – and get there via dog sled – and round off the day by retreating to the fireside in your log cabin by
a frozen lake.

There's no business like snow business

With the first snowfalls often arriving in August, by December Lapland appears to be in permanent twilight, with the sun not rising above the horizon. And it’s during this period that winter sports lovers will be in their element, thanks to drifts of up to a metre blanketing the area. If you’ve never experienced anything like it, a dog sled trip – or, if you’re up to it, a dog sled safari – is certainly one to check off your bucket list.

Join a team of huskies along a wilderness trail in the northern Swedish mountain range, Vindel Mountain, or the national parks of Padjelanta and Sarek, and whizz past snow-covered plateaus, ancient forests and frozen lakes (dogsledding-adventures.com). Snowmobiling is another fun way to spend an afternoon checking out the incredible landscape, with many operators providing guided tours across the Arctic Circle.

Or, to immerse yourself in the local Sami culture, reindeer sleigh rides hark back to the days when the antlered caribou were the only way to get from A to B. Steer your own sleigh, or let an experienced handler take the reins, before stopping off at a traditional tepee for a warming coffee, and rounding off your trip with a visit to a reindeer farm.

Of course, given the abundance of the white stuff, there’s plenty of skiing available – both downhill and cross-country – as well as ice-skating on frozen lakes and ponds. But if you really want to go native, don’t leave without trying the snow-tubing, which will see you racing down slopes in a giant rubber ring, or setting the kids up with a Napa Kiikku (meaning ‘pole swing’).

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Wonderland Experiences

The best time to experience the aurora borealis is from late September to late March, when the region is at its darkest and coldest – and then between 6pm for initial flares until 1am. You can book on an evening tour to view them, but most hotels or guest houses will also set up an alert to let their guests know when the show starts. Staying in a glass igloo is another once-in-a-lifetime experience that you should try on your Lappish adventure.

The Hotel Kakslauttanen in the Saariselkä fell area of Urho Kekkonen National Park boasts an igloo village – along with a snow chapel and ice bar – and you can stay in glass or more traditional snow igloos built into the side of a fell in the Utsuvaara region of Finnish Lapland. If staying in a snow igloo is a step in the traditional direction too far, opt instead for a stay in a log cabin, with plenty of resorts offering smoke saunas – after which you’ll be expected to dash outside headfirst into the snow!

Try the Winter Wonderland Hotel and Cabins in Rovaniemi, where the deluxe cabins come with their own Jacuzzis. For a delightfully festive and frosty-breathed ride, plenty of resorts offer toboggan rides by candlelight, which will see you whizzing downhill along a trail lit up by firelight.

Ice, ice baby

When it comes to hotels, bars and even chapels made out of the cold stuff, Lapland has the best options in the world. The most famous of all is the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, which gets rebuilt from scratch every year, starting in November. With ice collected from the nearby Torne river, the Ice Hotel extends beyond mere accommodation, boasting artworks, a bar and lounge, and two dining options – the chic Ice Hotel Restaurant, and the more homely Old Homestead Restaurant – a timber building dating back to 1768 (icehotel.com).

The Kemi Snowcastle in Finnish Lapland is another icy option where you can while away an afternoon, and boasts both an ice bar and an ice hotel. Here you can dine on ice tables in the restaurant (which is kept at a mind-numbing minus five degrees!), and enjoy incredible ice and snow sculpture demonstrations.

Or, if you want to have the big day of a lifetime, you can marry at the ice chapel, which seats 100 people. Alternatively, plenty of places also offer guests the chance to spend the night in a traditional igloo, where temperatures can reach minus six degrees: but don’t worry, you’ll get to cosy up under insulating reindeer hides and padded sleeping bags.

Trip notes

Visit santa
Head to Korvatunturi (Ear Mountain) in Finnish Lapland to meet Santa Claus ahead of his busiest night of the year. Kids (big and little alike) can see Mr and Mrs Claus and Santa’s helpers at work atop the 483-metre mountain. laplandfinland.com

Lose yourself
To truly lose yourself in the UK-sized landscape of Lapland, head to the snow hotel in Kirkenes, by the Russian border in the far east. It’s 1,550 miles from Oslo, but just 150 miles from Murmansk. Guests can hope to see magnificent Russian bears trundle by, before taking a daily bus to Murmansk for a Russian-flavoured festive season.

Get steamy
With around 0.4 saunas for every Finn, the hot room is a cornerstone of Finnish culture – and the place where many women used to give birth in the absence of a nearby hospital! Go traditional in a wood-fired smoke sauna, and finish it all of with an invigorating plunge into an ice pool. Brrrr!

Stay here

Budget: Ounasvaaran Pirtit Hotel
Find this three-star hotel in the Kemijoki riverside landscape of the Ounasvaara highland district of Rovaniemi, 120 km from Lapland city centre. Comprising 73 semidetached apartments, there’s an on-site restaurant as well as laundry facilities for guests, and at the foot of Ounasvaara, the hotel has a Lappish tepee that can accommodate up to 40 people for an unforgettable night under the twinkling stars.
Rooms from Dh389 a night.ounasvaaranpirtit.fi

Mid range: Hotel Riekonlinna
Situated a day’s drive from the Arctic Ocean, the four-star Hotel Riekonlinna in Saariselkä is perfectly located for guests to explore the stunning Urho Kekkonen National Park and the surrounding fells. Experience local cuisine of Lappish game dishes in the hotel restaurant, and be well-placed for an array of winter sports, including some great ski runs.
Rooms from Dh490 a night. laplandhotels.com/en/hotels/riekonlinna

Luxury: Headkine Here
Santa Clause Holiday Village is the ideal place to pitch up with your family for a very festive vacation. This new development in Rovaniemi, just 10 minutes from the town centre, features an array of cabins – some with their own sauna. Mums and dads can make use of the on-site Gingerbread Club for children, whilst they head off for some skiing or shopping.
Rooms from Dh610 a night. santaclausholidayvillage.fi

Filmed there

Hanna, Lapland Odyssey, The Disappearance Of Finbar

Fly there

Emirates fly to Helsinki in Finland, via Copenhagen (emirates.com). From there, fly to a variety of destinations throughout Lapland with Finnish national carrier, Finnair (finnair.com)

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