This is perhaps the closest you’ll come to Narnia. Welcome to Finnish Lapland, the wilderness high above the Arctic Circle where snow thickly coats the pines, reindeer roam the forest, people are few and if you’re lucky, you may see the elusive dancing green of the Northern Lights in the night sky. I travelled north with Inghams to see if I could explore Lapland’s wild wonders in just five days.
Lapland adventure guide: A short stay in Lapland
Flying into Ivalo, Finland’s most northerly airport, with Finnair, deep snow covered the ground below my window – miles of forest and tundra, frozen rivers and the very occasional wooden cabin hidden in the woods. I’d never arrived in an airport where you step straight onto the snow, feeling the icy chill envelop you as you arrive straight into a winter wonderland. We landed in Lapland at 3pm and the winter sun was already on the wane, plunging the world into twilight.
Lapland may make up a third of Finland, but only 184,000 people call this huge Arctic landscape home. This, along with northern Norway and Sweden, is Sámi country, the home of the Lappish people who still herd reindeer across this untouched wilderness. In winter, snow covers the trees in eerie quiet, and there is little daylight. You’re likely to meet huskies and teams of reindeer rushing along the forest trails. And when night does fall, you may see the ethereal aurora borealis streak across the sky. This really is a land where you can believe in fairytales.
I explored Lapland with Inghams, who now offer would-be Arctic explorers the chance to travel to Saariselkä on a three-night break, staying at one of two hotels – the Muotka Wilderness Lodge and the Star Arctic Hotel. A weekend in the Arctic Circle might just be the perfect way to fall in love with winter again.
Adventures from Muotka Wilderness Lodge
We arrived in the dusky light to a warm welcome at the Muotka Wilderness Lodge, which makes the perfect base for exploring the surrounding Urho-Kekkonen National Park by snowmobile, on snowshoes or cross-country skiing. This sprawling wooden lodge is a great base for aurora hunters, too, as there is no pollution in this remote area, making for a better chance of glimpsing the northern lights.
When staying the night at Muotka you’ll be kitted out with a huge insulated snow suit, plus big snow boots and a little alarm – just in case the aurora borealis decides to grace the sky while you’re fast asleep. This is an extremely cosy place to stay – the huge communal dining and sitting room has a roaring fire and a basket full of books that you can curl up next to after a day out in the biting cold. Rooms are wood-clad and cabin-like, and some even have their own little saunas. But resist the urge to stay indoors – outside, miles of forest wait to be explored. And once night falls, you can take a trip by snowmobile out to the lodge’s remote cabin for a night on the lookout for the northern lights, warming up by a fire with a cup of traditional hot berry juice.
My favourite thing of all was the lodge’s traditional Finnish sauna. The sauna is a dark, smoky room warmed by a blazing stove where you can sweat out all your worries with a beer (or a traditional Finnish long drink – gin and grapefruit). But we warned, if you do take a Finnish sauna, you have to do things properly – after warming up inside the cabin, we ran outside in the snow and slid into the icy-cold water of the plunge pool carved out of the river. It may have been -18 degrees, but the freezing water actually feels tinglingly amazing on your skin.
A stay a the Star Arctic Hotel
We left the forest to wind higher into the hills to reach the Star Arctic Hotel, perched on a plateau at the top of the Kaunispaä Fell. The hotel is smart and modern, with huge picture windows looking out over the Arctic landscape. Here you’ll find 15 Aurora Cabins – charming, glass-clad igloos with beds tucked under huge clear ceilings, so you can lie warm in bed at night and, if you’re lucky, watch the northern lights dance above your head.
There’s plenty to do at Star Arctic in the (fleeting) winter daylight, too. The hotel has its own wilderness lodge, home to some of Lapland’s most charming locals – a herd reindeer and a team of huskies. When we visited, three snow-white baby reindeer snuffled inquisitively up to meet us. It may have been cupboard love on their part (they were overjoyed to be fed moss and hay) but it was still magical to get to meet creatures that seem straight out of a storybook. I still can’t really believe they were real. Their grown-up companions can take you on a relaxed sleigh ride through the trees, or for a more adrenaline-fuelled journey, you can learn how to drive a husky sled with a team of nine eager dogs, who also love a cuddle once you’ve galloped through the wilderness behind them.
On my last night at Star Arctic, I was tucked in bed under a glass ceiling when suddenly the clouds cleared above me and eerie green lights began to move across the sky in ribbons and swirls across the sky. The Northern Lights may not look like the rainbow of colours you see in photos (I’ve only ever seen dancing green versions of the aurora borealis) but they really are wonderful to behold. Local lore has it that you should never whistle or sing beneath them for fear of provoking their spirits, and it’s hard to believe they aren’t something otherworldly as you watch them ebb and flow.
My advice to anyone dreaming of travelling to Finnish Lapland? Don’t obsess about seeing the northern lights. The real joy to be found in this pure, ethereal land north of the Arctic Circle is in wrapping up warm, getting outdoors and exploring its ice-clad splendour.
Travel there: Inghams offers three night Lapland Short Breaks on a full board basis in Saariselkä at the Muotka Wilderness Lodge from £1,178 per person based on two sharing, and the Star Arctic Hotel from £1,284 per person based on four people travelling. Price includes return flights from London Gatwick to Ivalo, airport transfers and activities. For more information on the itineraries and how to book, visit Inghams or call 01483 938 047.
Fly direct from London Gatwick to Ivalo with Finnair during the winter months from £280 return.