Been There: Lapland, Finland
It almost felt odd to write that title, ‘Been There: Lapland’, as in i’ve actually ticked off a massive to-do from my bucket list and I still can’t believe it! It’s almost hard to put into words how beautiful, surreal, breath taking, exhilarating and truly wonderful my trip to this remote part of the world was, but I shall try of course.
The journey from Dublin to the northern tip of Finland was quite a long one. We flew from Dublin to Amsterdam, onto Helsinki, and then another hour and a half flight north to Ivalo. From there, we were greeted by the hotel transfer and drove an hour north again to reach our destination; well and truly inside the Arctic Circle.
The Wilderness Hotel in Nellim village was a rustic wooden retreat plonked in the middle of a vast snowy woodland. The nearest shop was back in the area of the airport, so when visiting, it really is essentials you have every ‘in case of emergency item’ you might need.
Despite the temperature outside being lows of -30, the hotel is cosy with fires and candlelight all around. The staff are ever so friendly and the chef cooks up a fine Finnish spread for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
We had booked the 4 day package which included your accommodation, food and activities every day. The activities consisted of snowmobiling (in the day and night), husky sledging, snowshoeing, ice fishing, visiting a reindeer farm and the Russian border which was 5km from the hotel. Every night you would be brought out to hunt down the Northern Lights, you were either brought in a sleigh or else you were driving a snowmobile yourself – a surreal experience to say the least!
What’s great about this place is that it isn’t tainted by an influx of tourist attractions. It feels like you’ve taken a step back to the way this community used to live, but you haven’t, because it’s still the way they continue to live now. We saw locals out drilling holes in the frozen lakes to catch their supper, farmers herding reindeer for their hides and meat like we do our cows.
Dog sledging was definitely one of my favourite activities – it was a real back-to-nature experience. One person stood on the back of the sledge whilst the other was sat in it wrapped up in wool blankets and reindeer hides. The only control the person standing had over the dogs was the brake that you’d stand on to slow down or stop, otherwise, they were following the pack in front of them and they do not like to stay still!
Snowmobiling was another activity i’m so glad I got to do. Bombing around the vast snowy playground and through picturesque forests is a memory I will never forget. The sunrises late and sets early in the Winter so you experience these watercolour-like sunsets which just adds to the awe of the place.
One thing I would have to state is that it is like cold you have never experienced (as in, your eye lashes freeze kinda cold). I’m a snowboarder and thought i’d experienced the cold, but this was on another level. Bring real wool socks with you and proper thermal base layers. The snow suits/boots/balaclavas they give you are great but layering up underneath is essential.
During our days adventuring, our guide would stop at local cabins and fire pit huts to cook lunch and warm up. This was a treasured experience because you were doing just as the locals would. Hot blackcurrant juice warmed your soul and grilled cheese toasties over the fire and reindeer soup filled your belly, it was always a welcomed pit-stop.
Sadly our dreams of seeing the Northern Lights in full flight didn’t happen, we only caught passing glimpses of it as it drifted through the sky. My piece of advice there is to visit the region at the start of the month when there’s a new moon – the full moon in our sky meant it was too bright to really capture the colour. Also, be optimistic but don’t be disappointed if you don’t see it, our guides explained actually how rare it is to see what we see pictured on National Geographic all the time. It’s Mother Nature after all.
As much as I like to try, no photograph will ever capture the true beauty of this place. So go next Winter and see for yourself.