Lapland is no longer just the stuff of children’s dreams. With more outdoor activities – and reindeer – than you can shake a stick at, it is an adventure playground for adults too. Europe expert, Claire, discovers why this winter wonderland should sit top of your family travel bucket list.
As the plane touches down in Rovaniemi, in the heart of Finnish Lapland, there is a palpable sense of excitement between us as we gaze out over miles and miles of snow laden pines. Minutes later and we are being ushered expertly through a side door of the airport to a waiting car by our guide as the other passengers clamour to find their transport at the main entrance. It’s a short drive to the lounge where we are fitted for our outerwear. No ‘one size fits all’ overall here – a faux fur trimmed jacket, fitted trousers and the warmest boots I’ve ever worn make me feel more like a part of an exclusive club than a tourist.
We’re then driven to a working reindeer farm where we are guided to a sleigh and with a blanket tucked neatly around us, we are given simple instructions on how to steer. As we set off the air is crisp and refreshing and it’s hard to believe just a few short hours ago we were waking under melancholy skies in London. Around halfway through the ride we suddenly stop and the guide tells us to follow a winding path carved into the snow. Our inner child takes over and we race up the hill to be greeted by an excitable elf who leads us into a festively decorated cabin where the main man himself, Father Christmas, is waiting just for us. He somehow knows exactly who we are and we spend time warming up by the roaring fire, chatting and receiving presents, all the while wondering if his impeccable beard could actually be real.
After we bid farewell to the festive duo, we make our way to a typical Finnish Kota – a curved wooden hut – where traditionally dressed chefs are waiting with a delicious hot soup and freshly made bread, followed by pancakes with blueberry jam. We are then driven to our home for the next three nights – our Christmas chalet. They say home is where the heart is, and I think I left a piece of mine here. For those who are looking for soaring hotels and more facilities than you can shake a stick at, this is not for you. In the spirit of the holiday season, the chalet is about being together as a family getting back that quality time we sometimes lack in our busy day-to-day lives. It’s a cosy, homely cabin with a roaring fire and as we step through the door we are greeted by our chef and the accompanying waft of something delicious from the kitchen.
After a welcoming cup of hot lingonberry juice we set about exploring, each calling out in delight when we find the sauna or a tempting bowl of Finnish treats. There is a television, but we spend the evening chatting about the day’s experiences or silently with noses pressed against the windows watching the snow falling softly onto the twinkling Christmas trees outside. Before long, the chef calls us to dinner, and we sit down to eat fresh Finnish produce, simply but deliciously cooked. I confess my favourite was the elk, tender and meaty, served on buttery mashed potatoes for the ultimate in luxury comfort food at the end of a long day.
However, this being Lapland, the setting sun does not signify the end of the experience, but the start of a whole new one. We don our coats and boots and take our custom factory snowmobiles out into the depths of the countryside to hunt for the ethereal Northern Lights. After racing through pine-lined tracks the sky suddenly opens up to us as we reach a huge clearing and we stop for hot drinks. After the roar of machines, the silence feels other-worldly and as we gaze up the pale wisps we mistook for clouds suddenly take on a green hue and begin to dance lazily in the sky above us. We hold our breath, trying to capture the moment in our minds and as quickly as they exploded into life they are gone.
We return to the chalet and to bed. Too excited to sleep, we discuss the next few days ahead – husky sledding, snowshoeing, ice fishing – and wonder how we will ever return to our normal city lives. Out here in the wilderness everything is so much more simple and ultimately more beautiful.