EUROPE: Lapland

Words by Jo Hollingsworth

When my daughter was seven, we decided to take her to Lapland for 5 days, a decision we approached with an equal mixture of anticipation and dread. For her, it would undoubtedly be a magical experience- after all, what seven year old would pass up an opportunity to meet Santa Claus and his reindeer? For us, we were in no doubt whatsoever that it would be an unmitigated, commercial nightmare of epic proportions… guaranteed to turn us into Ebenezer Scrooge prior to his enlightenment! 

But sometimes our preconceptions are not just a little bit off , they are totally wrong- as it turned out, for us, it wasn’t just magical, it was one of the best family holiday decisions we’ve ever made. Since then we’ve been back a couple of times (and now with a teenager) and here’s the thing- at any age and time of year it’s still magical!

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The first time we went, it was in December. The trees were encrusted with thick frozen snow, as though they had been dipped in Royal Icing, and the days were short- a perpetual twilight broken only for a couple of hours as the sun struggled to rise above the horizon and break the Polar night-candles buried in the snow lit the way, log cabin windows glowed yellow, and if you didn’t really get the concept of Hygge before, this was it! 

On that occasion we stayed in a rustic log cabin in a remote resort, but it was part of a hotel which meant we got the best of both worlds. Everything was organised as part of a package from the flights and accommodation to the activities. Kitted out in special thermal suits, we embarked on a 5 day long ‘quest’ for Santa- our journey included meeting the elves, taking part in a traditional Sami ceremony, feeding the reindeer, husky mushing along snowy tracks (little ones wrapped in blankets in the sled) visiting reindeer and husky farms, and snowmobiling (grown ups only) along the snowy trails. 

There were of course frequent stops along the way for hot chocolate, cookie baking, tobogganing and snow ball fi ghts. The fi nal leg of our journey was by reindeer drawn sleigh through the snow clad forest to a private meeting with Santa in his cottage. The days were fun filled and magical, and after dinner when we sledged back to our log cabin to toast marshmallows around the fire in our pajamas, this was the stuff seven year old (and grown up) memories are made of. 

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Fast forward to February some years later… 

At this time of year the snow is softer, and deeper and the trees have shed their snow jackets, but on the ground it’s still almost a metre deep and of course the days are longer, Visiting Santa is now firmly off the (teen) agenda, but we are back in Lapland, this time in Levi, a small winter ski resort with a sprinkling of log cabins dotted like sugar cubes around the frozen lake….and a whole new raft of possibilities has opened up. 

My daughter is delighted to find out that we can now all go snowmobiling at high speed (thankfully under 18s have to travel as passengers!) to visit the ice hotel. After a 2 hour journey through the forest and across the fell, passing Christmas card -cute cabins and reindeer, we arrive at the ice hotel- this melts and is painstakingly rebuilt every year-it feels like being an extra in Frozen (they even have a chapel for weddings!) and you can stay the night or just get a drink in the bar. 

We also went ice-karting, racing and spinning around an ice circuit, and tried cross country skiing (harder than it looks.) There are ski slopes perfect for beginners and intermediates of all ages, and at night we walked down to the frozen lake and drank in the silence and huge starry skies- we were rewarded one night with a glimpse of the Northern Lights. 

This year we are talking about going back with extended family ranging in age from 2 to 82! Lapland definitely has a way of casting its spell, and turning even the most cynical amongst us into believers!

 

 

NEED TO KNOW 

 

Inghams, Thomson and Thomas Cook all do packages, or you can try one of the more specialist companies on the web. 

Finnair offers scheduled flights to a number of Finnish airports and most destinations have a tourist information office where you can book accommodation and excursions in advance on the web site. 

In December, daytime temperatures usually range from 0 to minus 20 degrees, but it can fall as low as minus 40 during a particularly cold spell. 

The Fins are geared up for the long cold winter, so the accommodation is usually warm and snug but it’s essential in the colder months to wear thermal suits and boots (ordinary ski gear is not warm enough) to stay cosy, this is usually provided as part of a package or can be hired independently – check with tourist information office locally. 

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