Bridget McGrouther discovers the magic of everything Lapland has to offer, from the beautiful Northern Lights to exhilarating snow transport.
If your greatest wish is to make all of your family’s festive dreams come true, then I can think of nowhere more wondrous than Lapland, one of my favourite-ever destinations.
Here in the pristine north of Finland within the magical Arctic Circle lies a winter wonderland reminiscent of Narnia, where a white Christmas is guaranteed. Staying at the Levi Hotel Spa (Levitunturi) and Golden Crown Igloos, I stepped into this enchanting world of make-believe, where shimmering glitter falls softly through the air like fairy dust, and you can imagine anything and everything on your Christmas list is possible, from meeting Santa Claus in person to catching a once- in-a-lifetime view of the Aurora Borealis.
For children, a face to face encounter with the jolly, rosy-cheeked chap at a secret log cabin address in the Saariselkä woods — after a spell-binding reindeer sleigh ride through the snowy silence — is as exciting as Christmas itself. Following the fun and frolics of mischievous elves en-route, there comes the overwhelming sense of awe as your family is welcomed in for a private audience with Santa himself.
Seeing the ecstatic astonishment on young children’s faces when Father Christmas pulls out the very letters from his sack that they had posted in the UK weeks earlier is just as thrilling for mums, dads and grandparents. It’s unforgettable, emotionally-charged moments like these that create lifelong memories for adults and children alike.
Yet don’t imagine for one minute that Lapland is all about Father Christmas — even if he is a much-adored celebrity around these parts. This incredible land of ice and snow provides a dizzying blizzard of exhilarating adventures for all ages that you’re not likely to have ever experienced elsewhere.
While Santa prefers to go dashing through the snow on a Super Reindeer Safari, a family-friendly activity I highly recommend, there are many other modes of transport around this impossibly slippery yet stunningly beautiful landscape that are just as adrenalin-fuelled.
A team of huskies pulling you in a slender sled comes pretty close as dogs and passengers alike yowl with uncontained enthusiasm. The dogs love to run, so the trick is to hang on as you shout ‘mush’ and not forget to brake — or else you could get left behind in a puff of powder! It’s fun playing with the fluffy snowballs of husky puppies afterwards, too, warming up with super-soft furry cuddles.
Zipping across frozen lakes with a surge of power and acceleration on snowmobiles is very James Bond and creates the most thrilling ride — once you get the hang of skidding and slithering around corners. Even children can have a shot on mini skidoos, while toboggans, left for guest use, are always fun; especially on Kaunispää Fell, a heart-pumping 1.2km descent on Finland’s longest run.
Anyone who fancies themselves as the next Lewis Hamilton should test their driving skills ice karting in Lapland. A nail-biting experience for ages 12 and above, it’s like dodgems on ice. Families or friends will soon get into the competitive spirit with the winning team taking to the podium — just like the Olympics.
Finland’s ski and snowboard resorts may not be the highest in the world, but there are some challenging World Cup runs, while the gentle nursery slopes or cross-country trails are perfect for beginners and children. When the vivid violet twilight fades, the full moon or floodlights help to guide the way, while there are plenty of mountain cafes serving warming hot chocolate or even a quirky sauna gondola in Ylläs to melt frosty beards or icy-white mascara eyelashes!
In plummeting temperatures, the thermal suits and boots provided are a godsend, even if they do make you feel like a Teletubby — and that’s before you feast on delicious local cuisine.
Perhaps don’t tell the children where venison comes from, but as many local Sami people are reindeer herders, it’s a traditional dish here, along with salmon, fondue and all kinds of mushrooms.
To thaw out chilly fingers and toes, hot berry juice and home-baked cookies are often enjoyed around the campfire in kotas (teepees). Meanwhile the Sami, dressed in colourful traditional costume, relate stories, sing songs and demonstrate the art of suopunkki (lasso).
Our most adventurous wilderness supper was in a remote mountain retreat, reached by a piste-basher lumbering slowly but steadfastly through a billowing snowstorm up and down what felt like precarious perpendicular gradients — yet another experience I’d always wanted to try.
More than anything, and high on the must-see list of most who head to the Arctic, I longed to see the Northern Lights. We were astonishingly lucky and couldn’t have chosen a better moment than the one when this natural phenomenon chose to flicker and party across starry skies.
I’d just stepped into an outdoor hot tub with friends during our overnight excursion at the glass igloos near Levi when the Aurora Borealis suddenly swept across the heavens above in twirling, tumultuous tornadoes of moss-greens and lichen-yellows. We were simply lost for words as this incredible light show in crystal-clear skies entertained, like Laplanders showing off their traditional ‘humppa’ dance moves.
Cosseted by the steaming, simmering water, we were so captivated by the spectacular star wars exploding overhead that we were completely oblivious to our fringes turning into icicles from below our elfin sauna hats, or the fact that we must have looked ridiculously like a pot of goblin soup.
Of course, there is some complicated scientific explanation for this unique phenomenon involving the Earth’s magnetic field, but I much prefer the local Sami legend that says the Aurora Borealis is due to an Arctic fox brushing the sky with his tail.
Lapland isn’t just for Christmas. Its bucket list of opportunities bring out the child in anyone, re-igniting a passion for all the good things in life, along with happy-ever-after memories.