Is this the Lapp of luxury?

Modern Samis herd their deer using skidoos, and double-glaze their homes, but Rhiannon Batten has sampled more traditional aspects of this northern life

Much has changed since the time, not so very long ago, when the Samis, or Lapps, lived their lives entirely as nomadic herders. Then they doggedly tended their massive reindeer herds, daily doing battle with the weather in a vast, frosty territory that stretched right across from the coast of Norway to the edge of the White Sea.

Much has changed since the time, not so very long ago, when the Samis, or Lapps, lived their lives entirely as nomadic herders. Then they doggedly tended their massive reindeer herds, daily doing battle with the weather in a vast, frosty territory that stretched right across from the coast of Norway to the edge of the White Sea.

These days the herding is done with skidoos. Traditional dog sleds are now used mainly to keep visiting tourists entertained. The pervasive use of Gore-Tex and double glazing have reduced the dire climatic struggles to a tolerated irritation. Yet, despite all the differences in daily life, many Lapps remain in the far northern corners of Norway and Sweden, so it follows that they should know a thing or two about keeping cosy when temperatures drop.

In Abisko, in Arctic Sweden, I was given a chance to test their northern know-how when Walter, our group's walking guide, led us off to look for a traditional Sami tent.

Though most of the local Lapps now live in sturdy Swedish houses, Abisko's outdoor enthusiasts liked the practicality of the traditional Sami tents and are maintaining several of them to use as shelters.

The benefits of using the tents are clear: they can be built quickly and cheaply, with saplings and reindeer skins; they can be dismantled easily when a change of location is necessary; and they can hold a lot of people in a relatively small space. Not only does their organic design suit the environment but, for the nature-loving tourists who come to this part of Sweden, it adds a fun dimension to their explorations of the landscape.

Why bother packing a flask of tepid coffee to sip outdoors? Instead, you can take all the ingredients you need in a backpack and stop off in a warm, if rather smoky, tent. Here you can boil some water over a pile of firewood - left especially for you - and nestle out of the wind with a cup of fresh coffee. Good idea, or so I thought, until Walter forced us off our comfy reindeer-skin perches and out into the cold again - I wished that I had a warm flask to wrap my freezing fingers around.

If you fancy a lesson from the Lapps, here are five good ways to escape the Arctic chill...

Make cloudberry pie Learn how to cook the Sami way, using local ingredients such as reindeer, cloudberries and lingonberries, at Saltoluokta Station in Sweden. Courses cost £225 per person for members of Hostelling International and £245 for non-members. The price includes food, accommodation and activities and the next course is 29 March to 1 April (0046 973 410 10).

Enjoy the view Hop on to Sweden's longest cable car and swoop up to the top of Mount Nuolja to sip a mug of hot chocolate in a cosy café overlooking the granite bulk of Kebnekaise mountain covered in snow. The cable car runs from the end of February to the start of May and costs £6 return per person (0046 980 400 21). The café is open weekends only (and daily from the end of March) from 9.30am to 3.30pm.

Get yourself all steamed up A proper sauna should sort you out. Some of the best in Scandinavia are found in Finland, where tradition has it you should breathe in herbal scents like angelica, juniper and meadowsweet while sweating it out. To do so in luxury, treatments on offer at the Naantali Spa Hotel (00 358 2 445 5800, www.naantalispa.fi) include herbal jacuzzis (£10.50), blue clay wraps (£30) and polar night baths - where you're coated in gunky peat extracts and showered with bright-light (£130).

Medicinal methods Warm up from the inside with a shot of vodka on the rocks in the Absolut Bar at Sweden's original Ice Hotel. The whole structure is built of ice (it melts in April). Your drink will come served in a glass hewn from ice, so bring mittens. The Ice Hotel is at Jukkasjarvi, Sweden (0046 980 66 800, www.icehotel.com). Comfortable rooms from £60 per person per night.

Trust your animal instincts If you never want to see another reindeer in your life - and you can cope with the shock of seeing lions, spiders and crocodiles in such northern climes - head south to Froso Zoo in Ostersund, Sweden, and make a beeline for the tropical zone. Entrance to the zoo costs £7 per adult and £3.50 per child and it's open from May to September (0046 63 51 47 43).

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