Lapland: Dome sweet dome under a magical sky - Europe - Travel - The Independent

Lapland: Dome sweet dome under a magical sky

Whether or not the Northern Lights put in an appearance, you can't fail to be enchanted by Lapland – particularly from the cosy confines of an Aurora Bubble, says Sarah Baxter

They say in space, no one can hear you scream. Likewise, when you're revving a snowmobile across a frozen lake, above the Arctic Circle, at a quarter to midnight, no one can hear you sing. I couldn't help it – the situation just called for a joyous burst of "Winter Wonderland". Luckily the snowmobile's purr swallowed most of my warbling; any discordant notes that did escape beyond my balaclava fell on to a forest displaying icy disinterest. Besides, there was no way I could stop myself singing: I was zooming through a wild world of white, adrenalin pumping, snow shimmering, stars twinkling, and I'D JUST SEEN THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!

A potential glimpse of the Aurora Borealis is what draws many to the polar regions – in my case to Nellim, in Finnish Lapland, 68 degrees north and a few kilometres west of the Russian border. It's one of the country's best spots for aurora watching. My motivation for visiting was no different – I wanted to see the lights, of course – but one of my viewing methods was. New this winter, the family-run Nellim Wilderness Hotel now has three Aurora Bubbles. These wooden pods have curved Perspex ceilings, so you can watch the skies while snug as a bug in a reindeer-skin rug. And that's quite a luxury when winter temperatures here frequently plummet to minus 25C.

The Bubbles are both simple (no running water, no television, a composting toilet) and rustically romantic: their compact bedrooms come with mood lighting, scatter cushions, a bottle of fizz, excellent central heating and, potentially, the most heavenly view. I was totally sold by the prospect of gazing up at the Northern Lights without having to pull on my thermals or even leave my bed.

But that would have to wait. I was booked into a Bubble for only the last of my four nights. Before then, there was a lot of "Winter Wonderland" to sing about. Learning to cope with the cold is a necessity when you live in Lapland, but the Finns don't just cope – they relish and embrace. The dark, chilly period from November to April isn't a time to cower inside; it's a time (if you're properly dressed) to hop on snowmobiles, mush huskies, fish from ice holes, ride sleighs and stay out late to search for the Northern Lights.

Nellim's night-time snowmobile safari combined the best of everything. After a hearty, reindeer-based dinner I returned to my room to squeeze as many of my own layers as possible under the hotel-issued overalls and mittens. Thus swaddled, I plodded down to the frozen lake at 9.30pm to board my machine.

Traveller's Guide: Lapland - drive huskies, meet Santa Claus and try to catch the Northern Lights

Fortunately Nellim's snowmobiles are easy to master. Even more fortunately, they have heated handlebars. Within minutes, our small group – led by our guide Rambo – was skimming across the sparkle. The moon was near full, spotlighting the hoary landscape, which in turn reflected the lunar glow right back. I could see foxy footprints leading into the trees and logs that had been Damien Hirst-ed, their trunks encrusted with diamond-like ice.

After a while we stopped, the thrum of our engines replaced by ... nothing. Nothing bar the crunch of boots on snow and the thunk of axe on wood as Rambo built a fire. The land dropped away to the north and so we began our vigil, gazing up at a big, cloudless sky, clutching hot berry juice to stave off the cold.

We waited. And we waited. We took turns by the flames, hopped from foot to foot and willed the revontuli (fox fires in Finnish) to play. But our stares and prayers were not enough. Eventually it was time to move on. Of course, mere minutes after we'd given up and set our snowmobiles for home, the sky gave a promising flicker. Could it be? We stopped and gazed up again.

See the lights fantastic See the lights fantastic I won't lie, it wasn't the most vivid display. The colour was grey-green rather than emerald; the reality looked nothing like the luminous images being captured by cameras set with long exposures. But the movement of the aurora was mesmerising. What started as a steady stream, pumping left to right, variously became a whirling cyclone, a gushing tap, a spiking electrocardiogram and a molecular murmuration. This aurora was experimental, fooling around as if unsure what shape suited it best.

After 20 minutes, perhaps exhausted, it faded, faded, faded ... and was gone.

That's why I felt the need to sing to the starry skies at midnight. It was a reaction borne from childlike glee, which became pretty much standard as the days progressed. Being whizzed over Lake Inari by five ebullient huskies? I was giddy as a schoolgirl. Tramping between pine and spruce in snowshoes? Pure fun! Snowmobiling into the forest during the brief window of dusky, pink-flushed daylight? Just beautiful.

So, it was with some excitement that I entered my Bubble. Set apart from the rest of the hotel, to ensure privacy for we guests-behind-glass, the domes look over a lake, frosted treetops and a whole lot of sky. Inside, the world sounded different, like my head was in a bowl – which I suppose it sort of was. That is, an extremely cosy, womb-like bowl I never wanted to leave. I flicked off the lights, lay back on the bed, snuggled into my reindeer-print cushions and grinned my biggest grin yet.

Above me spread ... potential. I could see moon, stars and a clear, dark canvas just waiting to be daubed. I felt like I'd been invited to a private showing of the night sky, an astronomical movie playing just for me – the action was a bit slow but the cinematography and dramatic tension was top-notch. However, as the night wore on, tension turned to disappointment: the aurora refused to appear. Eventually, even the moon deserted me; a shroud of cloud smothered both the heavens and my optimism.

I woke frequently throughout the night to glance up, just in case the cloud had crept off and the aurora had snuck by. It never did. However, I still slept with a huge smile on my face.

Travel essentials

Getting there

The Aurora Zone (01670 785012; theaurorazone.com) offers an active four-night "Nellim: Northern Lights Over Lake Inari" trip from £1,680pp. This includes Finnair flights from Heathrow to Ivalo via Helsinki, as well as transfers, four nights' full-board accommodation (including one in an Aurora Bubble), cold-weather clothing, guides and all activities (husky safari, ice-fishing, snowmobiling, aurora snowmobile hunt, snowshoe hike, Aurora Camp, reindeer farm and snowmobile safari). Departs until April.

More information

visitfinland.com

lapland.fi

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week