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; 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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Day In a Page

    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
    Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

    They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

    A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
    David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

    Hanging with the Hoff

    Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
    Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

    Hipsters of Arabia

    Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
    The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

    The cult of Roger Federer

    What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
    Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

    Malaysian munchies

    With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
    10 best festival beauty

    Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

    Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

    A Different League

    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

    Steve Bunce on Boxing

    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf