Lapland: The original winter wonderland
In the frozen north of Scandinavia, Lapland is starting to look its seasonal best. It's a spectacular region of shimmering skies, husky sleighs, Santa Claus and endless snow
Chris Leadbeater is a full-time travel journalist who has written for The Independent since 2009. He specialises in the USA, South America and Europe, but has covered destinations as varied as Mozambique, New Zealand, Indonesia and Lebanon. Prior to becoming a travel journalist, he worked as a music writer and for men's magazines.
Wednesday 02 November 2011
What's the attraction?
This northerly and ice-bound portion of our continent is surely the greatest destination for those who want to enjoy the European winter in its purest form.
The breezy appeal of Lapland – a grand expanse of frozen Arctic tundra, craggy mountains, dense forest and gap-toothed coast – is well defined. Even during winter, when the sun barely rises, holidaymakers flock to the region seeking everything from its frosty ski resorts and the spectral hues of the aurora borealis to the (spoiler alert) mystical figure of Santa Claus.
What is less delineated is Lapland's precise location. Officially, only Finland and Sweden refer to their uppermost reaches as Lapland. But the Saami Council – the representative body for the indigenous people who have long scratched a living from this Nordic end-zone – sees its remit as extending west into Norway and east into the first flourishes of Russia. In effect, any area of the Nordic landmass that lies above the Arctic Circle can be considered a part of Lapland – certainly in terms of appearance, atmosphere and spirit.
Despite this geographical confusion, information on travel to Lapland is plentiful – and available at visitfinland.com, laplandfinland.com, visitnorway.com, northernnorway.com, visitsweden.com and swedishlapland.com.
Paws for thought
A team of huskies harnessed to a sledge is a classic symbol of Lapland's wintry charm. Endless specialists run hound-powered jaunts through the snow, but those who want to try the activity at its most challenging might be attracted to the Arctic Circle Dogsled Expedition run by Exodus (0845 869 8218; exodus.co.uk). This one-week adventure takes in some of the least-visited corners of Arctic Sweden. Two departures are scheduled for March, costing £2,699 per person, with flights from Heathrow, transfers and full board in log cabins.
Up close with aurora
Witnessing the aurora borealis is one of life's quasi-supernatural joys, and Lapland is a prime spot in which to catch the show. What's more, this winter has been forecast as a particularly bright period for the lights. Boost your viewing chances on one of the Northern Lights Flights launching at Spaceport Sweden near Kiruna, in January. These one-hour trips take you above the weather for a clear view. Three-night breaks including a night at the Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi, a Northern Lights Flight and flights from Heathrow start at £1,610 per person with Discover the World (01737 214 291; discover-the-world.co.uk).
In the white house
Spectral hues aside, Lapland is also fascinating at ground level – particularly if you opt to go traditional and hole up in an igloo. Igloo Village Kakslauttanen (00 358 16 667 100; kakslauttanen.fi), at Saariselka in Finnish Lapland, proffers a cluster of these icy dwellings, for €390 per night, based on two sharing, half board. For less hardy souls, luxury glass igloos (which let you observe the night sky, and possibly the Northern Lights, from your bed) cost from €342 per night, room only. Finnair (0870 241 4411; finnair.com) flies to nearby Ivalo from Heathrow or Manchester via Helsinki.
Piste be with you
With its northerly latitudes, Lapland is a colder and snowier place for skiing than the Alps – the season can begin in October and end as late as June. Ski Lapland (020 7917 6044; ski-lapland.co.uk) offers breaks to Finnish resorts such as Levi, Ruka and Ylläs. The latter (yllas.fi) is the largest ski zone in Finland with 33 miles of pistes. Seven nights, flying from Heathrow to Kittila (via Helsinki) on 15 January, costs £1,118 per person, including transfers, B&B at the Saaga Hotel and a six-day lift pass.
City in the snow
While much of the region is raw and wild, Lapland has its urban pockets – such as Tromso, its second-largest city (behind Russia's Murmansk). Perched on an island just off the north coast of Norway, it is popular with weekenders. There is the stunning iceberg-esque Arctic Cathedral, while the Polar Museum (polarmuseum.no) traces the Arctic explorers who have set off from here. SAS (0871 2267760; flysas.com) flies from Heathrow and Manchester via Oslo. Rooms at the Rica Ishavshotel (00 47 77 666 400; rica-hotels.com) start at Nkr1,295 (£147), including breakfast.
Desperately seeking Santa
Geared towards children yet to learn the disappointing truth are numerous Lapland outlets where "Santa Claus" doles out presents to the faithful. Santa Claus Village, near Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland (00 358 16 346 270; santa clausvillage.info), is practically a theme park, where festive glitz is laid on thick. Meanwhile, tiny, family-run Santa's Cottage (00 358 207 551 850; nordicholidays.com) will make even the most cynical of adults feel five years old again.
Packages to Santa's Lapland in Saariselka, Finland, are offered by Esprit (01252 618 345; santaslapland.com). A two-night half-board break for a family of four (two children under 12), flying from Gatwick to Ivalo on 21 December, costs £2,941. Thomson (0871 2315595; thomson.co.uk) offers three-night B&B packages in Saariselka for £379 per person, with flights from Gatwick on 11 December.
Transun (01865 265 200; transun.co.uk) has a Santa hot-spot near Karesuvanto in Finland. A three-night full-board package for four (two children under 16), flying from Gatwick to Enontekiö on 18 November, costs £3,436. Or you might consider Lapland... in Kent (laplanduk.co.uk), open from 26 November to 24 December; £52.50.
Who said that?
"We, Saami, are one people, united in our own culture, language and history, living in areas which, since time immemorial, and up to historical times, we alone inhabited."
– Saami Council statement
"Oh our land, Finland, fatherland/ Echo loudly, golden word!/ No valley, no hill, no water, no shore more dear than this northern homeland/ This precious land of our fathers."
– Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Maamme (Finland's national anthem)
"If I'm your rose, you are my sun and rain/ And the Northern Lights will shine again and again."
– Ian Brown, Northern Lights
The big thaw
As Europe's final frontier, Lapland is ripe for exploration – and not merely in the chill of winter. Anyone keen to crawl under the region's skin may be tempted by the Above the Arctic Circle tour, run by Explore (0845 868 7431; explore.co.uk). This rough-and-tumble 15-day group escapade departs on 27 May. Participants sleep in basic camps, and tick off Sweden's Abisko National Park, Finland's Lake Inarijarvi and Norway's North Cape. Prices start at £1,729 per person, including most meals and flights to Tromso from Heathrow.
"Lapland is a place where you can experience the European winter at its most beautiful. You can find everything from reindeer and husky-sledding adventures to Santa Claus, and even the incredible aurora borealis. But visitors should also take the opportunity to indulge in the local sauna culture, an important part of Lappish lifestyle – followed by a refreshing dip in an ice hole." Riitta Balza, Visit Finland (visitfinland.com)
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