by Katja Gaskell
We arrived in Finnish Lapland at midnight in the middle of December. We had come in search of snowy landscapes, reindeer rides and maybe even the chance of seeing Father Christmas himself. There are plenty of tour operators offering three-day, four-day or even 24-hour trips to Lapland but we had decided to book our adventure to Finland ourselves. However, as we stood in the freezing cold at Kittilä airport trying to put a car seat into our hire car, we wondered – briefly – if this had been a good idea. As it turns out, it was one of the best holidays we have ever had.
There are two main destinations in Finland where you can experience the real magic of Christmas. The first is Rovaniemi, home to the Father Christmas Village and SantaPark. Your second option is to do what we did and stay in Äkäslompolo, a town that sits above the Arctic Circle, in a charming traditional Finnish cottage named Ylläshilla.
Our first day in Äkäslompolo set the pattern for the rest of our trip: a late start followed by an adventurous activity and then dinner at home in our cabin or at one of the restaurants in town. The first excursion was a snowmobile tour with Snow Fun Safaris, a two-hour adventure through the magical inky-black forest. Day two took us to the Snow Village, an ice hotel open for overnight stays or just day visits. The village is constructed every year using 20 million kilos of snow and 350,000 kilos of crystal-clear natural ice and, as well as hotel rooms, comes with a restaurant, bar, chapel and even a cinema made entirely out of ice.
Over the next few days we tried almost every kind of local activity available from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to downhill skiing and seeking out the best pastries in town (yes, we count this as an activity!). On our penultimate day we travelled into the countryside to meet Hannu, a larger-than-life character and a traditional reindeer herder. After our reindeer ride through the forest we sat around a fire in a tipi eating arctic cloudberry tarts while Hannu charmed us all with his tales of riding to school by reindeer as a child and courting his wife on a reindeer ride.
By the time our final night rolled around there were only two things we hadn’t managed to do; see the Northern Lights and meet the big man himself. And then, as if by magic (or some very careful planning by a mum and dad keen to keep a dream alive for as long as possible) there was a knock at the door. The children jumped up to find Father Christmas himself standing on the wooden porch. Dressed in traditional Finnish clothes, with a long beard and carrying a sack, he looked like the Santa of stories and my children were spellbound. He stayed with us for an hour or more, telling legends of the Northern Lights, sharing stories of life as Father Christmas and singing traditional songs in Finnish. Like I said, one of our best holidays ever.
Christmas Village: https://santaclausvillage.info/
Santa Park: https://santaparkarcticworld.com/santapark
Snow Fun Safaris: http://www.snowfunsafaris.com/en/