The spiritual home of Christmas must be Lapland, it’s a fairytale place of human-height snowdrifts, Santa Claus, reindeer, hot cloudberry juice and the spectacular Northern Lights.
From a Laplander’s point of view, we walk upside down here in New Zealand. But to the rest of the world, Lapland looks far more insane.
For instance, the sluggish Arctic sun doesn’t exactly rise, it merely hangs around just below the horizon, painting the country milky blue. This phenomenon is called the polar night. It is an oddly beautiful state.
We got used to it really quickly, though. After the 15-minute walk through the cosy village of Levi, a local ski resort, I had completely forgotten something was wrong with the sun, especially with the distraction of a snowmobile ride.
This experience is absolutely magical. Two hours after dressing in a special costume, we arrived at a remote reindeer farm that had a tiny restaurant serving cookies and hot tea in metal mugs. En route we whizzed past frozen forests and lakes, huskies bounding along the road and red wooden huts with smoking saunas. The tour is offered by Levin Tunturilomat in Levi.
FIRE AND ICE
Everything we did felt utterly wondrous: Arctic ice fishing, Icelandic horse riding, husky safaris, meeting Mr and Mrs Clause, skiing and snowboarding in fairytale-like scenery. I could name more activities, if I hadn’t used half my guidebook to light a fire.
Fires and saunas are absolutely everywhere in Lapland, from the most luxurious accommodation right down to the most basic. With one notable exception: Levi Ice Gallery, an ice complex and hotel, owned by Lori, – a Finnish band that gained legendary status after winning the Eurovision Song Contest.
Straight from the entrance you walk into the restaurant, with ice benches and tables, appetizers on the dishes made of ice and, guess what, an ice bar! As if this place wasn’t cold enough, there’s an ice chapel (for a frigid wedding!), ice cinema and, of course, ice rooms with ice beds, covered with animal fur to warm the overnight stay up a bit. I was impressed by those brave enough to spend the whole night here; we managed half an hour.
DON’T BREAK THE BANK
The best part about Lapland? It’s the perfect place not only for wealthy tourists, but for those like us who travel on a budget.
Instead of paying 100 euros for a two-hour reindeer sleigh ride, you can always hop on the shuttle bus (free for those with a ski pass) and go to the Lappish Pet Farm Kompiainen, where reindeer Jekku lives. He is happy to give you a ride for only 8 euros.
And instead of booking an expensive Aurora Borealis safari, just download the Levi Northern Lights app, which alerts you an hour or two before the sky turns into a surreal masterpiece. All you need is warm clothing, a bottle of wine, and a tripod. The Northern Lights are easily spotted when you move just a little from artificial lights. Absolutely worth a lonely walk through the night!