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How to Survive Winter in Lapland

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I may be the girl

who worships the sun

 

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who walks barefoot in the jungle

and lives like a beach bum.

 

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But seeking something different

I went for winter in Lapland

 

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where the sun barely rises

and it’s impossible to get tan.

 

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In minus thirty degrees

I wondered if I’d survive

 

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though as soon as I got there

I realized I thrived.

 

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Instead of dreary darkness

I found spectacular light

 

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that colored the snow around me

in fifty shades of white.

 

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Pink and purple sunrises

 

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evening blue moments

 

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hazy gray whiteouts

 

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a horizon bleeding golden.

 

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And like the many colors

there’s so much to see

 

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so I used my time in Lapland

for self discovery.

 

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In the middle of snowhere

is where I began

 

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in five hundred layers

looking like the Michelin Man.

 

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To expand my ability

to handle hot and cold

 

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I sweat in the smoke sauna

then dipped into an ice hole.

 

St Anton am Arlberg

 

Skiing for the first time

feeling an adrenaline thrill

 

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finding peace and clarity

at the top of the Holy Hill.

 

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By the blazing fire I meditated

to the Lappish drum vibration

 

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had visions and clarity

with the bears in hibernation.

 

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To really push myself

outside my comfort zone

 

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I drove a sled pulled by huskies

who sprinted through the snow.

 

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Far up North in the country

where it was extremely freezing

 

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I befriended a Sami reindeer man

and made lunch inside of his teepee.

 

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When darkness fell and the clouds cleared

out came the Northern Lights

 

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but would you believe that inside my glass igloo

I slept through the night?!

 

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In a centuries old farmhouse

I made my own Lappish drum

 

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listened to stories from the grandchild

of a Sami woman shaman.

 

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I drilled a hole in an ice lake

and caught fish with my own hands

 

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thanks to the expertise and charisma

of the one and only woodsman.

 

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Despite a heavy blizzard

I snowshoed through the national park

 

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with my wilderness guide I built a fire

and ate dinner in a hut in the dark.

 

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In the civilized town most famous

for skiing and wild parties

 

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I slept in a cottage in the woods

and played with the Kuru yogis.

 

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Out in the rugged tundra

of wilderness Kilpsjarvi

 

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I buried myself in snow

and finally took time for resting.

 

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Putting the coconut girl

to rest for the interim

 

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embracing Lappish culture

I became the reindeer woman.

 

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Eating heaping plates

of smoked and grilled reindeer meat

 

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preventing dry skin

with reindeer milk face cream.

 

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When it was time to board the train

and continue my life on the road

 

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I reflected back on what I learned

from enduring winter and snow.

 

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I discovered that few things are more relaxing

or natural than nudity

 

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in the sauna when I was stripped bare

that’s when I felt the most free.

 

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I witnessed that I didn’t need sunshine

or a beach to be happy

 

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all I needed was the feeling of nature

and the energy that comes from the trees.

 

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I opened my mind to the idea

that cold could be paradise

 

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that you can kill an animal and wear its fur

and still honor it for giving life.

 

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Though I never saw

the otherworldly Aurora Borealis

 

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I found what I needed

in the unknown blackness.

 

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Connecting so deeply

with what I could not see

 

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listening to the quiet wisdom

hidden within me.

 

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And where I once wondered

if in the cold I might die

 

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in the snow in Lapland

I felt my spirit come alive.

 

 

The Ultimate Winter Survival Guide to Finnish Lapland

 

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How to Get to Lapland

 

You may be wondering, where the heck even is Lapland?! Lapland is the region in the far North of Scandinavia known as the Arctic Circle. It stretches across Norway, Sweden, and Finland. In this post I’ll be covering the part of Lapland in Finland.

 

Fly

1-1.5 hours, starting around 100 euros round trip

The fastest and easiest way to get to Lapland is to fly from Helsinki, Finland’s capitol city. Finnair operates flights between Helsinki and Lapland for around 100 euros, depending on your dates and notice. International flights from all over the world connect with Helsinki, I flew Icelandair from Seattle and arrived in about 12 hours with a layover in Iceland. Through a special promo with Icelandair you can also organize a weeklong stopover in Iceland on your way to Europe. From Helsinki flights take around 1.5 hours to various airports scattered around Lapland including: Rovaniemi, Kemi, Ivalo, Kittila, Enontekio, and Kuusamo. From there you will need to take the public bus or private transfer to your destination within Lapland.

 

Train

12 hours, around 100 euros round trip

I took the train because I had a Eurail pass. The trip took around 12 hours from Helsinki to Rovaniemi on the night train. It also stops in Kemijarvi, Kemi, and Kolari. Sleeping cabins are available, but I spread out across two seats to sleep because the train wasn’t crowded. Considering that flights are about the same price, it only makes sense to book the train if you can’t get a flight or you’re traveling on a rail pass.

 

Bus

There are buses from Helsinki to Lapland, however they seem to be really long and expensive, so I wouldn’t recommend this option.

 

Car

If you feel comfortable driving in the snow, bringing a car can be a nice way to have your own independent exploration.

 

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How to Get Around in Lapland

 

Flights and trains do connect some of the major parts of Lapland, however likely to get off the beaten path you will need to drive, take local transportation, shuttles, or taxis. If you have a group and can drive in the snow, it will likely make sense to get your own car. Even public buses are expensive and add up quickly. Budget around 25-30 euros for a 3 hour bus ride. The major bus companies in Lapland include Matkahuolto and Eskelisin.

 

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What to Pack for Winter in Lapland

 

Having the proper clothing is key to survival in Lapland. Don’t worry about fashion, no one else does, it’s all about staying warm. Despite the frigid temperatures, there are plenty of outdoor activities, and your enjoyment can be ruined if you’re too cold. Most tour operators and many hotels have extra thermal suits, boots, gloves, wool socks, hats, etc because likely even the warmest things you pack won’t stand up to the cold in Lapland. However, you will still want your own warm clothes, especially if you decide to go on your own excursions. On a typical day I wore two pairs of long underwear, snow pants, two sweaters, an insulated coat, and three pairs of socks. Did I mention I put the Michelin Man thermal suits provided by tour companies on top of all of those layers? Here’s the packing list I wish I had before I left for Lapland:

 

Merino wool long underwear

Dries quickly, insulates, wicks off moisture, and doesn’t itch. Pack two pairs.

 

Sweaters

I recommend thin wool sweaters that you can layer. I find most wool itchy, so despite the expense I opted for cashmere and merino wool. Try to avoid synthetics and cotton because they won’t absorb the moisture or keep you nearly as warm. I would pack three sweaters.

 

Insulated Coat

You will need an extremely warm, well-insulated, waterproof coat, unless you plan to always use the Michelin Man suit. I was very fortunate to have an awesome winter coat sponsored by Arcteryx, one of the most reputable names in outdoor wear. The Ceres Down Filled Jacket is extremely warm, comfortable, and slim enough to ski in. On night safaris when the temperatures drop to thirty below, you’ll still want the thermal suit on top of the jacket.

 

Snow Pants

Go for water resistant and loose. The more space you have inside of your pants, the more air circulation you have, which will keep you warm. One pair is enough, unless you plan to ski and you may want another slimmer fitting pair.

 

Neck Gaiter and Scarf

I wore a fleece lined neck gaiter, to keep my neck covered, and layered it with a big wool infinity scarf to cover my face when it got really cold on a night safari.

 

Wool Hat

Keeping your ears and head warm is essential. I wore a wool headband that wrapped around my ears and a wool hat.

 

Mittens

I learned quickly that mittens keep you much warmer than gloves. Again, air space is extremely important, so having room to move your fingers inside of your mittens will keep them warm. Pack a wool pair to layer beneath a water resistant pair with fleece lining.

 

Wool Socks

Plan to wear at least three pairs of wool socks. Pack as many pairs as you can fit. Tour operators normally have extras you can borrow as well.

 

Snow Boots

My biggest mistake was that the boots I packed weren’t big enough. When you test out your snow boots, try them on with three pairs of wool socks, and make sure you have lots of space for wiggling your toes. If your shoes are too tight your feet will freeze because there’s not enough air circulation.

 

Backpack with Wheels

I was given the advice to bring a backpack with wheels for luggage, but didn’t listen. Instead I lugged around a giant rolling suitcase. Let me tell you, there are few things more frustrating than dragging a heavy roller through snow. You will also have to carry it up and down stairs and down uncleared paths. Try not to carry so much that you can’t bear the weight on your back, but do have wheels so that when it gets heavy you can have a break.

 

Compression bags

With big puffy insulated clothing, air compression bags are amazing space savers. I bought mine at REI for about $11 for a medium size bag. In just one medium bag I fit snow pants, a puffy coat, and a few sweaters.

 

Tripod

A tripod is absolutely necessary for photographing the Northern Lights. However, keep in mind that plastic will crack and break in freezing temperatures. I brought an inexpensive tripod and after just one day in Lapland it already broke.

 

Cold protection for phone and camera

Many other travelers had issues with their phone or camera battery depleting because of the cold. I didn’t have a problem, but I think it’s because I had good cases.

 

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Top Winter Experiences In Lapland

 

Before coming to Lapland, I hadn’t experienced winter in over three years. Though growing up in Seattle, I suppose I had never actually experienced winter at all. So I felt like a kid again in Lapland, where there are seemingly endless activities out in the snow. Here’s my bucketlist for what every trip to Lapland should involve.

 

Hunt for the Northern Lights

Ok, so maybe this is the whole reason why you’ve come to Lapland in the first place. Indeed the colorful auroras are a spectacular phenomenon, and if you lucky enough to see them it will surely be a highlight of your time in Lapland. Your best chance is to go to the far North (Inari, Kakslauttanen, Kilpisjarvi) though it’s possible to see them throughout Lapland. The sky needs to be very clear and it needs to be very dark. Being far from light pollution is essential, so if you say in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, you’ve got a great chance to see them from your doorstep. There are plenty of tours you can organize as well, where they will take you far into the forest without any light pollution. If you go on a tour, try to time it for a day with a good weather forecast and low temperatures. Tours may involve a reindeer safari (be warned, it’s very very cold!), snowmobile ride, or simply driving in a car to hunt for the lights.

 

Husky Safari

Dogsledding was one of my favorite things I did in Lapland, which took me by complete surprise. In general I feel uncomfortable using animals to cart me around, guilty even. I’m also not the biggest fan of dogs after being chased by them in Indonesia and bitten by one in Thailand. However, dogsledding in Lapland was a totally different experience. I had the pleasure of going with Hidden Trail Kennel in Kuusamo, a family owned company with a small pack of extremely well treated dogs. The dogs actually LOVED running and pulling me and seemed happy to have it as their job. The experience itself was exhilarating, these dogs went extremely fast, and because we were a small group we were able to let them. I went out for just an hour, but the same company does dogsledding safaris where you can spend several days sledding through the forest and sleeping in hidden guesthouses in the woods.

 

Skiing

Lapland offers beautiful scenery and vast terrain for Nordic skiing (cross country skiing). I went in Levi which has tracks that leave right from town and bring you into nature. Most towns offer abundant opportunities for cross-country skiing. Despite not having mountains, Lapland is actually a great place for Alpine skiing (downhill skiing) as well. You’re never up too high, so it’s perfect for beginners, but there are also black slopes for more advanced skiers. I imagine if you’re used to skiing in the Alps you’ll be underwhelmed, but for a beginner I can’t imagine a better place to learn. I went Alpine skiing in both Salla and Levi, both with beautiful views and great slopes for beginners.

 

Snow Shoeing

The best way to stay warm in Lapland is to move your body. I loved snowshoeing because it allowed me to spend time in nature without getting cold. In fact, many times I worked up a sweat. Lapland has many hills, called fells, and these are wonderful places to take snowshoes to reach the top for rewarding views. In Salla, which is surrounded by stunning nature, I went snowshoeing up to a waterfall, which had frozen into ice, and in Kuusamo I hiked to the top of a hill called The Holy Hill with panoramic views of the surrounding region.

 

Reindeer Safari

Easily the most popular activity in Lapland, a reindeer safari is a must on any trip to Lapland. There’s something so romantic about sitting in a big sleigh being pulled by a beautiful reindeer through the snowy forest. Keep in mind, it gets extremely cold since you’re not moving, so wearing lots of layers and covering up with blankets is key. Taking a reindeer safari is also a great opportunity to learn more about Sami culture, as many of the reindeer herders are Sami. I went on several reindeer safaris, but by far the best one was arranged by Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. The name of the reindeer herder is Pentti the Reindeer Man, and he takes small groups, maximum 8 people, to his personal reindeer farm. He is one of the happiest, warmest, kindest people I’ve ever met in my life, and will tell you many stories about his home and his family. After the safari, he brings you into his teepee with a warm fire, where you grill crepes on a skillet and listen to him sing traditional songs and play his Lappish drum.

 

Ice Fishing

If you’ve got the right guide, ice fishing is a great way to experience local Lappish culture. After all, this is how many local people survive the winter. It’s very cold out there, so wear lots of layers and definitely the thermal suit. I recommend fishing with Jari from Keimion Koukkaus aka The Woodsman who is an amazing outdoorsman and will take you ice fishing on the lake right in front of his house near Muonio.

 

Dine in a Lappish Hut

Another very traditional experience is dining inside of a Lappish hut, also called a kota. The Lappish hut can be small or grand, but it’s usually built of wood with a big fireplace in the middle. If you go fishing with Jari, you will cook your fish in the kota afterwards. My favorite kota I visited in Lapland was at Isokenkaisten Klubi, where once per week they invite guests for a BBQ inside their large hut. They prepare a feast of many local delicacies including fish smoked over the fire and grilled squeaky cheese.

 

Sauna and Ice Dip

I believe that the number one way to survive winter in Lapland is to adjust your internal temperature. How? By doing like the locals and taking sauna along with a dip into a frozen lake. If you’ve followed my adventures in Finland, you know how obsessed I am with sauna. I find it to be a deeply relaxing and spiritual experience, and the best way to warm up after a day out in the cold. Every hotel has at least one sauna, and most private cabins and rooms have their own in the bathroom. My favorite type of sauna is the traditional smoke sauna and the wooden sauna. Many guesthouses and hotels in Lapland have outdoor smoke saunas beside the lake, where you alternate between sweating and freezing the water. An unforgettable experience. In Kuusamo you can also organize your own Sauna Tour, visiting the best saunas in the region while riding in a sauna bus. Saunas involve anything from a special herbal scrub to an ice igloo sauna.

 

A Night in an Igloo

Where else but Lapland can you watch the Northern Lights from inside of a glass igloo? The glass igloos at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort are famous in Lapland, and they’re positively stunning. I highly recommend spending at least one night in a glass igloo, where you not only can see the moon, the stars, and possibly the Northern Lights, but you feel completely immersed in nature. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, spend a night in an igloo made of ice as well. Kakslauttanen also has beautiful ice igloos, as does Rukan Salonki Chalets. For an experience sleeping in an ice hotel, Kemi has the largest and most beautiful one.

 

Opening to the Mystery

I’m a firm believer that the best experiences in life cannot be organized or planned. The best experiences are the ones that unfold when we simply allow the universe to reveal its magic. Lapland is a place full of magic if open yourself to it. The moments I treasure most are the ones listening to a Lappish drum by the fire, hearing the stories of local women while we were naked together in the sauna, and sitting in the kitchen with the reindeer farmers drinking a beer and listening to hunting tales.

 

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Where to Base Yourself in Lapland

 

The largest city and most popular base in Lapland is Rovaniemi. While Rovaniemi is a nice city, easy to reach, and has many tour operators for nearby excursions, I believe you can skip it altogether. The whole point in coming to Lapland is to get out into nature and be in the middle of nowhere. Get in the bus for a couple more hours, and you’ll be rewarded with a much more authentic experience.

 

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Salla

Best for: families, nature lovers

 

Known for being “in the middle of nowhere”, Salla is a tiny village surrounded by gorgeous nature. It’s on the Eastern side of the country, near the Russian border, and is less than an hour by shuttle from the train station in Kemijarvi. What I loved most about Salla, was the small town atmosphere. Everyone knew one another, and you really felt like you were part of a community. Most of the people working here are not only from Lapland, but from Salla, which gives it an authenticity difficult to find elsewhere.

 

Activities

 

Salla is also known for having a nice ski resort, with a range of difficulty in ski slopes. I had my first every Alpine ski lesson there, at Salla Ski Resort. My instructor was perfect, very patient, funny, and gave great instruction. I also found the slopes to be very gentle, perfect for a beginner.

 

Other activities can be arranged through Arctic Circle Safaris and the Salla Reindeer Park. Arctic Circle Safaris has excursions by snowmobile through spectacular nature out to the Russian border. The Salla Reindeer Park has all of the usual Lapland excursions, and even the opportunity to go reindeer racing, where you ride on skis while holding onto the reigns of a reindeer. If you want to try out the ice dip, you can head to the local ice swimming association Jaameren Uimarit. Monday through Friday from 5:30pm to 7:30pm locals and tourists can use the sauna and ice hole for only 5 euros per person.

 

Another unique experience in Salla is the chance to meet with life coach Kati from Naturally Yours. Travel is the perfect time not only to explore the world around you, but the world within you. Kati gently guides you through meditations and exercises to help you connect more deeply with the life that you want to create.

 

Food and Lodging

 

While in Salla, I stayed in a cabin at the Holiday Club Salla, which is right next to the slopes. The location was perfect, surrounded by trees and a short walk to the ski lift. The cabin itself was big and cozy with  a large sauna in the bathroom. In the main hotel they offer a full buffet breakfast and dinner, both with many healthy, local options including grilled salmon and a salad bar. For lunch you can ski right over to Keloravintola, a log restaurant that’s been open for decades. Some evenings they have live music. For a more elegant evening out, head to Kiela, which has a buffet and a la carte menu with refined Lappish specialties.

 

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Kuusamo

Best for: nature lovers, sauna lovers, foodies

 

A couple hours south of Salla, also near the Russian border, is the region of Kuusamo, best known for its ski resort Ruka. Some say that Kuusamo is not technically in Lapland, as it sits below the Arctic Circle. However, culturally you will see that it feels quite Lappish. Of everywhere I went in Lapland, Kuusamo seemed to be the most progressive, with arguably the best cuisine, lodging, and wellness community.

 

Activities, Food and Lodging

 

My favorite place to stay in Lapland happens to be in Kuusamo, out in the forest on a lake near the Russian Border. The family owned lodge, Isokenkaisten Klubi, feels like going to Granny’s house for the weekend. It sits on a lake surrounded by snowy trees, and the father of the family built many of the cabines with his own hands. I had an amazing time sweating in their traditional smoke sauna, snow shoeing around the property, dipping into an ice hole in their lake, and eating Sirpa’s delicious home cooking made from wild foraged ingredients. They organize daily activities for guests with local companies, including dogsledding with Hidden Trail, a visit to the Reindeer Man, and a BBQ in their Lappish hut.

 

In the town of Ruka, which sits right under the slopes, you will find many hotels, restaurants, and tour companies for excursions. I had my best meal in Lapland in Ruka, at Rukan Kuksa. They use local, wild ingredients, to create delicious works of art. I highly recommend the slow braised reindeer, which comes with crispy reindeer moss, an amazing delicacy.

 

Close by to the Ruka Ski Resort, Rukan Salonki (translates to the Holy Hideaway) has beautiful cabins in the woods, large chalets for big groups, and many different kinds of saunas and sauna treatments. Onsite they even have an ice igloo sauna! At their sauna and wellness center on the Holy Lake, they have a variety of sauna treatments with special herbs and teas, massage, cupping, and even sauna yoga.

 

Isokenkaisten Klubi and Rukan Salongki are both part of an ingenious concept called the Sauna Tour, where you can visit the most special saunas (with your own sauna guide) throughout Kuusamo inside of a sauna bus. This is a unique experience to Kuusamo, and an excellent way to learn about sauna, a very important aspect of Finnish culture.

 

Above all else, what truly made my experience so special in Kuusamo, was my local guide Kirsi from Seasonal Wellness. She’s a certified sauna yoga teacher and local, who is well connected with the special nature of Lapland. She took me on a guided snowshoe hike to the Holy Hill in Kuusamo, performed a Lappish drum ceremony for me (a traditional form of sound healing), and led a sauna yoga class. You can visit her at her studio in Kuusamo for a class, or better yet organize your own retreat with her.

 

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Kakslauttanen

Best for: design lovers, families, northern lights hunters

 

The tiny village of Kakslauttanen in the far North of Lapland is best known for the famous Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. Years ago the owner decided to open a little roadside coffee shop on a whim, and over the years he created what is now the most famous hotel in Lapland. Deservedly so, it’s a work of art. Despite being an extremely large resort with hundreds of igloos and cabins, the level of quality in the construction and materials is unparalleled. As a former Interior Designer, I know what I’m talking about, lol! Local artists have done the artwork and many of the fixtures, and I very much appreciate how this project supports local craftsman.

 

The famous glass igloos offer the unique experience of star gazing, and hopefully Northern Lights spotting, despite the freezing temperatures. This far North, your chances for seeing the Northern Lights are high. I spent two nights in a glass igloo, and found the experience to be extremely special, despite the fact that I actually slept through the Northern Lights on accident! You really feel connected with nature. Equally amazing are their log cabins, easily the most gorgeous log cabins I’ve ever seen, with a private sauna, kitchen, and custom designed textiles by Marimekko. The kitchens in log cabins are fully equipped so you can prepare your own meals, however you’ll need to stock up on supplies in the village about 30 minutes away.

 

Some people have criticized the fact that none of the cabins or igloos have wifi. Personally, I found this to be an advantage. Even as a blogger who was working while there, it’s nice to have a sacred space away from the noise of the internet. When you’re on vacation, wouldn’t you rather check your email from the restaurant, then peacefully relax in your room without constantly checking your phone?

 

That said, Kakslauttanen is not a place for everyone. It is a large resort, and consequently the style of service is of course different from a small family run guesthouse. Still, depending how you tailor your itinerary, you can certainly have authentic experiences staying here. In fact, my favorite tour that I did in all of Lapland, a safari with Pentti the Sami Reindeer Man, was organized through Kakslauttanen. On the flip side, they also have large tour groups who go on reindeer safaris run by their own company. If you’re interested in more personal experiences, be sure to specify that and inquire what the group size will be for your tour.

 

A unique offering at Kakslauttanen is the opportunity to meet Santa. Honestly, I was hesitant at first. As a child when I met Santa it always seemed cheesy and staged, so as an adult I really had no interest in meeting him, at the end of January no less. However, the Santa at Kakslauttanen is about as real as it gets. He actually lives year round in a beautiful log house completely furnished with antiques. He’s also quite convincing and a joy to be in the presence of. Also magical is a visit to the Blacksmith just around the corner from Santa’s house, who prepares special coals that make gold sparks fly out the chimney.

 

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Inari

Best for: cultural enthusiasts, northern lights hunters

 

Unfortunately I did not make it to Inari on this trip. However, it remains one of the most famous places to visit in Lapland for the presence of Samis. This region has the highest concentration of Sami people and occasionally has festivals celebrating Sami culture. It’s also very far North, about 30 minutes North of Kakslauttanen, and is also a spectacular place to see the Northern Lights.

 

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Muonio

Best for: cultural enthusiasts, nature lovers, northern lights hunters

 

On the Northwestern side of Lapland, Muonio sits just across the border from Sweden. It’s very far North, which means it is also an excellent place to see the Northern Lights. The region includes the Pallas-Yllastunturi national park, one of the largest national parks in Finland. In Muonio I had easily the most authentic, local experiences I had anywhere in Lapland. People here are extremely connected with nature and there is a small town hospitality wherever you go.

 

Activities

 

In the vast Pallas national park, the hiking opportunities are spectacular. However, in winter I don’t feel particularly comfortable trekking out on my own. While in Muonio, I had the opportunity to go out into the great unknown with a wilderness guide, Riika from Wild River Nature Adventures. We trekked through the national park in pretty extreme conditions and we most certainly survived! She taught me all about local herbs and food, which we prepared ourselves and cooked on the open fire inside of a kota.

 

Another opportunity to connect with nature and improve your survival skills, is by fishing or hunting with Jari from Keimion Koukkaus. I’ve given him the name, The Woodsman, because really he is the Lappish Renaissance Man. I would easily trust this man with my life. His property sits on a large lake where he’ll take you and his adorable dog Winsky out for ice fishing. Jari is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to all things nature, and he’s also extremely charming. After catching some fish, you return to his Lappish hut beside the lake to grill it. Jari is a wonderful storyteller, and he also does performances as a “shaman,” telling old Lappish tales for groups.

 

Completely unique to Muonio is one of my favorite spa treatments I’ve ever received: a reindeer milk facial. You heard me right. Reindeer milk is extremely valuable as it’s only possible to yield one cup of milk per milking. Its fat and nutrition content make it very nourishing for skin, and local Muonio cosmetologist Marjo has developed a line of skin products called Lappi Facial, using it as her key ingredient. The products are all natural, using local ingredients, and honestly the best skin care products I’ve ever used. I’m nearly out of both the reindeer milk facemask and the reindeer milk face cream, which almost necessitates a trip back to Muonio! At her space she performs the facial, which includes a special enzyme peel, the reindeer milk mask, and the reindeer milk face cream. During the facial she offers a massage, working with different trigger points along the jawline and temple. It’s extremely relaxing and I had an amazing glow afterwards.

 

Food and Lodging

 

Few places have felt like home in my travels like Sarkijarven Majat. This two hundred year old farmhouse sits on Lake Sarkijarven, surrounded by national park. The owner, Tarja, has a beautiful, wise, spirit, and will gladly share stories of her family history with you. Her grandmother was a Sami shaman woman, who picked wild berries in the forest and taught her how to use herbs as medicine. She remains a medicine woman in her own right, teaching guests how to make Lappish drums. The process of making the drum itself is healing, Tarja explains how the patterns and colors that appear on the skin of the drum, reveal stories about its creator. Her lodging consists of large cabins with personal saunas and big living rooms. Outside beside the lake, is a traditional wooden sauna and fireside room, with an ice hole for dipping into. Her cooking is among the best I had in Lapland, and guests gather together to dine in the main farmhouse. The dinner consists of a buffet with a variety of salads, local cheeses, smoked reindeer soup, homemade bread, and lick your plate clean entrees.

 

Another historic hotel, Torrasieppi Hotel is the first ever reindeer farm in Finland. You can still do reindeer safaris here, in the traditional style, as well as many other excursions. Just beside the reindeer farm you can visit the original house with antique furnishings and housewares from the 1800s, still in perfect condition. The hotel has darling wooden cabins on the lake and a shared sauna.

 

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Kilpisjarvi

Best for: nature lovers, northern lights hunters

 

To really get off the beaten path, head to Kilpisjarvi, on the Northern “arm” of Finland just beside Sweden and Norway. It’s famous for having the highest points in the country, with a vast lake that spans all the way to Sweden. The many fells make it an excellent place for snowshoe excursions, where you can hike as high as 1000 meters for gorgeous views. It’s also possible to do ski touring here, hiking up the fells with your skis and then going back down off piste. Another popular activity is snowmobiling across Lake Kilpisjarvi to Sweden. When the sky is clear, it’s one of the best places in Lapland to see the Northern Lights.

 

During my time in Kilpisjarvi, I stayed at Tundrea which sits right on Lake Kilpisjarvi underneath the Saana fell. The cabins are spread across a large property, which makes you feel like you’re staying in your own private vacation rental. They come equipped with full kitchens and many have their own saunas. Within walking distance you’ll find a grocery store with everything you need to prepare your own meals. Be sure to also dine in their restaurant, with delicious, classic Lappish cuisine and a cozy atmosphere.

 

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Levi

Best for: solo travelers, yogis, skiers

 

Perhaps the most famous place to vacation in Lapland is Levi, both for its large ski area and its thriving nightlife. Of all of the towns I stayed in Lapland, Levi is certainly the most developed, with many hotels, restaurants, and shops in the center. For Lapland it might be busy, but for the rest of the world, it’s a small Alpine style ski resort. With a nearby airport, Levi is quite easy to reach.

 

Activities

 

If you’re coming to Lapland to ski, you’ll likely want to be in Levi. It has pistes for all ski levels, a snow park for snowboarders, and gorgeous scenery on the slopes. I took a half-day lesson through Levi Ski School, which was a great experience. My instructor was a local, who was very knowledgeable on the terrain and helped me improve tremendously. Cross country skiing is very convenient and fun in Levi, with tracks leading right from town out into the wilderness. I went with a guide who I befriended at a yoga class I taught, and we had a ton of fun chatting while skiing through the woods.

 

While most people come to Levi for ski, I came for yoga. In Lapland it’s hard, if not impossible, to find yoga studios, so I was stoked to discover Kuru Yoga. Recently opened as part of the Hullu Poro Wellness Program, Kuru Yoga is the world’s Northernmost hot yoga studio. The owners, Anne, Susanna, and Mikko, are from Helsinki, and brought the yoga they love from the city up to Lapland. The studio is quite new, but the space already has a very special energy, with a clean design and a cozy lounge area with organic teas. They offer at least one class daily, ranging from Power Vinyasa, After Ski Yin, and Family Yoga, always heated to help you warm up after being out in the snow. They plan to expand to offer retreats and summer yoga experiences in nature.

 

Also as part of the Hullu Poro Wellness program, I received a massage with special Lappish herbs for lymphatic drainage. Let me tell you, it was extremely effective as I was peeing constantly! I also had a special peet facial, known for being deeply cleansing. In the lobby they even serve green smoothies, the only ones I’ve seen in Lapland, with pure cacao, spirulina, and other superfoods.

 

Food and Lodging

 

A special experience outside of the town of Levi, I stayed at Hotel Taivaanvalkeat, a traditional farmhouse about 8km away from the center. The hotel is beautifully decorated with all original antiques. Apparently David Hasselhoff stayed in one of the rooms across the hall from me, a good thing or a bad thing depending who you ask, haha. Downstairs in the cozy fireplace room, I held my own Yin yoga class through Kuru Yoga, which was a very special experience. I felt like I had invited my friends over to my house for a sleepover. The hotel also has a Lappish hut for special dinners, a lovely restaurant (which unfortunately was closed when I was there), and they even have gorgeous Icelandic horses on the property. This was one of my favorite hotels I stayed at in Lapland.

 

If you don’t have a car and want the convenience of being in town, I highly recommend the Hotelli Hullu Poro, a short walk from the ski slopes and near many restaurants. My room was quite cozy with a private balcony and a sauna in the bathroom.

 

Hullu Poro seems to own nearly every restaurant in Levi, haha, and the few that I ate at were all good. My favorite was Valkea Vaadin which serves refined Lappish cuisine. The salmon soup is out of this world delicious. Ammila restaurant just beside Hotelli Hullu Poro serves a big buffet lunch, which sometimes includes these amazing Indian fusion vegetarian cabbage rolls. I also ate at Ristorante Renna, an Italian place with a Lappish twist. Think pizza with reindeer and lingonberries.

 

 

Thank you to Visit Finland, the Tourism Boards of Salla, Ruka-Kuusamo, Muonio, and Levi, Seasonal Wellness, Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Tundrea, Hullu Poro, Kuru Yoga, and the many tour operators and lodges for sponsoring my stay in Lapland. I’m overflowing with gratitude to the many people who opened their doors and their hearts and showed me one of the most magical places on Earth. 

 

 

Want to read more of my stories from Lapland? Check out:

 

The Hike to the Holy Hill, where I share my experience in a Lappish drum ceremony and taking a smoke sauna and ice dip for the first time in Kuusamo.

Where Have all the Shamans Gone, follows my quest to discover shamanism in Lapland, and what I found instead.

 

 


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Comments

  1. This was really opening writing of Lapland. Even for a Finnish :) Great, keep on writing more of your trips.

  2. That was wonderful to read!!! Thanks for sharing!

  3. This was a really good writing about Lapland, I’m Finnish and it really makes me want to go there! I’m currently staying in France, and I always want to go abroad on my holidays, but now I started thinking about going on a trip in my own country… Thank you! :)

    • Camille Willemain Says: March 11, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      So nice to hear! Lapland really is one of the most incredible places I’ve been in the world. I can imagine as a Finnish person it would really deepen your connection with your country.

  4. Very good writing! Even though I am from Lapland as my whole family, yet i wasnt aware of all the things you shared! I guess one gets easily blind about their surroundings and beauty of it :)

    • Camille Willemain Says: March 13, 2015 at 1:08 am

      Thank you so much. Lapland is really magical, hope you will experience more of it :)

    • You’re absolutely right! I’m from Lapland as well but currently living in Belgium. As you said, I realise the beauty the Northern Skandinavia mostly when my Belgian friends are visiting my hometown 😀

  5. It’s really nice to hear that you enjoyed the snow so much. I’m from Canada and we have some quite extreme winter here sometimes, especially up north, but people seems to always see only the negativity of it. Coming from a coconut girl like you, it’s reassuring to see that anybody can appreciate the snow. I love my winter and try to make the most of it every year. You made me enjoy it even more! Thank you! I suggest you try cross-country once, it’s one of my favorite winter sport. I think you would love it! :-)

  6. Fantastic! I love this post SO MUCH! I’ve had my eye on Lapland but I usually read about more or less packaged trips. What I was thinking about was a DIY trip. Thanks for the info and gorgeous pictures!

    • Camille Willemain Says: March 15, 2015 at 2:32 am

      Thank you! Yes, you can totally organize a trip on your own!! Hope you’re able to customize the perfect trip for you from this post :)

  7. Camille, so impressive and great reading.
    The photos just get better. Miss you! Mom

  8. I loved Lapland too! Hope to get there again this summer!

  9. Tnx Camille,

    Excellent description of the magic up north. So true, so real and so different.

    Where ever I have travelled – one can not match the peacefulness and serenity of the wilderness up in Lapland.

    Be ready for the billion mozzies that will be welcoming you at summer. 😉

    **H**

  10. Grate story. You found so much good thinks. You are wonderfull. Thanks that you from your travel stories

  11. […] Photo credit: This American Girl || How to Survive Winter in Lapland […]

  12. […] winter I had wandered down snow covered paths to see if I could lose myself. I let an old piece of me die as I surrendered to new ways of living, […]

  13. Lovely pictures and very informative on lapland.

    A question, how did you get around lapland? did you drive?

  14. Hi! I have 2 questions :
    1. Can you tell me the specific type of outerlayer jacket you wore?
    2. What kind of phone case did you use on your phone that can sonehow protect it from the cold?

    • Camille Willemain Says: November 22, 2016 at 6:15 pm

      Hey Jess, I got the Arctyrex down jacket and they also supplied me with full outdoor suits for the tours I did. I didn’t use a special phone case, I just kept my phone tucked away whenever I was outside.

  15. Hi, What camera did u use in Finland?

    • Camille Willemain Says: September 3, 2017 at 8:24 am

      Hi dear I used a canon powershot when I was there. Now, I use a mirrorless with interchangeable lenses sony a6000 but upgrading soon <3 xoxo