Sunday 29th January saw us jet off from Manchester to Kitilia (Finnish Lapland) wrapped up in our big coats and boots we were both excited to experience somewhere completely different. We arrived around 3 hours later, met by our reps we were transferred to our log cabin in the resort of Akasompolu, next door to the popular ski resort of Yylas (approx. 30 mins from the airport)
The scenery is incredible, the frozen snowy trees line the road and look like weird creatures. Each time we drove past them we were in awe, the sky was either bright blue, pink or jet black depending on the time of day. Streetlights are turned off at 10pm to allow for dark skies, star gazing and of course searching for the northern lights.
Here’s a run down of our week’s adventure:
After a very early start we arrived in the late afternoon, transferred to our log cabin in the woods via the hire shop where we collected our rented thermal suits and boots. The staff are so experienced they know your size just by looking at you. Boots and suits come a size bigger than usual – insulation needs air and of course you need several layers beneath the suits. More about this in my top tips later. After unpacking we had a venture out into the village, found a few restaurants and the well stocked large supermarket. After dinner we walked back to our cabin and had an early night, ready to make the most of our adventure the next day
After a good nights sleep (so quiet and dark in the woods) we walked into the village to stock up at the supermarket(approx 20 minutes) and plan our week’s activities. We enjoyed our first sauna (every cabin has its own) slapping ourselves with birch leaves then we went outside and rolled in the snow, it was freezing!!!
We took the ski bus to Yylas ski slope (7 euro each way) and went to the top in a gondola (approx. 12 euro each return) it was soooo cold up there, after a few photos we retreated to the cabin for hot chocolate
After a ride back down we grabbed a sledge and had some fun on the slopes. We don’t ski or snowboard but saw people enjoying both. People said it was the best place they’d been to as there was loads of room with no big queues. There is another ski slope at Akasompolu, the ski bus stops there too.
Tuesday evening saw us whizzing through the forest on a snowmobile. Andy drove and I was a passenger. What an experience! The snow twinkles like fairy dust in the snow, we stopped for hot berry juice in a hut with a roaring fire made by the guides. We were looking for the northern lights but didn’t see any.
We went to a reindeer farm, approx. 1.5 hours coach ride away, further north and very close to the Swedish border. We were welcomed by Marita and Sami, owners of the farm which has been a family business for over 200 years. We were introduced to our reindeer Aiya, a six year old male who is know for being a bit feisty. After being covered with a blanket in our sleigh Aiya took us off round a track in the forest, he wanted to go faster than the one in front, the couple in front of us kept having his head in theirs!
After our ride we fed them with their favourite food-moss. I loved this experience, they gently took the moss from our hands and let us stroke them. The little shop sells homemade craft items made with reindeer antlers (they fall off every year) wood and skins.
We enjoyed bread and biscuits by the fire with, yes you guessed it- hot berry juice!
After a couple of hours our lovely hosts waved us off, we felt as though we had a really genuine experience not a tourist trap performance.
After a relaxing day we went on a snow shoe trek through the forest, again trying to see the northern lights. The moon was nearly full and lit up the sky. I can’t say I enjoyed this experience, it was hard work! The snow was waist deep and unless you were on a track even with snow shoes was difficult to wade through. We walked across a frozen lake to find our hut where we had hot berry juice in front of the fire. Our guides shared stories of the Sami traditions and superstitions
Up early and taken to an office for an ice fishing trip by snowmobiles. We were shown a safety video and given another thermal suit to go on top of the ones we already had. So I had on; thermal long sleeved vest, blouse, fleece, gilet, 2 thermal suits, 3 pairs of socks, silk glove liners, ski gloves and mittens, 2 snoods a balaclava and a helmet. It was -27 degrees and despite all the layers you could still feel cold!!
Our guide for the day was Haiki, a very experienced fisherman, part time fireman and much like Bear Grylls outdoor enthusiast. We were the only ones on the trip so we had him all to ourselves. We set off on the snowmobile, again Andy drove. We ventured deep into the forest and went down private tracks to a frozen lake. Andy misjudges a corner and turned the snowmobile over on its side, we face planted the snow and the snowmobile landed on my leg! Thank goodness for all those layers, I truly believe they helped me avoid injury. After a battle to get the snowmobile out of the snow (they’re 200 kilos!) we were off again, albeit a little more wary. When we got to the lake Heiki showed us g=how to make a hole in the ice, add bait to a line and put in the water to get a fish. Within a minute he managed to catch a little perch which was put back, we had a go but didn’t catch anything. After a while we retreated to the cabin where Heiki had made a fire and was busy cooking sausages and warming berry juice. After lunch and warming up we returned on our snowmobile, it took us around 45 minutes each way. The scenery was stunning, it was so cold my visor froze and I couldn’t see much!
We had a quick cup of soup back in our cabin before donning our suits again to go off to see the snow village, approx. 20 minutes away. The snow village is constructed every November and has a different theme. This year it was around the world. Giant igloos house ice/snow carvings representing countries, the attention to detail is incredible. You can eat in an ice restaurant and even sleep over in one of the themed ‘bedrooms’ You don’t get access to your room until 10pm when the visitors have left. There’s a mattress on an ice block, no doors though, I’m not sure how easy it would be to sleep. Some rooms have 4/5 beds so big enough for families.
The best part of the visit was outside- the elusive northern lights came out to put on a show for us. I was quite emotional, a massive green arc which changed shapes and colours. A real bucket list experience that we shall never forget. It was -27 degrees, a bitterly cold but beautifully clear night, pitch black out in the countryside, we were truly blessed.
After a little shopping trip we met our coach to take us to a husky safari, approx. 20 minutes from our village. We arrived at the farm to a chorus of barks and howls- what a noise they make!! The dogs are all excited to go running and only quieten when they are running or when they’re tired afterwards!
Our guides gave us instructions on how to ‘drive’ the sledge with the dogs. Andy was the musher and I sat in the sledge covered in a blanket. Still -25 degrees we were thankful of the hand warmers we had in our gloves. I was also thankful I’d got goggles on and a snood covered my face, lets just say the dogs poo when they run and you don’t want it going in your face!! We had 5 dogs pulling our sledge and they clearly love it, it was such fun. We went on a 30km cross country safari, Andy slowing them down or helping them out by pushing with his foot when needed. Afterwards we gave the dogs a stroke and went to the hut for a defrost round the fire and yes a hot berry juice!
As a treat for our last night we booked a restaurant called Poro, only a 10 minute walk from our cabin. Fine dining using local produce we enjoyed a Lappish feast including reindeer filet, moose steak and salmon. We also enjoyed a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, a surprise to find Finnish wine! They import the grapes from Austria and make it in Helsinki, no finings or filters, tasty fresh red wine.
On the way back to the cabin we did the obligatory snow angels, diving into the deep snow.
All too quickly our adventure came to an end, were collected from our cabin at 10am for the 1/2 hour ish transfer to the airport. All very smooth and efficient, a small airport so don’t bank on leaving your duty free shopping til the airport!
Eating out and shopping
We tried lots of local food- reindeer burgers, pizza with mashed potato on it (weirdly nice!) sauteed reindeer, lingonberries, cheeses, reindeer chilli and local beer.
Most restaurants seemed to open from midday through to the evening, we took porridge with us for breakfast and were glad we had as we didn’t see breakfast being served in any of the restaurants (apart from the hotels). The supermarket was large and had everything you could want. Prices weren’t as bad as we expected either, a bottle of wine could be bought from around 10 euro, obviously local produce is cheaper than imported brands.
We didn’t eat out every day, having cooking facilities meant we could buy from the supermarket which we enjoyed and also saved money.
Souvenirs are everything reindeer- antlers, skins, pictures. They were cheaper at the reindeer farm than at the shop in the village so if you go its worth remembering that. Lots of knitted goods, xmas decorations, outdoor sports gear and local produce such as cloudberry jam.
The currency is Euro, everywhere we went accepted cash and card. There is a cash machine at the supermarket
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What to take- layering is key. You will be on/off buses, in/out of buildings so you need to be able to take your thermals off when you go inside. You need good thermal waterproof boots and a hat. You can hire these in resort, but you also need thermal underwear, a cotton layer and a wool layer then your thermal suit goes over it all. Clothing and boots should be loose so air can insulate you, go for a size bigger. A sports bra is useful when you’re on a snowmobile- lets just say they bounce a bit girls! A balaclava/snood is essential, ski goggles are also useful. If you’re doing a husky sledge ride remember they poop and don’t stop so you need your eyes/mouth covered!
Spectacles get misted/frozen and are a nuisance if I’m honest. I had goggles that fit over my specs or wore contact lenses. You can also buy prescription ski goggles if you’re planning on going to cold climates regularly.
Take a head torch, useful for when its dark out and about. A rucksack is useful for carrying spare layers, snacks etc.
Remember to take your driving licence if you intend to drive a snowmobile, passengers need to be big enough to sit on the rear seat, small children will be towed in a sledge. They are powerful machines, follow instructions carefully.
Hand warmers are great, little disposable things that heat for around 10 hours. We used ours in gloves and boots, they made a huge difference. Keep moving, if you stand still or sit still you get cold very quickly. Keep an eye on little ones, it doesnt take long to become very cold, its really not suitable for babies.
Skin- get some decent facecream/handcream. The cold really does affect your skin, the bit outside the balaclava gets exposed, my face became very sore I ended up buying some aloe vera nightcream and used it all day (look at the ingredients if its largely aqua thats water and will freeze!)
Northern Lights-The best time of year to try to see the northern lights is Nov-March. They are not guaranteed although we were told they are there 7 days out of 10. The trouble is if its cloudy they may be there but you wont see them. There are apps you can download which have forecasts and live cams, they also alert you when they are active nearby. The longer you are there the more chance you have of seeing them, we werte told best time of day is around 10 pm but we were luck to see a fantastic display at around 8pm. Go into dark areas away from street lights to have a better chance of seeing them, you can see them better through your camera than with your naked eye.
Save money- take cuppa soups, porridge, cereal bars, snacks, crisps etc with you. We had 22kgs luggage allowance, and wore the heavisest things to travel in. We bought gin and wine at duty free and took with us. We also took an insulated water bottle, tap water is drinkable.Take empty cans and bottles back to the store for recyling, you pay a deposit as part of the purchase price and get this back when you return them.
Make sure your travel insurance covers any activities you do
How long do you need to go for and best time of year to go
For some people 3/4 nights is enough- you will be able to do a range of taster activities. If you can go longer you will have more chance of seeing the northern lights, longer duration activities and a chance to rest between. There were people I spoke to who had been 13 times !!
Obviously if you want to meet Santa you need to go in November or December.
Snow lasts until around May so the ski season is a longer one than most European resorts, temperatures in January are around -25 degrees, it’s been as low as -52!! December and January have shorter daylight hours- the glittering snow brightens everywhere though
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