I have a bucket list, a ‘destinations I really want to visit’ bucket list! Somehow that list keeps getting longer; for every time I manage to erase a destination of this list, three more are added! Finnish Lapland during winter time has been on my list for years. It is one of those destinations that I keep on dreaming about; a winter wonderland with lots of snow. Today my dream is finally coming true; I am so excited!
I have packed my suitcase with snow and hiking boots, warm clothes, woollen socks and thermal underwear. For a holiday like this you really need to prepare well and make sure you bring the right clothes and accessories.
Together with my niece Jill, her father Anton and my friend Astrid we meet on the 4th of February at Schiphol Airport. I was suppose to go with Astrid, but when Anton found out he said to me: “Oh wow, are you planning on going to Lapland?! That is on my bucket list too!” So I asked Astrid if he could join, she said yes and I booked us a bigger accommodation. In fact, now we had room for 4. So I told his daughter, my niece Jill and she thought about it for 2 minutes and said: OK, I am in too!
Day 1 of 8: flying to Kittilä, Finland
We fly with TUIfly to Kittilä in Finland. From The Netherlands you can fly to 3 winter destinations in Finland with either TUIfly or Transavia. I have booked us an accommodation in Levi, so Kittilä is the airport we need to fly to. The flight takes only 3 hours. Everybody in the aircraft is warmly dressed and so are we! There is only so much you can take in your suitcase and winter clothes take up a lot a space, which means you have to be creative. So we are wearing our thickets coat, hiking boats and a few layers of clothes 😉 when boarding the plane.
We arrive at Kittilä around 4pm. It is already dark, but we can see that there is a lot of snow. Once we are out of the plane it is -10 degrees. The difference with where we come from is big, but this cold is different from the “water cold” temperatures that we experience in our little country. The air is dry here and if you are warmly dressed you are fine! We meet a representative of Buro ScanBrit! She directs us to the transfer bus and we are brought to the town of Levi, which is less than 20 minutes away. I have booked us a log cabin, which is located just 10 minutes outside the centre. We have to collect our key at Polar Star Travel from where they take us and our luggage by minibus to the log cabin. At the end of the holiday we will be picked up again.
The log cabins are built next to each other in rows of four, but between every cabin there is a driveway; so you will not hear your neighbours. The log cabin looks beautiful, is well equipped (including a little sauna) and it is comfortable and warm inside because of the floor heating that is full on (it is probably warmer than in my own house). In case we would have rented a car from the airport, we could have parked it on the driveway (but we did not think we would need a car). Next to the door there is plenty of firewood, a sled and a snow shovel. It is exactly like I hoped it would be.
We unpack our bags, get changed and walk towards the centre of Levi before the shops close. Levi has 2 large supermarkets and groceries are pretty expensive, but you can really buy everything you need. We did takes some groceries with us, but nothing like dairy or fruit and veggies. After the shopping, we walk back to the cabin, light the fireplace and prepare ourselves a meal and relax with a board game and a glass of wine. We are tired, since we got up very early this morning. And the fire that burns makes us all sleepy. It is time to go to bed. I cannot wait to see what it looks like outside during daylight…
Day 2 of 8: relaxed morning and snowshoe walk in the afternoon
We do not have to get up early the next morning. It is Sunday and we sleep in a bit. We make ourselves a good breakfast and finally see the beautiful winter wonderland around our log cabin. This time of year daylight starts around 10am and the sun sets around half past three. There is about 70 centimetres of snow outside and we go and have a look and laugh our heads of when Anton steps into the back garden en his legs disappear in the snow. Traces of polar hare (or snow rabbits as I call them) can be seen everywhere in the snow. But it is very difficult to spot them since they come out at night, are white and all is white around us.
In the afternoon we have a snowshoe walk on our program, organised by Lapland Safaris. Since this holiday is something we will not be doing every year, we agreed on trying out different activities. Things we for sure cannot do at home! We walk towards Levi where we have a coffee/tea first at Káfet. Then we walk to the meeting point in the centre of Levi, close to the ski slopes. We will walk under the guidance of a friendly and experienced guide, who tells us that the walk can be compared to a good workout at the gym. Oh… that sounds… like a working holiday 😉 We all get snowshoes and if we want to, we can also get walking sticks. But of course we will walk without; easy peasy (so we think)!
OK, walking with these snowshoes on is not so easy, many end up with their noses in the snow (me being the first and threatening my niece not to take any photographs when she sees me going down). It results in hilarious moments! Seriously, try to get up with those big irons under your feet! Whose idea was this walk? 😉 Along the way our guide tells us interesting facts about the local flora and fauna and also about the many traces that can be seen in the snow. Both the polar hare and the arctic fox are white and appear in the evening and at night, so they are very difficult to spot.
The walk is a great experience, although quite intensive. We walk up a mountain, but the climb and the beautiful surroundings and the view on top of the mountain, make the effort more than worthwhile! We take a break to enjoy the view and are offered a warm berry juice. But believe me when I say that the walk warms you up; we are not feeling cold at all. After the break we descend down and we all agree that after this work out we deserve a good meal tonight.
We walk back towards the log cabin to get changed and relax for a while. When we go back to the centre of Levi later at night, we find a small restaurant called Nili-Poro, where it is cosy and comfortable. We enjoy a Finnish meal (read: reindeer burger) with a Finnish beer. What a beautiful day we had today! I love it here; the scenery is a true fairy tale! Back in the log cabin we play Yathzee and drink some wine. Alcohol is expensive here, so we booked ourselves and extra piece of luggage on our flight to here and brought some wine and other groceries to save a bit of money. But like I wrote earlier, we are getting groceries as well at the local supermarket.
Day 3 of 8: Walking around Levi and snowmobile adventure at night
The next morning we can feel our muscles well from the snowshoe walk. But the area of Levi is too beautiful to stay inside the log cabin. We do not have an excursion on the program during the day and decide to go for a normal walk. We put on our warm clothes again and walk towards Immeljärvi, one of the lakes close to Levi. We walk on the footpath next to the road alongside the lake and see 2 men ice fishing. Now that is one thing we will not be doing; it seems a bit boring, but maybe I am wrong. For sure you need a lot patience.
We visit Santa’s Pet Farm & Cottage, which is located on an old farm at the foot of Levitunturi mountain. They have lots of animals like reindeer, sheep, goats, rabbits and cows. It is great place for families with little kids, but we grown ups like it as well. We buy some moss to feed the reindeer, who love this snack. And they are the sweetest animals (no, I do not feel guilty about my burger last night… I eat meat maybe once a week). We sit down before we leave and order a warm drink, have a snack and use the bathroom. What a lovely place.
We walk back to Levi over the lake, which is of course frozen; the ice is approximately 2 meters thick. There is a lot of traffic on the lake. There are trails for hikers, cross-country skiers and snowmobiles. And not just on the lake: everywhere in and around Levi there are separate trails so that nobody gets in each other’s way and of course to avoid accidents. It is pretty special to walk over the lake and we enjoy the beautiful scenery. Anton tries to make a snow angel, but underneath the snow it is a bit wet, so he gets up quickly. We pose with a giant snow man that is built on the lake and then walk back to our log cabin.
At the end of the afternoon we make ourselves a meal in the log cabin. It is actually too early to eat, but during the evening we have a snowmobile safari on our program; so we eat now, because it will be late when we come back. After dinner we put on our coats and boots and walk towards the Lapland Safaris office.
With this activity we can go out further of the village and we may have a chance to see the northern lights. When we arrive at Lapland Safaris , we get a safety briefing and instructions first. You need a drivers license to drive a snowmobile and you need good insurance! All is safe, but you never know. After the briefing we get a great outfit, consisting of a thick thermo suit, sturdy snow boots, thick woollen socks and mittens and a thermal cap. We can keep this outfit for the rest of the week, which is great. We really need the outfit on this excursion especially, because in the evening it is of course colder than during the day. And when driving you can feel the cold wind, so we better be warm.
We are off and drive through the most beautiful forests to an open plain. We are on a snowmobile suitable for 2 people and we will change drivers half way. Unfortunately the northern lights cannot be seen tonight, it is cloudy. But we have a good time anyway. I did not take photographs of the trip; during the ride it is not allowed anyway. And I did not think about a way to secure the camera and keep it running. Halfway we stop at a big hut where we get hot dogs and a warm drink and the guides tell us their stories about life in Finnish Lapland. The ride is truly spectacular; after the break we change drivers and go back to Levi. And who knows the northern lights will appear another evening.
Day 4 of 8: lazy day
We have nothing planned for Tuesday. We sleep in, have breakfast and at the end of the morning we walk to Levi and sit down at cafe/bakery Café Soma for lunch. What a lovely and colourful place to sit down and they have yummie things to eat. After our break we walk through the village and visit the souvenir shops to see what they are selling. There are a lot of wood carving objects to be found, as well as typical souvenirs and Finnish delicacies. A lot of the shops are aiming at the Russian market, who love to come here on a holiday.
Levi is a popular ski area; there are many slopes and some of them go straight into the village. Next to the ski lifts there is a gondola. We decide to get a ticket and let the gondola take us up to the mountain, so that we can admire the village from above. On the mountain there is lots of activity; of course mostly people enjoying skying of snow boarding. The slopes continue towards the other side of the mountain. We see there is a hotel called Levi Panorama, Spiella Café and Restaurant as well as a cinema and the Samiland Exhibition. Behind there is the Tunturitie road from just outside the village that leads up here.
Next to Spiella we find a beautiful hiking trail, which is called the Nordic Light Trail. The sun is shining for the first time today and that makes the panoramic views even more impressive. Halfway the trail we find a log cabin in which a large fire crackles and where you can sit, buy hot drinks, roast marshmallows and warm up. It is Cafe Panorama Laavu! We decide to sit down here, the crystal clear weather is beautiful, but it also makes it colder. It is around -15 degrees outside and there is a bit of wind.
The lady who works in the cafe tells us that a bus runs regularly from the centre of Levi, takes tourists up and down, until late in the evening. So that is perfect if you want to visit at night. She also tells us that next to the gondola station there is a walking path with stairs, which we can take to walk back to the centre of Levi in case we want to. After a short break we continue our beautiful walk until it gets dark. We watch the sunset and return to the gondola to go back down to the village. We will save the walking path for another time.
We make ourselves a lovely dinner and just chill. We roast marshmallows and have warm chocolate. Jill has an app on her phone which warns us when the northern lights may be active. Around midnight we decide to get dressed and see if we can spot the northern lights. We put on our thermo outfit (which we really need at night) and walk to another lake called Sirkkajärvi, hoping to see the northern lights tonight. But unfortunately it is too cloudy again and we only see light shining over the ski slopes from the mountains. After half an hour we give up return to the log cabin. The week is not over yet, so who knows!
Day 5 of 8: a visit to Santa in his home town!
After a few fantastic days we are completely in love with Finnish Lapland. Fortunately our holiday is not over yet! We will visit Santa today. Santa Claus lives in Rovaniemi, on the border of the Arctic Circle. We meet at Polar Star Travel and get on the bus that takes us to Santa Claus Village in approximately 2.5 hours. The drive gives us the opportunity to see the area around Levi.
When arriving at Santa Claus Village I was expecting to see a cosy village; like in the movies. But if feels anything but Finnish and there are no fairies or elves and there are no workshops where toys are being made or warehouses where gifts are stored, let alone flying reindeer. However, the village is nicely set up, there are plenty of shops and restaurants and you can do all kinds of activities. And the scenery makes up for the lack of cosiness.
Santa Claus Village is not cheap; you pay a fee for almost everything. Like going for a ride in a reindeer sleigh, or entering the small ice hotel. The reason why we wanted to come here: you can meet Santa Claus. And we of course decide to do so. But every visiting Santa is one commercial “show”. You are not allowed to take photos yourself and if you want a photo together with Santa, then you have to pay a lot of money. But the meeting is fun anyway and Santa is a very nice man who greets you in your own language and starts a chat with you. Afterwards we wander around the shops, have lunch and walk around in the area, which is also beautiful here. This thick pile of snow makes everything just beautiful. I manage to talk myself into the ice hotel for free, saying I am a travel agent who wants to take some photographs (which is true); I just want to have a look around.
At the end of the afternoon we go back to Levi. Our guide tells us that the sky is clear tonight, it will be really cold and that we may have a chance to see the northern lights. We have plenty of time for dinner and around 11pm Jill gets an alert on her app and we put on our thermo outfit. We walk in 15 minutes to lake Immeljärvi, where we were 2 days ago. There are already quite a few people waiting and after just a few minutes something green is starting to move in the sky. The northern lights are far away, but we get to see a nice show. The northern lights are constantly changing and it is a special experience that I will never forget.
It is very cold this night, -28 degrees, but that makes the sky very clear and makes us able to see this beautiful natural phenomenon. For a better sighting we should have left the village, where there is hardly light pollution. But we are already ecstatic that we get to see it. Taking photographs is not easy and mine are not entirely sharp. Now I understand why a lot of people have their cameras on tripods. You simply cannot hold your camera without gloves and you cannot hold it still for it to focus. And the equipment certainly suffers from the cold and that also applies to some mobile phones that almost literally freeze or fall out. But we have recorded the northern lights and it is mostly engraved in our memories. With frozen eyelashes and an ice-cold nose but very happy, we return to our log cabin to get some sleep.
Day 6 of 8: husky safari
We cannot sleep in this morning. A 10-kilometre husky safari is planned for today. I cannot wait! We also thought about going for a ride with a reindeer sleigh, but chose the huskies. Various husky farms can be found in Finland and it is probably the most popular activity along with riding a snowmobile. We meet at an hotel from where we first have to take a bus to a place outside of Levi. We see the sun rise through the trees along the way.
After about 45 minutes we arrive at the husky farm. Our guides introduce themselves and they give us a clear explanation and instructions, so that we know what to expect and what to do. We are wearing our thermo suits again; necessary for an experience like this. Every time we put in on, we make sure we go to the toilet first… because it is a lot of work to put it on! And if you need to visit a toilet like the one we see in front of us, your bum will probably freeze.
We will go out in a sled suitable for 2 people, and 6 huskies are in front to take on the wooden sleigh which is very light. The intention is that one person is standing behind, steers and brakes and the other person sits in front as a passenger. The huskies are very excited early in the morning and we need to let them run first, before we can get close. The huskies are so beautiful and we have one with a brown and a blue eye. I know there are people who are against this kind of activity, but this is what these animals love to do; they truly need to run to get rid of all the energy they have. And they are well looked after!
A few more instructions: during the break in the ride we must keep the sled on the brakes, otherwise the huskies will run away with the sled, because they just need to keep running. There is quite a thick layer of snow and because the huskies cannot plough through 70 centimetres of snow, a route has been cleared in the snow. A snowmobile takes the lead and a snowmobile follows at the end of the line.
The huskies howl like wolves, until the moment they are allowed to run. The first part I am at the wheel and I even have to run behind the sled when we go up hill; it is literally an active holiday 😉 … Once we are no longer climbing, it is pure enjoyment of this stunningly beautiful trip. There is no house to be seen, only forests, plains, lakes and all that under a thick layer of snow and a clear sky where the sun is shining. Driving the sled is still quite a task, attention is required! You can easily flip over when going too fast in the bends. But what a great experience.
Halfway Astrid and I and Anton and Jill change places (just like the during the snowmobile ride) and I get the chance to sit and watch and to photograph and film. The sun is out and I am so very impressed by this experience; can i go again? Afterwards we can pet the dogs, they have come to rest. We also take a look at the puppies and we hear more about the life of the huskies. Although we have our thermo suit on, we got pretty cold. We are offered a delicious hot drink in a tipi tent and then return to the inhabited world of Levi. If you go decide to on a husky safari, I can seriously advise you to go for a 10km ride at least. Time goes by so quick; it is over before you know it. So make sure you get to enjoy it!
Once we are back in the village, we enjoy a late lunch at Coffee House Levi, which is located at Break Sokos hotel. We have a tasty, salty reindeer soup (just what we needed). We spend the rest of the afternoon in the village and in the evening we relax in our log cabin. We turn on the sauna and enjoy the warmth, have a pasta for diner, drink some wine and play Yathzee.
Day 7 of 8: walking or skying and at night Lainio Snow Village
It is already Friday, time goes by real quickly now. Anton and Jill decide to go for a ski lesson this morning. Jill is an experienced snow boarder, but skiing apparently is a different kind of thing. Me… I will break my legs just looking at a ski, so Astrid and I take the gondola again to have a look at Anton and Jill coming down the slopes. I take some photographs of them and then Astrid and I leave them to it and go for another walk. First we drink a Finnish non-alcoholic mulled wine in the cafe. And again (and for the last time) we admire the beautiful view over the village, although it is not sunny today.
We take the footpath back down to the village. Along the way is a small reindeer farm. A lot of snow has fallen last night and the walk is beautiful, but we have to be careful when walking down the steps. We meet Anton and Jill at the ski centre and we walk back to the log cabin to have a late lunch/early dinner and we get changed for an evening excursion to Lainio Snow Village. When walking back to the village, I see a polar hare 🙂 It crosses the path we are walking on, but it disappears real quickly. Yes…! But I am the only one who sees it, since the others were chatting away. Do they believe me? I do not care; I have seen the polar hare!
We first go back to Lapland Safaris to return our winter outfit; it is really great that we got to keep it for as long as we needed it. Then we walk towards our pick up point. Lainio Snow Village is approximately 45 minutes by bus from Levi. It is an amazing hotel completely made/sculptured of ice, with bar and restaurant. It is located fairly remote, so when the weather is clear you also have a chance to see the northern lights here. But no luck tonight! We are grateful though that we did see it earlier this week instead of going home without having seen it!
The hotel rooms at Lainio are only accessible to guests from 10pm, which means that we can have a look at all the rooms and suites. We have plenty of time to do so! Every room is different and so beautifully created. I can imagine the amount of work that needs to be done. Apart from the hotel rooms, there is a restaurant and a bar and also a wedding chapel. Well… if you do decide to get married, then this is quite a special location to do so. The rooms, but actually the entire hotel, including restaurant, bar and wedding chapel are beautifully lit at night, so there is really a special atmosphere. I would like stay here for the night, sleep on an ice bed ;).
We end up at the bar, where we enjoy a delicious cocktail. Everything is made of ice, including the glasses. It is a pity that the whole hotel eventually melts and the following winter they need to start building a new one again. This winter’s ice is already being stored for the construction of the next hotel. We return to Levi with lots of photographs of all the beautiful ice sculptures that we have seen.
Day 8 of 8: do we really have to go back home?
The last day of our holiday has arrived, our vacation is almost over. We pack our bags again and leave the log cabin in the morning; our luggage is picked up and stored. I will miss the this place, although the beds were not that great. But somehow it felt like our home for the week. We spend our last hours in the village and we buy some souvenirs. We have lunch at Cafe Soma before we return to the airport by bus. Bye bye Levi: we had the best of time!
There is now a destination less on my bucket list! Although … a winter adventure in Finnish Lapland is definitely worth repeating! There is so much more to experience!
Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
February 11, 2017