In the Arctic Circle: Lapland
Stretched across four countries – Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia (Kola Peninsula) – rugged nature of Lapland is dotted with high fells (mountains that are native to the Nordic region), winding rivers, extensive wilderness and glacial forests giving way to a dramatic transformation in the scenery with every change in season.
Lapland is famous for its long arctic winters (-16C to 3C) with its Northern Lights and short intense summers with round-the-clock sunshine, and its seemingly stark mountains and forests have been home to the Sami, its native people, for thousands of years.
Living in harmony with nature, they follow their reindeer herds on annual migrations across the tundra – a practice that lives on today. Even with the accelerating climate change (melting ice-caps and deforestation) that has plagued the region, the eco-friendly, Sami people continue to fight and preserve their culture and tradition.
For a taste of Samil life, there are tours hosted by Sami families, like the Mikkelgammen tour (organized by Samitour). Guided by two traditional reindeer herders, visitors will get the opportunity to live with them in their traditional abode while getting a first-hand view of the traditions and lifestyle that centres around reindeer herding.
There are more reindeers than locals populating this icy hinterland, making this animal the source of the Sami’s livelihood.
To better understand this reindeer ‘culture’, you can take on tours to local reindeer herder farms where you can learn how to drive a reindeer sleigh (where you’ll be issued an international reindeer driver’s license upon passing a test).
Alternatively, a Sami Reindeer Expedition – led by a local Sami guide – allows you to drive your own sled through the snow-clad forests to meet some of the reindeer herders in the vicinity, and if the conditions are right, you may get to sleigh through the wintry landscape with the Northern Lights as a backdrop.
Often used for hunting trips by the Sami, dog sledding is the best option to traverse Lapland’s rivers, gentle hills and sprawling snow-covered forests due to the hardier nature of the dogs (compared to reindeers).
Led by 3 to 24 huskies (depending on the duration of your tour), you can opt to have an experienced sled driver or learn to mush your own pack of dogs. Trips range from one-hour rides to multi-day trips, including overnight stays at picturesque cabins.
There are also expeditions through the Vindelmountain (North Sweden), Europe’s biggest nature reserve. Hetta in Finnish Lapland offers husky safaris along with a multitude of activities like ice-fishing.
Famous for its long snowfall (177-225 days a year), Lapland is ideal for winter activities. With several ski resorts established throughout the region, both beginners and adrenaline junkies can find great off-piste skiing, snowmobiling and ice-fishing.
One of the more popular ski resorts is the Sport Resort Yllas (Finnish Lapland); this award-winning resort is ideal for beginners and intermediates. It has a wide range of facilities, from cosy family-run hotels and quaint cottages to a vibrant apres-ski scene.
Noted for its backcountry skiing, Swedish Lapland is an ideal destination for more experienced alpine skiers. There are also guided tours to many famous trails like The King’s Trail (470km) – Sweden’s most famous route – where you can choose a hike in the summer or ski during winter. With the jumping-off point Abisko, travellers will be treated to a breathtaking view of Mount Kebnekaise (2,105m), Sweden’s highest mountain, and Lake Tornetask (330 sq km), a lake created from the remnants of a glacier. Other sights include plenty of flower valleys
Adding to the dreamlike nature of Lapland are the many ice hotels located sporadically across the region. Built annually and entirely out of snow and ice, these architectural masterpieces offer the ultimate winter experience.
The ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjarvi in Swedish Lapland is the largest ice hotel (also the world’s first). Constructed from snowblocks taken from the nearby Tome River, this luxurious accommodation has underground rooms for the less hardy visitors.
There is also the Lainio Snow Village in Yllasjrvi (Finnish Lapland) – with easy access from Kittila airport (one of Finland’s major airports), this idyllic village also hosts a variety of activities including snowmobiling safaris, ice karting and is home to a gondola sauna (a cable car with a built-in sauna).
Bordering 4 countries, getting to Lapland is not difficult. There are a number of airports in the region that are serviced by airlines like Finnair, Blue 1, Norwegian and Flybe. There are also rail connections from major cities in the region. For more, visit www.onlyinlapland.com or the respective countries Finland (visitfinland.com) and Sweden (visitsweden.com).
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