Warning! Reading this article may seriously improve your health and fitness, lead to a love of another country, its culture and scenery and to undertake once in a lifetime, wonderfully uplifting experiences. If you are prepared to accept this risk, read on.
“My heart has followed all my days
Something I cannot name.”
The Name – Don Marquis (1878-1937)
Gripping my ski-poles more tightly than was strictly necessary and in the tucked position, my legs bent to absorb the undulations of the piste, I sped nervously yet excitedly downhill, gathering speed with every few metres.
I was Franz Klammer! I was Chemmy Alcott! Thoughts of Olympic medals skipped briefly through my brain, though my eyes were now widening in fear. Halfway down the slope now, two eight year old Finnish children shot past me, laughing as they turned to see the grim expression on my face.
Oh. My illusions firmly as flat as the pristine snow slope I was now negotiating, I continued to the bottom of the nursery slope to join them. More laughs. Not bad for my first outdoor ski-session I thought, even if they didn’t. I had learned to ‘ski’ in 2015 on the real snow slope at my local indoor ski centre and now, on Inghams Winter Experiences Tour, I was determined to make the most of my newly acquired skills.
Lapland is Finland’s most northerly region, encompassing Sweden, Norway, Russia and bordering the Baltic Sea. Some 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, it is an enormous, tree clad, snowy wilderness with a sparse population, yet it has some of the best uncrowded ski slopes and winter activity resorts in the World.
The amazing 24 hour summer daylight is an experience in itself, but to capture the best of the snow conditions and the spectacular Northern Lights, it is best to visit from November to April.
Whilst we Brits suffer when the temperature drops below 12C and a snowflake disrupts transport the length and breadth of the country, Scandinavians just carry on and deal with it, even enjoying it.
The average daily temperature in January is -14.8C (5.4F), the high -9.6C (14.7F) and the low a chilly -20C (-4.0F), so layered clothing is the key. Warm hats and gloves are also required.
The week before my visit, it was -38C for a couple of days! It is a crisp, dry cold, unlike the UK, therefore much more enjoyable. If you don’t have good ski-wear, one piece thermal suits and snow boots can be hired locally at very low prices by the week or the day. You will need them, especially for the winter experiences you take part in. Warm, casual clothes are the norm here and there is no need to dress as we would here for any hotel or restaurant.
Most people will fly into Kittila airport in this far northern area of outstanding natural beauty. It serves the resort of Levi, the most popular all year leisure resort in Finland. Levi has an extensive nightlife, with numerous bars, restaurants and music venues.
Levi Fell (Levituntun) at 1742 feet, hosts the Alpine World Cup circuit. It has 43 slopes, mostly suitable for beginners and intermediate skiers, though there are 3 black runs up to 2.5km long.
It is from dusk that this area becomes a rival for the Northern Lights with 17 of the slopes being floodlit for evening and night runs. There are also 886 km of snowmobiling trails.
Cross-country enthusiasts are well catered for with 230km of trails to explore amongst the drooping, snow laden ‘ghost trees’
Spa Hotel Levitunturi is the resort’s flagship hotel in Levi. Only a three minute walk to the village centre and ski lifts, the hotel has 220 rooms whilst three restaurants cater for hungry diners. Relaxation is the key here and I made good use of the Spa Water World, added to the hotel in 2012. It has an incredible 17 indoor and outdoor pools and jacuzzis as well as 9 saunas and steam rooms.
There are aqua-jogging jets, tidal-flow swims, a hot and cold pebble walk for tired feet, a rainbow-lit length swimming pool, a shoulder massage power spray, a twisting tube slide and a waterfall amongst many other pool features, some specifically for children and toddlers.
There is even an occasional indoor snow-fall to add to the magic. Those aching muscles just faded away.
For further entertainment there is an 8 lane bowling alley and a fitness suite.
I stayed in a junior suite in the modern Ounas Spa building to the rear of the main hotel (access by underground tunnel). This was a very spacious, lovingly decorated and well equipped suite with its own lounge and sofas. The bed was so comfortable whilst the ensuite shower room had a flat pebble floor and slate walls. A self- contained ensuite sauna was a welcome addition. This is a very stylish place to stay. Other equally impressive rooms are in log cabin blocks.
There is swift access just a five minute walk from the hotel to both the town centre and the ski-lifts to the fell, which has 19 beginners slopes and 23 intermediate runs.
Food in Finland is a little more limited than at home. It is 200 km north of the Arctic Circle after all. The staple foods are Salmon, white fish, reindeer meat, berries, cheeses and lovely cakes and pastries. The full range of continental breakfasts, both hot and cold are standard at featured hotels like the Spa hotel Levitunturi and are of great quality.
Eating out is quite expensive in Finland due to import costs. Most hotels and restaurants offer a fixed evening menu consisting of salmon and potato soup with dill, a main course of reindeer in various guises with sauces and some vegetables, whilst desserts can be berry creme brulee, sorbets, cheeses or cake. The reindeer meat is delicious, fillets being particularly good and tastes a bit like beef. The thought of eating Rudolph should be disregarded as reindeer is just like venison, beef or lamb is to UK tastes. Elk roast is more like lamb to me. The more adventurous can even try bear pizza. Grrr.
The small but lively village centre has plenty of choice for eating and dining. The King Crab Restaurant specialises in Arctic seafood. The premises itself is all dark wood and low level lighting, giving a good ambience. As a recommendation, try the blue-mussels, followed by King Crab legs in your choice of sauce. The flesh is sweet and tasty and comes pre-cracked for that vital finger food style of dining.
For a more traditional experience, go to the Crazy Reindeer Kammi Restaurant at the top end of the centre. Here you are led to a wooden hut lined with reindeer skins and a centrally placed open wood fire around which your food awaits in the form of a Lappish feast.
After the fish soup course, it is said that you must go around selecting food thirty times at this all you can eat buffet. I managed four, but took great pleasure in the baked salmon, reindeer, pork ribs, stews and all the numerous accompaniments.
The spiced reindeer sausage is some of the finest sausage I have ever tasted.
Freshly made pancakes with berries and cream to finish were almost too much to bear, but I manfully struggled on. Two drinks of your choice are included in the set price.
For fine dining and a visit to what is probably the best restaurant in town, try the Valkea Vaadin Restaurant. Once again, traditional Lappish food, but presented in a modern style which would not be out of place anywhere in the world.
How about white fish tartare served with King Crab creme and pickled onion followed by roast fillet of reindeer with cabbage, rosemary and Lappish potato puree and game sauce, then spruce bud creme brulee with almond praline and blackberry sorbet? Mmmm.
The reindeer fillet was particularly tender, tasty and a revelation. Some tables have views of the nearby floodlit ski slopes to add to the experience.
Looking for a lively no-nonsense bar? Sohva Public House is a single room bar only recently opened, yet it is a firm favourite with the local people, who know a thing or two. One of the favourite drinks is ‘Long Drink’, a bottled or draught mix of gin and sparkling grapefruit juice. Even if, like me, you are not a fan of gin, this is very refreshing and so easy to drink. You do have to remember that at 5.5%, it is stronger than most beers and lagers, so beware.
So, there is your appetiser. For the main course, read Part 2.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Inghams
- Inghams winter experiences tour to Lapland – Part 2
- Inghams winter experiences tour to Lapland – Part 3