Think Lapland, think Finland and then probably Father Christmas, but it’s actually a very varied region that extends across borders exposing lots of wonders as it goes. Norwegian Lapland has a glorious coastal fringe for cruising and a hinterland characterised by numerous rocky islands, deep fjords that meander inland and a chain of mountains and very navigable peaks ripe for climbing.
People come to Swedish Lapland for the Northern Lights, the snow and the huge nature; it’s a magical combination. January is a much quieter month than December and an excellent time to visit because you still get the beautiful blue semi-darkness that falls early and the daytime sunlight spreads an ethereal sheet of bright colour over everything.
The Sámi are the original inhabitants of Lapland, and spending time with them on your Finland vacation will add a fantastic new perspective on this remote region. Around 10 percent of Sámi still herd reindeer – which they use for milk, clothing, meat and bedding; and their rich culture includes weaving, traditional cuisine, improvised singing and shamanic drumming.
Lapland in summer reveals an incredible landscape of mountains, water and endless space that can be explored 24-hours a day. The midnight sun, an iconic Polar phenomenon where the sun remains visible at midnight during June and July in the far north, makes day and night interchangeable; try hiking trips or sea kayaking, all past the stroke of 12.
Nature’s greatest light show can last from a few minutes up to a couple of hours, and disappears into the dark northern night as suddenly as it appears. Sitting by a fire on a frozen lake, laughing and sharing warm drinks with fellow travelers while waiting for the elusive spectacle is all part of Lapland’s most otherworldly experience.
Thanks to an overwhelming association with Father Christmas, Finnish Lapland get overlooked as a destination in its own right, but if you genuinely want to get away from it all, there is nowhere more vast and pristine. During the height of winter it’s a paradise for winter sports, it has a great Northern Lights record, plus it’s a lot cheaper than Sweden and Norway because it’s in the Eurozone.
It’s debatable who enjoys sledding more – the driver or the dogs. The huskies’ excitement will no doubt add to your own; after a short lesson you’ll be in charge or your own four-legged team, harnessing them before mushing through frozen, Christmas-card scenery with just the sound of paws on snow and swishing sleigh runners. Magical.
Pivotal to Sámi culture, reindeer are used for food, clothing, milk and jewellery, and the life of the farmers is intricately linked to the feeding, mating and movements of their herds. Meeting them during your vacation and learning about their lives is fascinating. The reindeer are actually free to roam through the forests, yet each Sámi herder recognises his own animals amongst hundreds.
As romanticised as the idea might be in your head, anyone who’s ever tried to watch a firework display with a small child will know two things: they get tired and they moan about the cold. Teenage years and upwards? Great. But younger than that and it’s likely they won’t grasp how incredible a phenomenon the Lights actually are and will be too sleepy and chilly for the hunt.
Those who grumble that Christmas is becoming ever more superficial will dismay at this latest fad: a daytrip to see Father Christmas. Flying from the UK to Lapland and back in a day, whizzed around the snowy activities, this exhausting ‘vacation’ is sure to be memorable for all the wrong reasons, as well as contributing nothing to local communities and creating a horrendously high carbon footprint.
We’re not saying all ski resorts are terrible, just those places run by huge multinational corporations which welcome charter flights by the dozen and fly the income stream right out of Lapland as quick as they fly people in. The skiing is good and so is the equipment, but you don’t get great elevation and you can do all of the activities they offer in smaller towns and villages just without the crowds.
Norway continues to defy global opinion over commercial whaling, killing 1000-2000 whales a year for meat – much of it aimed at curious tourists in search of novel dining. Whalers cite tradition and also claim their prime target – minke whale – is abundant. We disagree. If you want to eat something distinctly Norwegian try elk/moose.
Written by Polly Humphris