Road Test: Swedish Lapland
Our journey started on a hot summer evening in Melbourne, or should I say morning as my Emirates driver collected me at 2.00am for my transfer to the airport. Living down by the beach has it’s advantages, but early morning transfers to the airport are not one of them! But I’m not complaining because flying business class with Emirates is a treat whatever the call time! Emirates offer a chauffeured service to the airport, and on this occasion, I tried the service and was thrilled. Leaving home that morning it was still 28 degrees after a hot 38 degrees the day prior and the day I was departing was going to be 37… so definitely in the full depths of SUMMER!
Why go to Lapland in WINTER when it’s beautiful back home…? Why not! I have always wanted to experience the absolute depths of winter, just to see what it would be like… well, I found out.
Before I continue with describing my journey, let’s talk about packing and clothing requirement. if you are like me and have not spent a huge amount of time in the snow, we really don’t understand what to wear. I got the layer thing with wool clothing (not cotton) but didn’t realise that too many layers over-compensate and render useless, so two or three layers it is with a great coat (I will get to that).
Footwear is also probably the most important item, as if you have ever had cold feet, you know how miserable you are and can’t get warm…so I suggest the following; buy great footwear from overseas (Canada, Sweden etc), online as we don’t have anything locally that stacks up. Back to the coat, well yes I thought my long length 650 duck down puffer jacket from a very reputable clothing brand would be what I needed (trying this coat on in 28 degrees, felt like I would not need anything warmer than this, I was boiling!).. well how wrong was I!
I start my story here, as I don’t want to scare anyone off from sending travellers to Lapland in Winter, as it is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had!
Emirates flies directly into Stockholm via Dubai, then a short domestic flight up to Lapland on an SAS fight. We arrive around lunchtime and meet our guide Peter, who is already dressed warmer than I feel. Yes, it’s -20 when we land, so a slap in the face does not quite cut it. I certainly felt alive and awake!
We drive into a beautiful quaint picture book village with wooden houses that are painted, red, yellow, green and blue… yes, these villages do exist and they are stunning. First stop is to the adventure store to get us decked out in ‘proper’ winter gear. Our guide has worked with Australian groups for many years and understands that we don’t have any real understanding of how to dress, so they take that challenge away from us straightaway, which is a very comforting feeling.
Once decked out with; socks (yes woollen socks that you have never felt before and sooo thick), proper snow (moon) boots that are rated to -100! Oversized onesie that is amazing, but I feel like an Oompa Loompa, but I am warm, so who cares. Liners for my gloves, mittens, balaclava, hat and I am set to go, thinking to myself, how am I ever going to wear all this and be able to walk?
We arrive at our camp where we will stay for four nights. The Aurora Camp is made up of small red huts all with different configurations; Queen Bed studio, two bedroom cottages and three bedrooms also. I have been allocated a Queen Bed studio which is down by the lake with amazing views over the frozen landscape. Each morning and night, I would walk across the frozen lake to where we had our meals in the main dining room, and as I walked across the lake, I’d remind myself, that I could never have this experience back home and how peaceful it was and a wonderful way to start and end each day.
Our days are filled with exploring this winter wonderland, which is like a moment, frozen in time. As it has been so cold, every twig on every branch, on every tree is frozen with snow on it, so the detail of the trees is spectacular. Everything, I mean everything, is white and the snow depth is around 1.5m or more.
We visit a local Sami family (the traditional land owners) who have the main reindeer farm in this region. There are no wild reindeer, they are all owned by Sami families and this family has land in town and also further up north, so they herd their stock every year, just like we do with cattle. During our visit, we have a traditional lunch in their tee pee, consisting of vegetable soup with reindeer (which in soup is like beef) and homemade bread. Freshly baked cookies and coffee / tea. As we sit around the tee pee on reindeer skins, we learn that a tee pee has sections, or rooms just like our houses do; there is a kitchen, family room where the family eat and relax and a lounge room for guests… hopefully they will let me know if I sit in the wrong area! In the middle of the tee pee is an open fire with all the pots/pans/kettles you would expect to see in a kitchen. Lunch is delicious by the way!
The next morning we hear barking, lots of barking! Our ride for the day is 24 dogs pulling 2 x sleds. We have a full day exploring the lakes and surrounds with just the dogs and their owners. I was tentative about how the dogs feel about pulling us around all day, but they love it and are so well cared for, I didn’t give it a second thought once I saw them in action. As we fly along the frozen lake, watching their funny sideways run, I marvel at how quiet it is and that we are out in the middle of nowhere with no one else around and finally take a deep breath and relax. We have the dogs with us until dark so we get to see how they are cared for during the day. Both lead dogs are bitches and the pack all have roles to play. The bond between owner and dog is very special to witness.
We visit the Ice Hotel for lunch and wander around the whole complex, exploring each of the designed rooms. Ice Hotel 365 is the new addition which is now a permanent hotel, so you can stay all year round. The rooms that are redesigned each year with a different theme can only be visited in the winter months.
The other highlight of our trip was seeing the Aurora Borealis – The Northern Lights. For most of us, this is the driving factor to go up to Lapland and I am not going to lie, this was a driving factor for me too. We knew we might not see anything, however our hopes were high! The lights shine and dance every night, it’s just whether you can see them or not due to cloud cover and low geomagnetic activity.
Lapland, on a perfect night, can see a KP2 or higher. The KP scale determines the strength of the aurora and where to best see them. The higher the number (up to 9) the brighter and more detail you see. Night one, KP3 shone for us and when she danced directly overhead, everything went green and the movement through the sky was mesmerising and I shed a tear or two in that moment of WOW, how beautiful is the world we live in. In the eight nights I was in Sweden, I was lucky enough to see them three times, which is extraordinary. There are no guarantees that you will see them at all, but if you are in the best location at the best time of the year, you are definitely giving your guests to best chance to see them.
Our final three nights, we moved to an even smaller town, up near the Norwegian border called Abisko, which is located in the National Park, which gave us even more chances to see the Northern Lights. The Sky Station offers night viewing or private dining for groups, so a perfect location for a farewell dinner.
Food throughout our stay was great, with a traditional European breakfast offering meats / cheeses / salmon etc., and more Western breakfast items like cereals / yoghurts / fruits and of course eggs to order. Lunches were mainly soups or buffets with lots of hearty warm stews and casseroles. Dinners were mainly set three and four course meals which were certainly on par with any good mid-range restaurant meal in Australia. Alcohol is expensive and the Australian wines on offer are poor, but Spanish and Italian wines shine.
Overall, our Swedish Lapland experience was amazing and I highly recommend any groups to consider adding this to your programme. What a way to kick start your year and reward your team with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Couples have even more extraordinary experiences available to them, with overnight stays in tree houses / igloos either glass or completely made of snow and also camping in expedition style tents on frozen lakes.
For special interest groups whether they be photography / wildlife / bird-watching / snow shoeing or cross country skiing… the activities available are endless.
Feel free to reach out and we can create a magical experience in Lapland for you or your clients.