We first had a taste for a winter wonderland when we went to Kiruna, Sweden. Before then I’d been apprehensive about a ‘snow’ or ‘cold’ holiday because I’m not really into skiing or winter sports, so I thought what would there be to do? After getting a taste in Kiruna, we decided it was time for attempt 2 at seeing the Northern Lights!
We choose Finland for two reasons, one was to visit a new country we hadn’t been to before, and the second reason was because I had seen a picture of the dome tents and had put it on my bucket list! As well as this we thought we’d spend a night in Helsinki on the way to tick another city of the list (also we couldn’t get a direct flight to Kittila, closest airport to Torassieppi – where the snow domes are, so thought that if we had to stop, we may as well stop over night).
We flew from Gatwick to Helsinki, when you arrive the train is super easy right into the centre of town. From there we stayed at Hotel Seurahuone Helsinki. We paid about £100 for one night (no breakfast – on arrival I asked and it was about €20pp), there are plenty of cafes around the place to find a great cup of coffee and breakfast. It was a lovely hotel though, spacious rooms and right opposite the main station, so we just had to walk 5 minutes across the road and we were there. All the main sights to see is within walking distance, so we didn’t need to spend any money on transport, and we found arriving late afternoon to the following mid afternoon was enough time to explore and get a feel for the city.
Our walk-a-bout went from the hotel to Temppeliaukio Church (rock church), to the Helsinki Cathedral. From there we headed over to Uspensky Cathedral and then down the Old Market Hall by the water front. The evening before we’d also been through the main shopping streets and to the Helsinki Cathedral where they have a light festival on each year called Lux.
During summer time it would also be good to visit the parks, amusement park, zoo etc but it was a bit cold (0 degrees) for that kind of thing this time.
After a morning of wandering round Helsinki we headed back to the airport for an internal flight up to Kittila. From here we had booked an airport transfer direct with hotel at Torassieppi (which took about an hour). Torassieppi is a reindeer farm dating back to 1847, the family who owned the farm came to an agreement with Harriniva (the company who now runs the tourist side of it), that if at any point the family wanted it back they would hand it over. I’m not sure why, but I like this kind of arrangement where a company has gone in to make a place thrive and cares about the history, as opposed to we can just make a lot of money here. From one of the tours we went on the guide said the reindeer here now are mostly used for tourist activities.
The first two nights we stayed in a cabin which were lovely and cosy! By cosy I mean don’t worry that it’s -14 outside, they are so well heated we slept with the window open! On arrival you get introduced at the reception (which also doubles as the dining room / restaurant). A guide will take you to collect your gear for the stay (snow suit, boots, socks, gloves and balaclava). You keep these for your whole stay which was great because they have quite a bit of land to explore so if you wanted to just go out for a walk, you have all the proper stuff to enjoy it. You just need to pack your base layers. The restaurant has about enough space for about 40 people. You can pre-book breakfast & dinner before you stay (lunch is usually included in the tours you go on). The meals are a set menu, but was all delicious! We had Moose Stew, Reindeer blue cheese soup and salmon to name a few.
We choose two tours while we were here (one for each day). We wanted to do different experiences than what we had in Sweden, so we opted for a snow shoe hike and a reindeer sled / local culture tour.
The snow shoe hike was great! We drove a little while from Torrasieppi to Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, where we walked through the fell and forest up a hill (which is much harder to climb in the snow shoes) for a fantastic view over the whole area. On the way back down we stopped in a small cabin where the guide makes you a fire and you toast sausages! I didn’t get cold on this trip, because of the walking and the layers you wear, but all my camera gear did all freeze for most of it!
After the walk you have the option of stopping off at the Jervis Arctic Spa. Here you can enjoy different types of sauna, an indoor spa and they have smashed a hole in the frozen lake where if you are brave enough you can dip in (we did!). This was a great tour, which I enjoyed mostly I think because of the walking, you just get to see and take it all in a bit more than if you were riding around on a snow mobile.
The second day we went on a reindeer sled ride and local culture tour. This was held just over the road so the guide met us in the restaurant and you just walk over. The reindeer sled went for about 20 minutes, and you also get time to take photos with the reindeer (but not pat them, the reindeer don’t like this). They also give you a bucket full of food to give them which is great fun. After this we had a presentation about the farm and the culture and history of the place, which was actually really interesting. At the end of the tour you walk over to the Winter Village where they have their own version of the ice hotel (not on the same level as the one in Sweden). And we had a hot stew lunch. This tour was nice because it was just a few hours, which gave us the afternoon then to explore around the farm a bit. I think we could have done with one more day to do this, where you don’t book any tours just to enjoy the frozen lake (which you can walk all over and around), plus they have a hill with rubber tubes etc you can slide down.
On our final night we moved from the cabin into the Aurora Dome – which was great! Originally we were going to stay all 3 nights in here, but they don’t have their own bathrooms, you need to walk back to the main building or the sauna facilities, so the mix of cabin / one night in the dome worked really well. It was such a unique experience, they are very warm with their own heating plus a log fire. And just being able to relax there with the big window was amazing! Unfortunately we didn’t see the northern lights, and I’m beginning to feel like they aren’t real, or you definitely don’t see them to the level which is displayed in photos (something to do with cameras seeing different level of light then what the human eye can). But oh well…..we’ll just have to book another trip somewhere else to try again….. 😉
I loved the whole concept of this place, the accommodation options and tours, with the cosy restaurant (and very friendly staff) and clothing included. It was a magical winter adventure!