I mean, wow. This is the word I use to describe the fantastical (magical!) night spent in an igloo in Finland almost two years ago. I’ve been meaning to write about this experience for a long time now as it is simply a must for anyone looking to tick something truly unique off their travel bucket list. As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m someone who likes quirky experiences and this, my travel-loving friends, is as unique as it gets!
Myself, Moe, his cousin and girlfriend arrived in Northern Finland’s town of Ivalo in Lapland sometime in November, desperately in search of aurelia borealis, more commonly known as the northern lights. As the landscape passed by outside the bus window on the way to our resort in Saariselkä, my first impression was that this part of the world resembled the fantasy land of Narnia, with fields of white snow spread out like a sea before us and reindeer weaving in and out of ice-laden trees. I was thrilled to see reindeer in their element and it was easy to believe that this was where Santa himself crafted millions of toys when he wasn’t globe-trotting one night of the year.
We were all rugged up with scarves, jackets, thermals, gloves – everything to protect us from the icy slap of the outside conditions and were on route to Kakslauttanen Artic Resort; part of the trip I had been highly anticipating. On dreary days leading up my annual leave I would Google search images of the resort that would make me squeal with inner excitement. It looked to be the ultimate winter escape, far removed from any reminders of every day routine.
As we pulled up outside reception there was a sleigh pressed up against the wooden slats of the charming hut. Next to it was a mailbox coated in a layer of snow-icing; I wondered how long it took for mail to arrive in this far-removed corner of the globe.
Reception had a cosy area to hang coats and a small store selling local souvenirs; stuffed reindeer, snow globes and northern light candle holders. A rather brusque lady greeted us at reception and took less than 2 minutes to explain where our accommodation was located on the grounds and that at this time of year there was no lunch on offer, we’d have to catch a taxi to a store 10 minutes away if we wanted lunch and that all activities didn’t start up again until the following week. At this point I realised the service was perhaps just a little lacking. A visit in peak season might be encouraged!
The Log Cabin
We spent a total of 2 luxurious nights at the resort, the first in a log cabin located on the white coated grounds. As we rounded the corner with the keys to our cabin I was momentarily breath-taken by the sight of it glowing amid the snow in the distance. We would be sharing a picture-perfect, snow-covered cabin nestled among the snow capped trees. The interior the cabin had a cosy kitchen, old stone fire place and quaint wooden windows framing a picture-perfect outdoor scene.
Our bedroom was connected to a large sauna room which I was completely impressed with. In Australia, this would definitely be seen as a welcomed luxury but the Finish ‘SOW-nah‘ is a deep part of their culture with Finland alone home to more than three million saunas – impressive!
We made a quick trip to the store to collect some bread and condiments before taking a walk around the resort, throwing snow balls at each other and collapsing in the snow – soaking our thermals to the core. Everywhere we turned there were branches coated with a thick layer of snow and charming wooden signs.
We returned to the cabin and threw together a quick lunch, enjoying a local wine and staring mesmerised out the kitchen window at our surrounds. This resort was a winter wonderland unlike anything we had encountered before.
After dragging ourselves through the snow to dinner in the main reception area later in the evening, we returned back to the cabin where we enjoyed our first Finnish sauna experience. Knowing it was freezing just outside, the sauna was blissful and I sweated out practically half my body fluid before flying out the front door into the icy night for some relief. It was peaceful outside, with not a sound to be heard. I was completely surrounded by the white silence of snow and fur trees. I stood alone shivering in the dark appreciating the silence of Northern Finland before I was soon joined by Moe.
The next day we begged the front reception staff to organise us one of their husky sledding experiences (which currently weren’t operating as it was just outside of busy season). After much convincing, the tour was organised and I was more than thrilled to travel a few kilometres away from the hotel through the maze of snow to the husky sled dog farm home to hundreds of howling huskies raring to go. After a quick but detailed lesson on how to safely and successfully ride the husky sleds, the friendly hounds were unleashed on us and we were off and racing through the fur trees. Moe went first as I sat holding my breath on the wooden slats of the sleigh. My life was in his hands. If he took one wrong turn we would be both end up wrapped around a tree trunk. We rushed through the forest, the free-spirited huskies sprinting ahead and a magical setting passing us by quicker than the blink of an eye.
When it was my turn I tentatively took over from Moe and controlled the sled the way I had been taught. We were off, faster than I thought and I could see the white-winter land around me swirling out of control. Every so often the person in front of me held up their hand to signal for me to slow down to prevent a collision. I did so accordingly until we were racing so fast that I instinctively (or rather stupidly) jumped off the sleigh. My blood was pounding in my ears and like a true heroin (or, at least I like to think so) I sprinted off after the sleigh, re-boarded it and saved Moe’s life.
Afterwards we sat around a roaring fire while the passionate local staff bought out one of the husky puppies for us to hold and explained to us how the huskies were trained and treated. I, as always, was happy to hear they treated them with care.
In the afternoon, it was time to move from the cabin to the highlight of our Ivalo trip: the Igloo. Katslauttanen is home to rows of picture-perfect glass igloos, ideal for viewing the spectacular Northern Lights. Our igloo was just a five minute walk from the cabins surrounded by a lake, and miles of snow. They looked like they belonged on the set of a fantasy movie.
The interior was just as charming and had a spectacular view of the trees above us. Once we had settled down and appreciated the beauty of the igloo, we went tobogganing down the surrounding hills and prepared ourselves for a visit to Santa’s Village.
Santa’s village was a child’s dream and made me feel like I was stepping into the pages of a storybook. We were treated to ginger biscuits and explored his house, a charming wooden hut decorated with traditional Christmas decorations and a rather impressive chandelier. His house overlooked distant igloos and was nestled in the heart of pure white snow.
That night we returned to the resort and had a dinner of hearty salmon before racing back to the igloo. We poured ourselves wine into plastic mugs and watched and waited with anticipation, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous northern lights; our cameras on the right setting braced to capture the moment.
Unfortunately the cloud cover was too heavy and though we could see the green glow trying to appear, we missed out on the spectacular. Instead we sat up in the igloo talking, drinking wine and making sporadic runs outside in the winter conditions in our underwear and bare feet, just because you only live once. The whole experience filled me with exhilaration and freedom; it was truly wonderful to be immersed in the middle of Northern Finland in a glass igloo for the night.