Finnish Lapland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2006, 12:00am

1 Furry friends


The best season for visiting Ranua Wildlife Park (www.ranuazoo.com), home to more than 50 species of Arctic animals, is - surprise, surprise - winter, when their thick coats stand out against the blanket of white snow. Wolves, lynxes, foxes and wolverines live in spacious enclosures designed to simulate their natural habitats. While many of the animals are native to Finland there are a few imports from neighbouring Arctic areas. Recent additions include cheeky twin polar bears Venus and Valeska. The zoo is offering snowmobile and reindeer- and husky-sleigh rides until January 9.


2 Soak in some culture


Spend a few hours absorbing the mysteries of Arctic life at Rovaniemi's museum and science centre, Artikum (www.arktikum.fi). The exhibitions describe the people, nature, history, customs and cultures of the Arctic regions. The building is a showpiece that makes use of the area's natural resources, such as floors made from Finnish Perttaus granite and chairs made from reindeer hide. One key feature of the museum is its glass conservatory, covered with more than 1,000 glass panes. The glass forms a giant dome from which visitors can observe the Arctic's natural surroundings while warmly sheltered inside the building.


3 Meet Santa


See Father Christmas at Santa Claus Village (www.santaclausvillage.info), set just inside the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi. Join the queue of children of all ages who come from around the world to have their photograph taken with jolly Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus' main post office is manned by an army of elves who dash around selling stamps, children's Christmas books, Christmas decorations and souvenirs. You can mail postcards and Christmas cards that bear the Arctic Circle postmark to the folks at home. Built inside a cave you'll find Santa Park, a Christmas-themed amusement park.


4 Husky and reindeer safaris


Pull on your winter woollens and join a husky or reindeer safari, on which you'll learn to drive your own sleigh team. Safaris range from two-hour guided tours to day tours through the Finnish forest and usually include visits to husky or reindeer farms. For more information see www.visitfinland.com.


5 Sleep in an igloo


Sleep in an igloo at Kakslauttanen Igloo Village (tel: +358 16 667 100, www.kakslauttanen.fi), where you can choose between an authentic snow igloo and a modern glass equivalent. The latter are built from specially designed thermo-glass to prevent frosting so you can watch the snow falling above you as you lie in bed. Glass igloos are also equipped with toilet facilities and comfortable beds. Kakslauttanen has the world's largest snow restaurant, where 150 diners are served feasts on tables of ice. The village is 250km north of Rovaniemi, from where there are regular bus services. Flights from Rovaniemi arrive at nearby Ivalo airport.


6 Stay in a snow hotel


Spend a night in the Kemi SnowCastle (tel: +358 16 259 502, www.snowcastle.net), which contains a snow hotel, in Kemi on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia. The temperature drops to a minus 5 degrees Celsius and it's so cold guests are provided with thermal sleeping bags. The SnowCastle is re-built from scratch each winter and this year's will also have a restaurant and chapel. The season runs from January 28 to April 10, with double rooms costing Euro125 (HK$1,277) per person per night. Sleeping bag, breakfast and transfers to a local hotel where you can have your morning shower and sauna in comfort are included in the price. Another option is the Lainio Snowvillage (tel: +358 16 565 112, www.snowvillage.fi), between the Yllas and Levi ski resorts and accessible via Kittila airport. Double rooms cost Euro100 per person per night.


7 Break the ice


Slice through the frozen Gulf of Bothnia on the world's only tourist ice-breaker. Each winter, the Sampo ice-breaker runs cruises from Kemi. Icebreakers are specially reinforced ships able to break through layers of ice and are used to keep important routes along the icy seas open for trade. Cruises range from four-hour trips to overnight sojourns and usually include a guided tour of the ship. The highlight of the cruise is to pull on a water-tight thermal suit and go ice swimming. For more information call +358 16 256 548 or see www.sampotours.com.


8 Snowmobile safari


Hit the snow with an action-packed snowmobile safari. You don't need any special skills to drive a snowmobile (as long as you're at least 15 and hold a valid driving licence) because most companies will start proceedings with a briefing on driving techniques and safety. Safaris range from two-hour trips across frozen lakes, where the maximum speed is 80km an hour, to longer safaris that traverse the Arctic wilderness. Some safaris even provide the opportunity to catch and cook your fish. A two-hour session costs Euro92 per person. For more information see www.arcticsafaris.fi.


9 Hit the slopes


Dust off those skis and head for the slopes. Lapland's two largest resorts are Levi and Yllas. Levi (www.levi.fi) is Finland's fastest-growing ski resort with hotels, restaurants, a spa and slopes that cater for all skill levels. There are also extensive trails for cross-country skiing, some leading to the more discreet Yllas (www.yllas.fi).


10 Steam in a sauna


To complete your Finnish experience, shed your clothes and sweat it out in a sauna (all Finnish resorts are equipped with at least one). For a liberating experience, find a sauna next to a lake and join the crazy rush to run naked beneath the moonlight before throwing yourself into the freezing water. Hotel Yllas Saaga (www.yllassaaga.com), in the village of Yllasjarvi, near Yllas, can be found in the requisite lakeside position. For more resorts see www.visitfinland.com.


 
 
 
 

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