From the cool cultural hub of Helsinki in the south, head north to Lapland, now freshly frosted with the white of winter’s cold kiss. A wild and stunning Arctic wonderland, and the perfect destination for this time of year.
Mile upon mile of millions of snow draped pines fringe hard-frozen lakes here, and apart from a scattering of quaint traditional chalets, mountain huts and sauna lodges, not much else dots this pristine Lappish landscape, thankfully little changed by residents or visiting hoards. Only a handful of villages feature more touristy delights – including Kuusamo and the pretty ski village of Ruka.
Known as the gateway to the Arctic, Kuusamo is a mecca for those who crave wilderness, wildlife and adventure. Depending on the season, here you can hike , quadbike, white water raft and in Ruka itself ski, and, if brave enough, try out the death-defyingly high ski jump towering from the mountain top visible from the village below.
Visitors don’t just come to this region of Lapland for a rush of adrenalin though. It is actually also known for its fine cuisine, and there are numerous wonderful places to dine scandi-style, with a focus on all that’s fresh, locally sourced and seasonal.
Restaurant RukaTonttu, in Ruka, as its name suggests, is located on the shores of a picturesque lake and offers delights prepared by acclaimed ‘Northern Chef’ Matti Hurttia – an award-winning expert in Lappish cuisine.
This is clean, simple and delicious fare – and what Matti can create with the local white fish, potatoes and herbs has to be tasted to be believed. As for his wild, foraged berry-themed puddings – a sweet lover’s delight. Do try a Kitkan Viisas cocktail too – although it’s not for those with a more delicate constitution. Comprised of vodka in a dainty salt rimmed glass, it’s finished off with a whitebait-sized fishy balanced on top – and not just for decoration!
As you would expect, there are plenty of places to enjoy a sauna in this region. And many chalets come with their own, enabling you to relax in privacy and unwind after a day’s activities out in the snow.
For those seeking luxury, a stay at Rukan Salonki chalets is a must. Winners of a number of World Ski Awards for accommodation, they are simply stunning. Spacious, artfully decorated, fully appointed with kitchen and entertainment gadgetry, cosy, luxurious to a fault, each with its own sauna, and wonderful views through pine forests where reindeer roam, across to a large frozen lake.
The owners will even organise a Sauna Tour for you – where you actually board a coach in your robe and slippers, and enjoy the sauna at its rear, whilst nibbling on local delicacies as you are transported to any number of different saunas in one day.
Another ‘must do’ whilst in Kuusamo is to drive to Iisakki Village, where you can enjoy a sauna yoga session, followed by champagne in the hot tub, and a delicious local-style meal in a traditional and very pretty Lappish home called ‘Iisakki’s House.’
To finish off your stay, do travel to the National Park of Oulanka. Close to the Russian border, this is a pristine haven for a wide range of wildlife, including bears and moose, and offers wonderful snowshoe hiking trails, some along the Rivers Oulankajoki and Kitkajoki, with spectacular rapids which freeze into amazing snow sculptures this time of year. A photographer’s paradise – the landscape of this National Park is breathtakingly beautiful.
Winter Wonderland Highlights
- Visit Oulanka National Park and take a guided snowshoe hike to see the frozen waterfalls and rapids. nationalparks.fi/oulankanp
- Learn about the Sami peoples’ customs and way of life at Pohjanseita Wilderness Lodge with Tailored Adventures rukapalvelu.fi
- Dine at the lake-side Rukantonttu restaurant in Ruka with Northern Chef Matti Hurttia rukatonttu.fi
- Enjoy a SaunaTour with Wellbeing in Wilderness is a must – a sauna in a bus? Crazy but oh so very Fin. saunatour.fi
- Fly to Helsinki and on to Kuusamo with Finnair from LHR finnair.com
All images belong to www.visitfinland.com