by Andrew Stone from The Telegraph, September 1, 2017
One of Europe’s last true wildernesses and still home to the indigenous Sami nomads famous for their reindeer herds, Lapland is two different places depending on when you visit. A land of lakes and enchanting birch forest between May and September, it is the place to savour endless summer days, packing them with outdoor pursuits such as hiking wild mountain trails, floating down river on a raft made of logs, fishing on pristine lakes, foraging for the fabled cloudberry or simply taking in the colours of late August as the days shorten and rumour of winter grows.
When winter has taken its long residence, the silence among snow-laden trees can be absolute and the beauty of the landscapes and the winter light has an ethereal fairytale quality only added to at night by the cosmic storms of the Northern Lights.
This is the time to snowshoe into the forest stillness, test your legs and lungs on Nordic ski treks or mush the huskies pulling your sled along wild forest trails, sleeping in an ice hotel or a glass-domed Aurora viewing cabin. It is also a magical festive destination ideal for couples wanting to escape the usual yuletide at home and unforgettable for kids who can feed reindeer, get towed by snowmobiles and meet Father Christmas.
Both Swedish and Finnish Lapland are pretty well served with flights, rail and road connections but allow time for changing planes and airport transfers. Getting in and out of this remote region easily takes a day each way from the UK, so three or four nights spent here are a minimum for most, perhaps combined with a Nordic city break.
Into the Arctic by rail and icebreaker
1 See Lapland’s grandeur roll past from the comfort of a rail carriage, kicking off a tour packed with variety including national park wilderness, Northern Lights spotting, a trip on an icebreaker and a visit to the nomadic Sami tending their reindeer. The journey begins in Lulea, a picture pretty Uneso world heritage coastal town. Abisko National Park and the ski lift up to the Aurora Sky Station should be highlights, weather permitting.
Great Rail Adventures (01904 521 936; greatrail.comom) offers eight days from £2,695, including flights, activities, rail travel and accommodation, most meals. Departures January to March 2018.
Family fun in a winter wonderland
2 A speck in the vastness of the surrounding taiga (forest wilderness), Camp Ripan is the base for an outdoor family holiday. It is packed with winter activities including snowshoeing, snowmobiling, husky dog-sledding, a trip to an ice hotel and cross-country skiing, all well suited to kids over six and adults alike. Accommodation is in cosy cabins and there is a Northern Lights viewing lounge, restaurant, spa and outdoor heated pool.
KE Adventure Travel (01768 773966; keadventure.com) has six days from £1,640 (adult), £974 (child) including flights, accommodation, all meals and activities, including additional warm clothing, spa visits. Departures between December 2017 and April 2018.
Autumnal aurora time
3 Most aurora watching trips in Lapland are scheduled for winter but there is much to be said for visiting in the autumn for the Taiga’s rainbow colours, when the first snows are falling and the lakes have yet to freeze, the wild berries linger for the picking and not every activity involves donning several layers and a reindeer skin. This well crafted small-group tour emphasises getting to know the local culture and people and the hotel accommodation is also run by local Sami people.
Responsible Travel (01273 823 700; responsibletravel.com ) offers five days from £1,410 including flights, activities, accommodation, meals. Departures between September and November 2017.
A week in a winter wilderness
4 It’s easy to forget everything in the face of the raw majesty of icebound Lapland in the rugged wilds of the Oulanka National Park, a base for moderately athletic souls to get stuck into every kind of winter pursuit including snow shoeing through forest trails and Nordic skiing across frozen lakes, dog sledding and snowmobiling. Relax in rustic, log-cabin style with hearty, tasty buffet local fodder and evenings in front of roaring fires.
Exodus Travels (0203 131 2008; exodus.co.uk ) has eight days from £1,399 including flights, accommodation, all listed activities and all meals. Departures between December 2017 and April 2018.
Food foraging and river rafting
5 Take in the beauty of Swedish Lapland in high summer as it scrolls slowly and silently past your raft taking you gently downstream to an overnight stay in a wilderness cabin complete with campfire and sauna. The Huckleberry Finn-vibe continues at your main base for this tour, Pinetree Lodge, set beside a lake packed with leaping trout. The tour also includes a guided foraging for your dinner.
Artisan Travel 01670 785085; artisantravel.co.uk) has eight days from £835 based on two adults sharing, including flights, guided activities and meals. Departing August and September 2017; June to September 2018.
Tree hotel to icehotel
6 Icehotel, aurora dome or treehouse? Sleep in all three on this autumn itinerary in Swedish Lapland. Begin beneath the autumnal blaze of the forest canopy in a cosy tree hotel. Then head north for the Aurora Spa by train. Sleep in an Aurora dome for panoramic views of the light show, go fishing at dawn or cloudberry foraging, then on to the Icehotel, and a wilderness dinner.
Magnetic North Travel (01664 400 103; magneticnorthtravel.com) offers six days from £1,205, includes airport and hotel transfers, accommodation, rail travel, breakfast. Departs late August to late November 2017.
Summit Sweden on the King’s Trail
7 For reasonably fit walkers happy to slumber in basic mountain lodges and dine communally, KF Adventure Travel’s Kungsleden (King’s Trail) trek promises some of the wildest and most remote trekking in Europe. Under the midnight sun you’ll follow tumbling pristine rivers, pass through unspoilt birch forest and ascend glacial valleys that are still home to the Sami people. The trek includes a glacier trip and the ascent of Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise.
KE Adventure Travel (01768 773966; keadventure.com) has nine days from £1,445 including flights, (basic) accommodation and all meals. Departures in June and July 2018:
Go off grid on a reindeer farm
8 A digital detox will be enforced by the sheer remoteness in this short winter break way out in the sticks of Finnish Lapland. At the 19th-century Torassieppi Reindeer Farm, set among frozen lakes and silent snow-topped trees, there’s no internet or TV. Go cross-country skiing and lunch over an open fire in a kota (like a tepee).
Artisan Travel (01670 785085; artisantravel.co.uk) has eight days from £1,495 including airport transfers, flights, accommodation, meals, activities and cold weather clothing. Departures January to April 2018.
Festive Finnish wildlife
9 Reindeer sleigh, snowmobile and husky sledding rides already have the makings of a festive family break, but the Ranua Wildlife Park, home to many native Lapland animals including moose, golden eagles, otters, and Arctic foxes is the star attraction of this short break. There’s also a chance to help feed the stars of the park, the polar bears, and see the Northern lights and Activities Abroad offers similar (if pricier) packages if you want to meet Father Christmas in his Lapland “home”.
Activities Abroad (01670 789991; activitiesabroad.com) has four days from £985 (adult) and £525 (child) includes flights, transfers, accommodation, activities, and meals. Departs December 2017 to March 2018.
Dine on ice
10 Winter’s hold in Lapland is so tight it freezes the sea solid around the Luleå archipelago. This relaxed tour operates from Pine Bay Lodge, your base for activities including snowmobiling across the ocean pack ice to a wilderness dinner on the ice, husky sledding and gliding across the Bothnian Bay on a hovercraft to spot sea eagles and seals.
Wild Frontiers Travel (0203 9304622; wildfrontierstravel.com) offers five days from £1,936 includes airport transfers, accommodation, meals, guided excursions and special winter clothing. Departures winter 2017 and 2018.