It’s officially December, and as we head into the dark, cold winter months, many people will begin planning (or will have already planned) their tropical destination getaway. There’s just something about the cold that makes people run for sunny beaches. And, don’t get me wrong, while I would mostly agree and most often be all aboard the tropical train… there’s something to be said about a romantic winter cabin getaway… in the Arctic.
This blog post is dedicated to the ultimate embracement of winter; to truly revelling in the holiday magic and joyous childhood memories of Christmas; and to the alternative destinations that just don’t quite get the attention they probably should. Without further ado, let’s get into chattin’ about snowy adventures, Santa Clause, and what a trip to Lapland, Finland could look like for you this holiday season!
A little back story…
Let’s just start with the fact that I’ve always loved Christmas. Since I was a child, the season has always been a time of giving – a time to be spent with loved ones, and a time to reflect on all that we are blessed with, and give thanks. But, as a child, there was also something extra magical about the season — The idea of Santa and his elves working around the clock in the North Pole to spread Christmas cheer to little girls and boys all over the world was a dream — something I would have killed to see for myself (if it wouldn’t have landed me on the Naughty List, ya feel?). Living in Canada, I think I just assumed that the North Pole was somewhere North of our continent’s Arctic circle – perhaps beyond Nunavut or even Alaska maybe? Not that you could physically find it… Santa probably had some sort of magical barrier that kept him and his dreamland secluded in secret (DUH).
But two years ago, this assumption changed when I was given an opportunity to visit Lapland, Finland. I had never even heard of this place before. I was studying and living in Lithuania at the time, and my best friend from Germany was simply appalled when she found out that I did not know where Santa Clause lived(?) Imagine my surprise as well… I did a little research and decided, we had to go.
Lapland was unlike any other place I’d ever been. It was a snowy oasis. It was a romantic escape. It was legitimately a Christmasy, winter wonderland. And you better believe if Santa was living anywhere, it was here.
Where we stayed
During our time in Lapland, we stayed at the Hotelli Samperin Savotta in Savukoski. A quaint wood cabin accommodation located next to the Savukoski Kemijoki River, it was a perfectly cozy experience. With log fires, it’s own private restaurant, a traditional Finnish sauna, and wonderful service, we were very well taken care of. This being said, the best part about the wilderness hotel was the wide range of activities available!
While you can visit Savukoski year-round, I will be speaking to the events and activities one can expect from a trip to Lapland during the winter, since we visited in the few weeks leading up to Christmas.
Through the lodge, guests can sign up for activities including snowmobile excursions (a huge success with our group, and definitely the longest running activity), fishing/ice fishing, reindeer herding, and dog sledding. While such activities come at an extra expense, the lodge provides snowshoes and cross-country skiing equipment for guests to use at leisure — Skiing through the beautifully extensive trails was one of my favourite things we did!
Click here to check out the Hotelli Samperin Savotta and book your stay.
Things to do and daylight to consider in Savukoski
If visiting during the winter months (as we did), you should consider that there will only be a few hours of daylight each day. This, of course, had its pros and cons. On the bright side (pun intended), many activities can be enjoyed without daylight, such as cozying up by the fire, enjoying the traditional Finnish sauna (located right by the water’s edge), and watching for the aurora borealis. In fact, this last one is much easier to do with extended periods of darkness… Lapland was the first place I ever saw a full spectacle of the Northern Lights and the experience was something one can’t quite put into words.
Another up-side is that, depending on the period of winter, the sky can be in a constant state of sunrise/sunset, with the sun never quite reaching its regular day-time peak. This made for some of the most breathtakingly surreal skies I have ever seen, by far.
Note: The purple and pink skies presented below are accurate representations of the skies we experienced.
The downside, of course, is that you have limited day-light time to enjoy other activities such as the reindeer herding, snowmobile excursion and dog sledding. As the sun goes down, it can become more difficult to see exactly what is happening and also to take good photographs. For example, as I went dog sledding during the early afternoon, the sun was quickly fading, making it a bit difficult to fully take in our surroundings. As well, since the pups were busy and moving quite quickly, it was a bit difficult to get clear shots with little cuties. Nonetheless, we had an incredible time learning about the dogs and their jobs, and experiencing dog sledding in the Arctic. Oh, and we were also given the opportunity to both drive the sled from the back ourselves, and sit inside the sled, which was V cool.
I did not partake in the reindeer herding venture, but I heard it was very sweet. Still, based on reviews, I would recommend the snowmobile excursion and dog sledding as the main attractions not to miss.
Oh, and don’t worry about being dressed warm enough – If you stay at the Hotelli Samperin Savotta, the lodge provides proper snowsuits and boots for everyone!
Visiting Santa’s village
Heading south of Savukoski, toward Helsinki, is where you will find Rovaniemi. Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland in Northern Finland and is also known as the official hometown of Santa Clause. And guys, this place was CUTE. Similar to where we stayed in Savukoski, in Rovaniemi, visitors can also find activities to partake in including reindeer sleigh rides and farm visits, snowmobiling excursions, husky tours, sauna experiences and more. However, while Savukoski is more of a wilderness cabin getaway destination, you can find shopping centres, gift shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels in Rovaniemi.
Note: The city of Rovaniemi, while north, is actually still 6km south of the Arctic Circle (you can cross the line in Santa's village!)
When in Rovaniemi, you can also visit the real deal Santa Clause Village, which is where you can, of course, find Santa Clause himself! In a beautifully crafted building with the most extravagant Christmas decorating you’ve ever seen, you’ll encounter elves working away, insights into Santa’s workshop and, finally, meet the joyous man himself. Our group (which was comprised of international students from all over the world), not only enjoyed meeting Santa and taking a photograph with him, but also having him greet us in all our respective languages.
In addition to visiting Santa and his workshop, visitors can also meet Santa’s reindeer, gift shop, enjoy sleigh rides, and sip hot cocoa.
A fun activity for children of all ages, including the child in all of us, a visit to the Santa Clause Village was a fun reminder of that little extra slice of holiday magic that happens this time of year.
While many people might look for the nearest tropical beach to escape to during the cold winter months, perhaps its worth the consideration to head a little (or a lot) further north instead, to indulge in some holiday magic and fuel the fire of the child in all of us by playing in the snow, hanging out with St.Nick, cuddling some husky pups, and listening to Christmas carols by the fire.
Have you ever been to Lapland, or taken a holiday to the Arctic? If not, would you ever consider going somewhere even colder during your winter holidays?
Cheers to embracing the cold and a very Merry Christmas,