Great Britain

Lapland is a real-life winter wonderland with thrilling sleigh rides and cosy cabins

YOU always recall your first time . . . especially when it involves a face full of snow.

It’s -5C and I’m whooshing down Finland’s longest toboggan run on a plastic sled, with just my gloved hands to slow me down.

Clearing a corner, I panic on spotting a brake sign and throw myself off it. I land face down in the powdery snow.

It’s a performance worthy of You’ve Been Framed and, thankfully, I’m roaring with laughter.

Dignity aside, the pit-stop gives me time to appreciate the slope’s award-winning illuminations that mimic the Northern Lights — or Aurora Borealis as its more widely known here.

Tobogganing is just one of the thrill-seeking activities available at Star Arctic Outdoor Resort in Saariselka, Northern Lapland.

The village is only 30 minutes’ drive from Ivalo Airport, the country’s northernmost airport, which has daily flights from London Gatwick during peak season (early December to March 22, 2020).

Perched atop the 438m Kaunispaa mountain is the resort’s modern and family-orientated Star Arctic Hotel.

When you’re not cross-country skiing, snowboarding or rolling around on the slopes, you can rest weary legs in a variety of accommodation.

There are the impressive standalone Aurora Cabins with glass ceilings for stargazing, or two-floor wooden View Suites with floor-to-ceiling windows and balcony overlooking the village. Some come with their own sauna — a weekly, if not daily, ritual for most Finns.

The hotel has a buffet and a la carte restaurant and bar, serving a mixture of Lappish and modern dishes, and you can huddle round its log fire in the evening with a glass of Nordic mulled wine.

Or for a real taste of Lapland, take a sleigh ride to the traditional and rustic Laanilan Kievari, which sources most of the ingredients from its own garden or the local forests. Expect immaculately presented dishes of smoked fish, reindeer shoulder and elk pepper steak.

But Star Arctic is all about keeping the adrenaline pumping and there’s no better way to explore this real-life winter wonderland than on a snowmobile.

Dressed in the resort’s warm, but unflattering, overalls and helmet, I hop aboard one of the hotel’s machines.

After a quick tutorial I’m taken on a three-hour guided tour of the snow-covered forest and lakes.

There is no better way to explore this real-life winter wonderland than at high speed with heated handlebars to keep your mitts toasty.

For a slower pace, you can set out in search of the elusive Aurora Borealis.

I’m feeling lucky, having visited during the two month-long polar night — a phenomenon in the Arctic Circle when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon. It means daylight lasts just hours and 2pm in December can feel like midnight in Britain.

A short car ride away is the adults-only Wilderness Hotel Nangu, nestled next to the 400 square mile Lake Inari — a prime spot for capturing the light show.

The main log-built restaurant and reception is filled with sheepskin, furs, wooden furniture and comfy chairs to unwind next to the fire.

After a traditional buffet dinner of hot smoked salmon, pate, fried herring and mashed potatoes, I pull on another snowsuit.

The hotel’s guide drives our tour group deeper into woodland and away from light pollution until we reach a remote campfire. We wait patiently under the stars with hot chocolate and cookies, but sadly the lights don’t dance for us tonight. That’s our cue to go to bed and we retreat to the timber-walled double cabins for much-needed sleep.

If you want something more premium, the hotel has glass-roof cabins with private hot tubs and saunas or new eco Huts, which sit — or float depending on the time of the year — on the lake.

If it’s wildlife you are after, you’re in luck — there are three times more reindeer than people in the municipality of Inari. While each one has an owner, they are allowed to roam freely so sightings are frequent.

But to get up close and personal with Rudolph, Blixen and Dasher, visit the upmarket Aurora Village, in Ivalo, which has its own reindeer park.

Here you can feed and pet the festive caribou while contemplating how to sneak one home on the plane. As well as day trips to a nearby river for ice fishing, a big draw to this hotel is its sauna with panoramic views of the forest.

If you are feeling brave, do as the Finns do, and cool off with a dip in its ice pool. I did not! I round off my magical trip at Frozen Lake Husky, in Saariselka. It’s home to musher Erika and 100 of her boisterous “best friends”, whose barks she can tell apart.

Erika instructs the group on how to control the two-person sledges, each pulled by five Alaskan huskies, before we zoom through the wintry landscape on an exhilarating hour-long ride.

I’ll always remember my first time, but it won’t be my last.

Go: Lapland

GETTING THERE: Flights from Gatwick to Ivalo with Finnair are from £210pp return. See

STAYING THERE: The Star Arctic Hotel is from £126pppn based on two sharing a suite. See The Wilderness Hotel Nangu is from £94.50pppn based on two sharing a double. See One night’s B&B with dinner at the Aurora Village is from £248.50pp based on two sharing. See


Inside this year’s Ice Hotel featuring big cats, polar bears and of course a frozen bar