Emma of Tots Too takes the family to Lapland: “I don’t think I had been this excited about a trip since my parents announced they were taking us to Disney World when I was six. I do of course still love the thrill of travelling to new places and trying out new hotels but this was different. The thought of potentially seeing the Northern Lights, meeting the real Santa and being in the dazzling white snow for 3 days was just too much excitement for one to bear and I found myself thinking of nothing else.
A ridiculous amount of thermals packed in the suitcase, enough fleeces to sink a battle ship and incidentals to see us through every type of emergency scenario and we were ready. My travel companions for the trip; business partner and sister Deborah and our two eldest daughters, Madeline and Noa, both aged 6. The grown-ups were definitely more excited!
We were to fly Finn Air to Helsinki with an overnight before taking an internal flight to Ivalo the following day. The airline was amazing, staff that couldn’t do enough, complimentary sandwich, drinks and chocolate – and the kids were even allowed into the cockpit at the end to meet the captain. The airport in Helsinki was a bit of a nightmare. There were some very confusing signs to baggage reclaim so we got completely lost and had to be shepherded back to the right area. We had already lost about 20 minutes of our precious time and time was short given we only had one night in the city……
We didn’t have enough time to get any real feel for Helsinki but we certainly got a good feel for the cold, all -26 degrees of it! We stayed at the magnificent Hotel Kamp, famous for once being the chosen hang-out of some of Europe’s finest composers and artists. Not only was the location spot-on for being right in the heart of things, but it was a very comfortable base for our solitary night with all the five star comfort one would need.
The hotel booked us into a very smart brasserie near the hotel for a taste of modern contemporary Finnish food which would definitely get my hearty recommendation. We had certainly worked up an appetite staving off the cold walking round the streets of Helsinki hoping to squeeze in some shopping. The city seemed pretty quiet, I think only the tourists would go walking in those temperatures for fun but we had little time so it was pile on the thermals, say a small prayer and hope you don’t get frost bite!
Day two and we were off to Ivalo. Again another smooth Finn Air flight and only 80 minutes long. Ivalo airport is small and we were out of there with luggage in hand within about 10 minutes of leaving the aircraft. Our guide was the wonderful Markuu who took us off to Inari and the Sami Museum and then on to our home for the next two nights, the Hotel Kakslauttanen.
Walking into the hotel (though it’s less of a hotel and more of a lodge) was quite an experience. There is one central area where it all seems to take place. A sort of reception which doubles as the café point/shop/meeting point. It was a little crowded so we were taken off to store our luggage and wait in the bar area for our bus to take us on the Santa visit. Now, what started as being a huge disappointment, ended up being a huge win in our favour. We discovered after waiting to be called for the Santa tour for no less than 45 minutes that they had forgotten about us…..we had, we were told, literally missed the bus! However, they promptly called the owner who very apologetically exercised his best Lewis Hamilton driving and got us there in time to catch Santa before he retired for the evening. The initial disaster turned to a real triumph as we were to learn that we had a totally private visit of just the four of us with Santa, and the whole resort (we even had our own personal elf). The girls, having practiced for the last few days what they would say to Santa were for the best part of a few minutes completely speechless once stood in front of him! Even I felt a little overwhelmed and unusually shy in the presence of such a great figure (I almost found myself for a moment feeling foolish for thinking he didn’t really exist!)
The whole Santa Resort was nothing short of magnificent. The snow covered bridges, cabins surrounded with lights, huge colourfully decorated Christmas trees and elves busily walking around…..it was a child (and adults) dream come true. We were very fortunate to have had the experience on an intimate basis and I think following a crowd as we would have done had we been called for the bus would have perhaps changed the experience a bit but it was still something that will remain fondly etched on our memory for a long time to come.
One of the highlights – the nothing short of magnificent Igloo Village. The igloos are by far one of the greatest visions Jussi, the owner of the resort, had for the resort. The pictures, as good as they are do not do them justice. You’d imagine with all the glass that they would be cold but boy were they heated well! Barely large enough to swing a cat but very comfortable for one night, these little igloos are such a treat. The only thing that could have enhanced the experience in one of these would have been seeing the Northern Lights but the trade-off for it only being -5 as opposed to -43 which it had been the week before was the conditions that it brought with it. The sky was grey in anticipation of snow and it was obvious that this was not the night the sky would go green. Waking up to the view of the tall snow-topped alpine trees above your head was a treat enough and despite there being no curtains, it remained dark enough outside to catch a modest lie in. A night in one of these igloos is not to be missed.
Our second to last day – morning reindeer safari followed by pancake making in a tepee (yes not your average Saturday) followed by an afternoon in Sariselka at ski school. So after being pulled on a sleigh through a winter wonderland by some very cute and tame reindeers and navigated by a local Sami resident, we then got to sit around a fire making some pancakes, drinking hot berry juice and listening to some traditional sami songs. It all felt wonderfully surreal. After the safari and in between the afternoon activities, we settled nicely into our wonderful cabin for the last night and enjoyed some downtime and lunch before hitting the slopes.
The lovely Lea from the ski school collected us and gave us the low down on the skiing before we got to the base. Our instructor for the kids was to be a lovely smiley girl called Mila who had the patience of a saint. It’s no mean feat trying to kit our two 6 year olds who have never donned a pair of ski boots or skis before. Armed and dangerous, we hit the slopes. Unlike most other ski resorts I have been to before, there was no slush or black snow where lots of boots have been treading, the snow was still beautiful and powdery white as it was everywhere else. The nursery slope was very uncrowded so not at all intimidating for the kids and perfect for virgin ski legs. A lot of fun was had and Mila was amazing with the girls. That was all well and good but I was dying to try the 1.2km toboggan run which is the largest in Europe. By the time we took the chair lift up, the conditions were becoming quite tricky as snow was about to start and it was pretty cold. My daughter was a little apprehensive but reluctantly I dug my heels in as much as I could and we had a nice gentle ride down. Those without a nervous 6 year old in tow would have very much enjoyed bombing down the run at quite a speed…….. In fact, I was happily overtaken by Mila and Deborah and her daughter much to the annoyance of my competitive ego! All in all it was a huge amount of fun and Sariselka unlike all the normal overcrowded European ski resorts was a lovely quiet and gentle resort with some amazing slopes.
Some quick snapshots: food at the hotel runs in two sittings, 6pm and 8pm and it’s a set menu. The food was average and if you don’t like salmon, their national fish, then you may be disappointed. If you do like it, then it tastes unlike any other salmon you would have tasted, absolutely delicious. You can order off menu for a supplement but it’s not about the food, it’s about the general experience so don’t go with too high taste expectations. Breakfast runs till 11 which is great for leisurely mornings and it’s a lovely traditional Finnish meal of meat, cheese, more salmon and some delicious fresh baked breads. There were also your classic cereals but particular mention to the amazing granola which topped with the natural creamy yoghurt was a real winner! Really good hot chocolate too.
If you want to get married (I almost wished I wasn’t so I could do this myself) then the snow chapel and glass tepee is one of the most amazing things I have seen for a while. Adorned with magnificent ice sculptures and an ice bar, this is something to consider. Your wedding night could be spent under a thermal sleeping bag in a snow igloo: few things could be more romantic.
The Cabins are amazing – perfect for families, there are lovely wooden bunk beds, real fires and saunas. They all have small kitchens too but very few guests cater for themselves. There is however a small shop for essentials should you need to buy anything there.
It’s advisable to take snacks for in-between meals, the kids often got hungry when we were not where near food so we had a constant supply on us.
Pack light, it’s no mean feat pulling suitcases on a sleigh through heavy snow and help isn’t very forthcoming. However many clothes you think you need, you would end up wearing the same outer layers and just changing the thermals. Although it is always sub-zero temperatures in the winter, it really doesn’t feel that cold and everywhere is over the top heated! There is no wind or dampness in the air so it’s fresh and not as cold as one might think. Pack some t-shirts for when inside, it gets quite uncomfortable when you are indoors and the heat can be a bit stifling.
I can highly recommend purchasing a handmade wool blanket from Ivalo airport for the cost of 72 Euros, this is the nicest warmest blanket I have ever had and it’s beautiful. Those who are not offended by real animal skin, the hotel sells reindeer skin for 91 Euros which can be packaged ready for you to check in (or allow some extra room in your suitcase).
The Finnish and Lappish people are charming, warm and very hospitable. Some of the seasonal foreign staff at the hotel can be a little unhelpful but not enough to ruin the experience. The owner (or Santa’s younger brother as he calls himself) does his best to get round everybody and you can clearly see the passion and love for the place he has built and run for the past 35 years, but we felt he needed more of a right-hand person to act as front of house. The hotel is busy most of the winter season so I think more management would be useful to help with the more demanding guests (not that we were those of course….)
I have come back with a real excitement about offering this in our Tots Too program. I think this will suit families with kids of three and over but should you have a baby in tow, there is enough equipment to cater for them. Our girls loved it all, as much for the fact that the snow was up to their knees and they were staying very close to Santa. They loved the handcrafted wooden bunk beds in the cabins and being dragged through the snow on the little wooden sleighs.
So for all you kids reading this, Santa is very much alive and well and living with his elves and reindeers in a charming little house in Finnish Lapland – you must go and see him.”
Hotel Kakslauttanen and Igloo Village, Finnish Lapland >