INSIDER TRAVEL: THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
Not everyone is going to want to travel to the Arctic Circle in February, but arguably it is the best time of year; frozen trees, lots of snow, crystal clear days (if you are lucky), air that is pure and lots of activities for all ages.
The reason many go now is to see the Northern Lights, which seems to be on everyone’s bucket list, and frankly having seen them they are spectacular, if very transitory.
I flew into Rovaniemi in the Finnish part of the Arctic Circle on one of Easyjet’s seasonal flights there during the winter. The coach ride to our resort was through a blanket of white, lit up with the low winter sun so quite memorable in itself. There are many resorts centred around Rovaniemi, all of which offer much the same array of activities. Bear in mind there is only daylight for a short amount of time each day, and the temperatures during my visit were minus 20-25 during the day and minus 30 plus during darkness, so it is worth booking any activities in advance to avoid disappointment.
I stayed at the resort attached to the Ranua Wildlife Park, about an hour from Rovaniemi, and after getting off the coach went immediately to walk around the Park before it got dark. There are a large number of Arctic animals there in a Parkland setting. Apart from the intense cold it was a great introduction, but you will need layers and layers as the cold penetrates quite quickly, as well as good boots to get through the snowy paths. You can hire special clothing from the resort which is a good idea – The North Face just doesn’t hack it!
During our short visit we went on an evening snowmobile ride to see the Northern Lights, which needless to say did not appear (more anon), but driving a snowmobile through the woods at night, then having a fire with food you cook over the fire yourself in the middle of a frozen lake with a huge starlit sky above was special. Driving the snowmobiles is not as easy as it sounds and I strongly recommend the insurance as they have regular accidents, which apart from your health can cost you a pretty Euro in damages.
The husky ride was the highlight for me, setting off with the guide leading the way to meet your dogs who are all so keen to get going, with lots of excited barking. One of you gets on the back and steers and brakes while the other (me!) sits wrapped in blankets on the sled. It is truly magical to slice through the snowy paths through woodland with the dogs leading out front. The steering and braking (my son!) on the back of the sled, standing, is exhausting; the braking is done by feet on the iron braking rods. The dogs do get a little carried away especially at the start, and it is not unusual for the steerer to fall off backwards, so be warned and listen to the guide.
The Northern Lights – there is an app which gives you the percentage likelihood of lights, their strength and a rough time and compass bearing so you know where to look. The pinging on the app gives you about 1-3 minutes to get togged up and rush out! We saw glimpses from the resort of green, but only very lightly. After rushing out five times we gave up, but got momentary glimpses.
We moved from the resort to a cabin on a frozen lake, with a clear canopy above the bed to better see the stars as well as the lights. This time we got a warning at around 2am and the strength was strong – it lit up the entire sky and the lake in pulsating green for about three minutes, then rippled along in the sky for a further few minutes. This setting was wonderful and a morning walk out on the frozen lake was a highlight in the sunshine. Don’t bother trying to take any pictures with a SLR camera – by the time you have fiddled around with the settings you will miss the lights, use your phone – it is better at picking up the green – or just enjoy the show and let someone else take the pictures!
The cabins by the lake, as with the resort cabins, are well supplied with a log burner and sauna, but Finnish TV leaves a lot to be desired – so in-cabin entertainment is best left to the iPad etc.
I would recommend this trip to anyone – just dress up well and use the outfits provided!
Accommodation can be booked direct via the Ranua Resort website.