The Sámi are the original inhabitants of Lapland, and spending time with them on your Finland holiday will add a fantastic new perspective on this remote region. Around 10 percent of Sámi still herd reindeer – which they use for milk, clothing, meat and bedding; and their rich culture includes weaving, traditional cuisine, improvised singing and shamanic drumming.
Far from being endlessly cold and dim, Finland’s climate varies greatly depending on latitude and season. Away from the darkness of the solstice, winter days can be gloriously clear, with bright, crisp snow. In summer, the sun never really sets, and temperatures can reach the mid-20’s – ideal for water based holiday activities such as canoeing, boating and lakeside retreats.
Multi-day cross-country trips can be very hands-on. Everyone does their part, and this takes a long time because everything – food, water, your hands – is frozen. For some, working on holiday is unthinkable. But for many, feeding and settling the huskies, gathering logs for the fire and making holes in the ice for water are the most incredible parts of their Finland holiday.
Finland’s towns are as modern as any in Scandinavia – but the best holidays are about “getting away from it all”, and a Finland holiday offers that like few other European destinations. Don’t lament the lack of electricity or whine about the non-existent wifi; savour the rustic cabins, lamplight, log fires, reindeer skin blankets, pitch black nights and raw, unspoiled nature.
It’s debatable who enjoys sledding more – the driver or the dogs. The huskies’ excitement will no doubt add to your own; after a short lesson you’ll be in charge or your own four-legged team, harnessing them before mushing through frozen, Christmas-card scenery with just the sound of paws on snow and swishing sleigh runners. Magical.
Nature’s greatest light show can last from a few minutes up to a couple of hours, and disappears into the dark northern night as suddenly as it appears. Sitting by a fire on a frozen lake, laughing and sharing warm drinks with fellow travellers while waiting for the elusive spectacle is all part of the Arctic’s most otherworldly experience.
Pivotal to Sámi culture, reindeer are used for food, clothing, milk and jewellery, and the life of the farmers is intricately linked to the feeding, mating and movements of their herds. Meeting them during your Finland holiday and learning about their lives is fascinating. The reindeer are actually free to roam through the forests, yet each Sámi herder recognises his own animals amongst hundreds of others.
Mainland Europe’s northernmost capital is perched on a peninsula which creeps into the island-filled Gulf of Finland. Its Art Nouveau architecture is well preserved, and the city has a laid-back feel, especially in summer when the Finns spend as much time soaking up the sun as possible. Excellent museums and quirky bars will keep you busy day and night.
Those who grumble that Christmas is becoming ever more superficial may want to check out the latest festive activity: a daytrip to see Father Christmas. Flying from the UK and Lapland and back in a day, whizzed around the snowy activities, this Finland holiday is sure to be memorable for all the wrong reasons, as well as contributing nothing to local communities and creating a horrendously high carbon footprint.
To truly appreciate the landscapes during your holiday to Finland, cross-country skiing is the way to go. Faster than walking, less exhausting than snowshoeing, it allows you to build up speed, have campfire lunches in the forest and sleep in a different location each night, making the most of Finland’s warm culture as well as its nature – unlike downhill skiing on an enclosed resort.
Lapland’s reindeer herders have certainly benefited from the introduction of snowmobiles. But on a snowy safari, we’d highly recommend ditching the noisy, polluting vehicles in favour of more traditional transportation: snow shoes, skis or sleds. You’ll see more, enjoy the near-silence and stand a better chance of spotting elusive forest wildlife. You’ll earn your hearty Finnish dinner, too.
The hardy Finns know how to deal with the cold – and they recommend natural fabric for your Finland holiday every time. Warm outwear (all-in-ones, mittens) is generally provided by the tour companies and lodges, but you’ll need to bring thin, insulating base layers, and wool and silk are superior for warmth. Don’t shun the reindeer skins on offer at some of the cabins, either!