On the hunt for the Northern Lights in Saariselkä, Finland

Words: Hannah Berry George
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  • In the beautiful snow-packed Northern Lights Village in Saariselkä, it’s like Christmas every day for six months, minus the misery.

    Why go?

    Because you’d be mad not to. Not only do you get the chance to tick Northern Lights off your bucket list, you can feel like you’re living it up, Narnia-style, as your personal reindeer pulls your sledge through a snow-laden woodland. Then there is the snow mobile safari (or heated sledge for the less hardy) or the camping trip to the Russian border, or the ride of your life with huskies. You can even go in search of Santa, if you really want to. Oh, and don’t forget the sauna.

    Where to stay

    An Ice suite or cosy cabin – take your pick. Or, like us, you can go for both. We spent the first night in the ice suite which was mind-blowing and brain-freezing. And, although one night is plenty, it’s an experience you must do at least once in your life. Plus, once you’re in your base layers and socks, and snug as a bug in your arctic sleeping liner and bag (conveniently provided by the resort) you’ll feel relatively cosy. And there’s not a hangover cure quite like waking up in your own ice lair. As for the cabin… it’s a welcomed contrast. There are only 80 in total, and each stands alone with a partial glass roof, so you can just lie back and watch the stars from your bed. For an extra €15/night you can even have your own Aurora Alarm so, if the Northern Lights do decide to put in an appearance, you don’t have to use matchsticks to prop your eyelids open all night – and the rude awakening is certainly worth it.

    What to wear

    Layers and air. That’s the key to not letting Jack Frost take your limbs hostage. During our visit, it got as low as -10°C but, according to the Sámi reindeer herders (and brothers) Harri and Jouni, this was warm. No joke – they were walking around without gloves on while our hands could barely be uncovered for 30 seconds without getting rigor mortis.

    Here’s a breakdown of what we wore: Tights, socks from Stance, Merino wool base layers from Icebreaker and Mid layers from Helly Hansen. I swapped my very old and bulky duvet coat for a streamlined but warmth-packed Ragnorak from new-ice-kids-on-the-block Jöttnar (pronounced ‘yacht-nah’). I’m not really sure how it managed to pack so much warmth in such a compact form but I guess it has something to do with the 900 Fill Power hydrophobic goose down, waterproof-yet-breathable shell, and THERMOLIT® synethtic insulation – I don’t really know what that means either but it translated to keeping me toastier than a pop tart and that’s all I care about.

    Credit: Markku Inkila

    Don’t miss

    The husky safari. There are many providers – some with as many as 200 huskies – but we went small with Arctica Lapland who have just 26 dogs. This two-hour experience was mind-blowing and I’ll never forget the moment we turned a corner in the forest and realised the dogs were taking us towards a frozen lake. YES, people. We huskied our way across a frozen lake.

    The area

    A 10-minute trek through the snow will take you to the village where there’s a supermarket, café (we loved the pizza), a handful of pubs and restaurants, plus some souvenir shops. But it largely remains remote and vast. Which means there’s little to ruin the never-ending snowy scape.

    Good to know

    There are SO many things: Northern Lights are amazing but they’re not guaranteed and they probably won’t look at bright or green as they do on the ‘Gram – so think of them as an added bonus. The local drink is a brandy called Jaloviina (meaning ‘Nobel Spirit’) which is perfect way to warm your insides before you head into the Ice Suite for a night; Finland has as many as 50 different varieties of wild berry (37 edible), so expect hot berry juice and lots of it. (The cold variety is also good and the texture is like having your throat stroked with velvet).

    Credit: Markku Inkila

    How to get there:

    We flew with Finnair from London Heathrow to Helsinki, with just enough time to walk the length of this giant airport to make our connecting flight to Ivalo (20km from the Northern Lights Village). And, because the schedules are well planned out, we had a similar experience en route back which meant no time wasted hanging around in an airport unnecessarily. You have to buy your snacks onboard in economy, but you can drink complimentary berry juice (that Finnish specialty) to your heart’s content. This is my new obsession.

    During the winter season, Finnair flies twice a week non-stop from London Gatwick to Ivalo Airport, the Northernmost airport in Finland. The service operates on Thursdays and Sundays and will run until 28 March 2019, offering UK holidaymakers the flexibility to travel around the region. Fares start from £229 return in Economy Class including all taxes and charges. (www.finnair.com / 0208 0 010101)

    We travelled with the Northern Lights holiday experts The Aurora Zone on the three-night tailor-made Northern Lights Village Holiday in Saariselkä, Finland. Priced from £1,135 pp (two sharing), including flights (London), transfers, three nights’ half board accommodation and cold weather clothing. Activities priced as extra, including husky sledding (from £135 pp), reindeer day (from £129 pp), night in an Ice Suite (from £142 pp) and a Northern Lights snowmobile tour (from £129 pp). Departures from 7 February-31 March.

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