The Artisan Blog
"We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow."
I've always wanted to incorporate Led Zeppelin into one of my blogs and the opening lines from their classic "Immigrant Song" presented the perfect opportunity.
Singer Robert Plant was inspired to write the lyrics when the band played in Iceland 1970 and this remarkable island has continued to inspire ever since.
My very first memory of Iceland is seeing it on a travel programme as a child and being completely captivated. I couldn't quite tell you why – I think it planted itself in my 6 year old mind as this big frozen country – a mystical, otherworldly place in the middle of the sea that seemed so far from and so unlike anything else.
As strange as it sounds to most of my friends and family, I have never been a fan of hot places and whilst I appreciate a bit of sunshine every now and then it's the cold that I enjoy the most (I'm one of those people that enjoys when the English two week summer is done and I can get out my woolly jumpers again...) so Iceland, even by just its name, was a place that called out to me.
Since then I always wanted to visit and it was forever in the back of my mind as a sort of bucket list place that I knew I wanted to visit when I was a grown up (as far off as that seemed at the time).
When we arrived in Iceland, the first thing we did was drive to the Blue Lagoon. To get here you drive across unending black lava fields which many would find desolate, but to me had a sort of bleak beauty and it is really no exaggeration that I basically fell in love with the landscape at first sight - as overly dramatic as that sounds!
At the Blue Lagoon we changed into our swimwear and headed out to the water. I must admit the weather was pretty bad (I learned quickly that the best way to describe the weather in Iceland is 'wildly unpredictable...').
However, the milky blue water was toasty warm and as we floated around I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place, with its pitch black lava backdrop against the blue of the water. It is well known as a tourist hotspot and I've heard some people say it's too busy and too commercial so I was a bit dubious but, it was quite simply wonderful. Yes, there are a lot of people there, but the lagoon is large enough that it never feels overcrowded and, as my very first taste of Iceland, it was pretty great. Speaking to fellow travellers the best times to go are early in the morning or late in the evening as it is much quieter then – late evenings in particular during the Midnight Sun are said to be rather special.
The final part of the week was a combination of the idyllic south shore and the island's northernmost city of Akureyri. First though, we went to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, on the west of the island, the self-proclaimed 'Iceland in miniature' which has a little bit of everything else you will see across the island - waterfalls, beaches, lagoons and glaciers.
We stayed in Stykkishólmur, which is one of those ridiculously quaint fishing villages which speak of an easy way of traditional laid-back life.
On the south shore we drive past glaciers and more waterfalls and the site of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Here you can visit the tiny and informative museum which shows you the eruption in 2010 that not only impacted millions of air passengers across the globe but also completely covered the tiny community and farms here in vast quantities of ash.
Photography has always been a hobby for me and I've even got a really good camera at home. Unfortunately, how it is in real life, you sometimes do not have enough time to learn how to use it properly. I mean, there are so many settings you can choose from and you also need to check the lighting conditions and who knows what else... So when I heard about this trip you can imagine that I was the first person to join in.
It is a brilliant way to combine a nice holiday and learn something about photography and how to use a camera.
One of the first tasks I had when I joined The Artisan Travel Company was to spend two weeks acting as the company's representative in the tiny ski resort of Luosto. Travelling north of the Arctic Circle on my first assignment all seemed a bit daunting at first but I got to know Luosto and our suppliers very quickly and found myself falling very deeply in love with the place because it has just about everything you could ever want from a winter holiday.
As a Product Development Manager, I get to visit loads and loads of places but this very often has to be done reasonably quickly.
Spending 14 nights in the same destination allowed me to appreciate the slower way of life, to get to know the wonderfully friendly locals and take huge joy in the vast range of winter activities available in Luosto.
I have been lucky enough to visit Menesjärvi twice during my time working for Artisan. The first time was in September during the wonderfully scenic Finnish autumn. The drive here will take you away from the small town of Ivalo and into increasing wilderness – the trees grow denser, the roads grow quieter, and you pass nothing except a small handful of houses (owned mostly by local reindeer herders) before you come across the main hotel here.
Hotel Korpikartano is located on the banks of Lake Menesjarvi which at this time of year, is a beautiful glittering vista of water, reflecting the changing colours of the surrounding trees.
The Treehotel: a name that instantly makes your imagination run riot. Surely they can't be in the trees? How big are they?
What do they look like and just how did they make them? These were all questions that popped into my head and I soon began counting down the days until I would get to see this special place and get some answers.
My colleague Amy and I travelled to Sweden in mid-May on a tour of new and existing locations that we work with. Although we had seen many pictures of the Treehotel and spoken to the owners, Kent and Britta several times, we had both built up a picture of the Treehotel in our minds and we were keen to see whether it lived up to our expectations. After seeing it and staying there, it's safe to say that it really is an incredibly special place that is certainly worth a visit.
On a trip to the north of Norway in February 2014, I had the rather exciting opportunity to stay overnight in a snow hotel and I must admit that it was an evening I'm unlikely to forget!
The location was Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, just outside the Norwegian town of Alta. The hotel here has been constructed annually for the last 15 years, utilising talented artists and architects to create a more impressive design each season.
After a delicious dinner in the restaurant we were shown through into the igloo hotel which is just outside the main building. Stepping inside, the first thing I noticed was just how incredibly quiet it was. Effectively, you are inside a huge dome built of snow which muffles all exterior noise and so it is a rather peaceful experience.
The important thing in our job is getting to know a destination and experiencing everything it has to offer. On my very first trip to Finnish Lapland I learned very quickly that the best way to appreciate the wide open wilderness spaces north of the Arctic Circle is by snowmobile. You can enjoy all sorts of activities here in Lapland; dog sledding and reindeer safaris, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing will all get you from A to B but nothing will show you as much or take you as far as a snowmobile.
My first snowmobile safari was blessed by a typically beautiful early-spring day (in the opinion of most locals, late-March and early-April are the best times to visit) with not a cloud to obscure the azure blue skies.
The other thing that struck me about this pristine setting was just how calm and unspoiled it is. Lapland must be as close to purity as anywhere in the world and the air is said to be the cleanest anywhere in Europe (and very probably further afield too).
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