The Artisan Blog
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).
There is nothing quite like the excitement of imminent departure as you and your small band of wilderness explorers wait to start the 5 day Husky safari at Harriniva in Finnish Lapland.
The anticipation has been building since the moment you awoke, ate your hearty breakfast and made your way the mere 200m across from the main building towards the increasing volume of eager huskies waiting for the chance to do what they love as working dogs...pull.
I defy anybody about to embark on their first ever dog sledding adventure not to feel the slightest hint of trepidation, I know I certainly did. It's the cacophony of sound emanating from the feverishly excited dogs that really sets the butterflies a-flapping in the stomach, there's something almost primeval about that wolf-like howling.
The first time I went dog sledding and on the numerous subsequent occasions, I found myself imagining how early trappers must have felt when they heard that long, deep, lupine "haa....rooooo!" echoing across an untamed wilderness. It's enough to send shivers down the spine.
We've got a few cycling fans here in the Artisan Travel offices and we're regularly looking at ways of keeping the weight off to heighten our performances on our bikes.
We'll never get anywhere near the professionals however who, despite being skinny as the thinnest rake you ever did see, consume a massive 6000 to 7000 calories per day (roughly 15 Big Macs with medium fries) during stage races: that's three times the daily intake of an average male!
There's little wonder therefore that cyclists tend to be pretty lean but their daily food consumption is peanuts compared to that of a racing sled dog. These incredible animals are about one third the weight of an average human being and yet, during epic races like The Yukon Quest Trail or The Iditarod, they will consume up to 12,000 calories in a day. 12,000 calories!!! That's something in the region of 26 Big Macs with medium fries and makes the cyclists look like mere amateurs in the calorie burning stakes.
Arriving at Kittila Airport on a very late flight from the UK last December, I was happy in the knowledge that I had a very short transfer to get to my hotel. No sooner had my friendly Finnish taxi driver helped me into the car, he was then helping me out of it 5 minutes later as we arrived at the hotel. I was quickly checked into my room and tucked up in bed in anticipation of tomorrow's adventures.
I was met the following morning by my guide for the next two days, Jaakko. He was absolutely fantastic with the small group I joined and had obviously built up a brilliant rapport with the members despite the assortment of nationalities and ages.
This morning's activity was cross-country skiing and once we had established that no one in the group had actually done the activity before he led us through the very basic first steps of learning how to move around with the ski's attached to our feet. Once we got our balance and had learnt to stand up (!) we began a short circuit so we could practise negotiating the skiing tracks which run alongside almost all the footpaths in Northern Scandinavia.
Being one of those people who tends to plan their day around meals and loves to try out new food, one of my favourite parts about travelling to Lapland is sampling the Scandinavian food which is rich, varied and plentiful.
In the depths of Northern Finland and Sweden, food is (logically!) sourced firstly from the landscape – fish are caught in the lakes, reindeers are bred in the forest and berries and mushrooms are foraged from the ground. This gives the food here a natural and fresh taste and I love the fact that the meals here feel so hearty and wholesome.
The very first dish I enjoyed on a visit here was a simple one – sautéed reindeer with mashed potatoes and lingonberries, but in the bitingly cold arctic environment it was, quite honestly, perfect.
I have been lucky enough to visit Tromsø in Norway several times in recent years, both in the summer and winter months, and I really like the city. It has a lot to attract people, including some mind-blowingly good restaurants, lively bars, cute little shops and a really beautiful harbour area.
I thought I had seen most of what Tromsø and the surrounding area had to offer, but it was only on my recent visit last summer that I learnt of the island of Senja....
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