We often hear how Lapland is billed as the ultimate ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday for families, but cutting through all the info of where to go, what the ‘must do’s’ are, and who to book with, sounds easier said than done.
British Mums chatted to Jemma, mum of two, who holidayed in Lapland on Boxing Day last year and here is what she had to say:
“We had been planing a trip to Lapland for a couple of years, but I waited until I felt my children were the ‘right age’ to go; I wanted them to manage (as best they could) with the cold weather, that they would believe in the magic (and love every minute of it), and most of all, that they would be able to remember everything in years to come.
I had heard lots of different opinions about how long to go for; some reporting that day trips can be exhausting, (as well as less private) and many saying that a three day trip would be perfect.
We eventually decided to push the boat out and go for a week, as my husband really wanted a skiing holiday, and I wanted to take the children to Lapland… So we cleverly decided to combine the two and the result was perfect – a Lapland skiing holiday!
Canterbury Travel, Thomson, Transun and Santas Lapland are all reputable companies to book with. After many hours of research, we decided to book with Inghams, a travel agency headquartered in Surrey.
Lucinda from Inghams endured my long list of questions and she clearly knew her stuff, as all the Inghams travel agents have stayed in all resorts, meaning she knew lots of detail; from the accommodation options, to exactly what meals are served for dinner!
Inghams charter airlines from Manchester, Scotland and Gatwick. Sometimes it’s on BA, but in our case it was Easyjet that flew us from Gatwick to Kittilä, Finland. We planned our trip from the UK as an ‘add on’ after having Christmas with family, but Qatar Airways operates to Helsinki and BA has a code share with Finnair from Helsinki to Kitilia too.
We were surprised at the amount of families with teenagers on the flight, and it made us realise that Lapland is now firmly on the map for skiing holidays too.
An Inghams representative met us on arrival and it took us about an hour to drive from the airport to the village where we were staying, called Äkäslompolo. We opted to book Ylläs log cabins, which are owned privately but rented back to the holiday company, meaning you’re living amongst locals in a quiet, residential area.
Ylläs is a small village with just 800 residents, however there are around 3,000 log cabins in the area. The two villages that are either side of the fell are Äkäslompolo and Ylläsjarvi, and it translates to ‘the bend in the river where the reindeer graze’. We chose this as we wanted more of an authentic place where locals go, and we got exactly that.
Our log cabin (called Rykimä A) was perfect; it was made from forest logs, had two bedrooms downstairs (a family double and then a twin bedroom) and an upstairs galleried bedroom with a further three beds in. It had a small bathroom with shower, a kitchen, lounge and a sauna. I was concerned that we’d be freezing in the cabin and what we would we do if we didn’t have the Internet! Some UK phone providers give you unlimited internet access in Finalnd for just £5, but that didn’t matter one bit because it was so toasty, wintery and magical, that the Internet didn’t get a look in. We spent most of our evenings in front of the log fire, playing cards, Monopoly Junior and building snowmen right outside our front door.
Many families staying in log cabins opt for self catering, but if you choose this, not only do you have to actually cook, but the local supermarket was twenty minutes walk away, so many bring basic supplies in their suitcases!
We selected a breakfast and dinner meal plan at nearby Äkäs Hotel, which meant we walked for ten minutes each morning to get there. The breakfasts were brilliant, with a full range of hot and cold options including lovely crispy bacon and waffles and crepes – a firm family favourite for us.
Lunchtimes usually consisted of European style platters at Restaurants on the Piste, and every time the children had a ski lesson, they got vouchers for hot chocolate that they really loved!
Evening meals were typically Lappish; lots of fish salads, goulash type stews, hearty, rich meals and the usual suspects of pasta, pizza and chips in the mix too. Only waters and juices and hot drinks were included, so soft drinks, wine and beer were usual prices on top. The restaurants opened nice and early at 5:30pm, so sometimes we even went straight there from skiing, dressed in our salopettes, and that was fine too.
The food wasn’t the highlight of our trip, but the New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner was excellent – an à la carte menu that included a delicious local specialty, reindeer steak.
We booked ski instruction for (our then) 5-year- old as our 4-year- old was still too young. This meant that we would have to book ski kindergarten for my 4-year- old on arrival. However, given that my 5-year-old was the only child booked, they were happy to accept my 4-year- old too so they had an hour and a half of lessons each day with a super friendly Finnish instructor. This was perfect, because despite only doing a week’s crash course at Ski Dubai before our trip, they came out bombing down the slopes confidently and loving it (with very few tumbles too).
Being a bit out of practice with skiing, I had a refresher course for 3 mornings and the instructor then split the group further in terms of capabilities. My Husband is a proficient skier and he found the slopes ‘gentle’ in comparison to the French Alps or German resorts, particularly as there was no black run at our resort. However, this resort is perfect for young, and family skiing.
The slopes were open from 10am until 7pm each day and had fresh powdery snow, they weren’t crowded at all and there was a children’s merry-go- round on the slope attached to the kindergarten that my children loved.
Adult ski passes were approx. £160 for 7 days and children are £100.
5-day ski or snowboard school for children was just over £100, and adults £120, making it really reasonable. Children age 6 and under receive free helmet hire and rental equipment of ski boots etc.
Tobogganing & Sports
One of the highlights of our trip was tobogganing every day. We had two toboggans, as well as a chair sledge outside our log cabin. An adult can stand on the back, whilst the other one sits (and my Husband got the raw deal with this!) This became our favourite past time; every day we would take our toboggans on the ski bus to the slopes (the bus runs every twenty minutes which you need a pass for) and after skiing, we would toboggan all the way back to the cabin, which was about 5 km away.
This was one very long, downhill slope that meant we whooshed along, really fast, for fifteen minutes without stopping. This was such fun, and I would recommend you taking the plunge to start right from the ski school doors.
This village is also known for its excellent cross country skiing and snowboarding, and there’s the opportunity to experience all of this, if you have the time.
We expected typical temperatures of minus 35 degrees (yep, you read that right.) The thought of this made me extremely anxious; would we spend days of misery not feeling our hands and feet? Would the children (or me) cope with that extremity? Surprisingly, the weather was mild when we arrived, so the coldest we got to was minus 22 degrees (reaching minus 8 on a ‘warm’ day) so we considered ourselves lucky.
The strangest thing is that it’s dark a lot of the daytime, and so it wasn’t unusual for us to head off for breakfast in total darkness and by late afternoon, it was already dark again. This meant endless questions from the children of “Mummy, is it night time or morning” day after day!
I remember clearly seeing a local mum one day, with her baby in a buggy (that was attached to skis), her two-year-old struggling on his own skis and a third child pulling a sledge full of their shopping from the local supermarket. I thought about how tricky it would be to put all those under layers, hats, gloves and scarves on one child, let alone three every day and how trudging through the snow with skis and toddlers and all that shopping in tow, really hit home how easy we have it in Dubai.
What to buy
I was a bit taken a back that there weren’t any basic supplies in the log cabin on arrival, so to save yourself a trudge to the supermarket as soon as you arrive, and be sure to pack some cordial, some wine, crisps or even some long life milk for the children.
You can hire a snow suit, jacket and boots for the duration of your trip for about £80 per person per week through Inghams, which is great value if you’re on a budget. However, we took our own gear, and I bought Sorel snow boots for the whole family, which really stood up to their reputation – and my children didn’t complain about their feet being cold once.
A top tip is to have ski mittens for children, (as opposed to gloves) as tiny fingers together keep their hands warmer. You should also consider taking ‘Hot Hands’ and ‘Hot Feet’ which are sachets that you can stuff inside your snow boots or gloves, that really warm you up when numbness starts kicking in! I found out that they are used by the German Ski Team, and they worked a treat and were my absolute saving grace!
In the extreme temperatures of Lapland, facial balaclavas are an absolute must, and ours were permanently affixed to our faces the whole week.
Skogstad have the most brilliant skiwear (available from John Lewis), as not only are they designed for the Nordics, but they have inbuilt reflector strips which were really handy for the dark day times we had. We also bought Ice Breaker thermals made from merino wool, which despite being ultra-pricey, did a great job of keep frost bite at bay.
Don’t forget to buy winter sports insurance. It’s not something that’s normally covered as standard on travel or medical insurance, but most policies offer the option to add this on, and you don’t want to be stuck not being covered.
There were loads of add-ons and day trips we could have made and believe me, we would have done them all, if we had more time! We toyed with the idea of staying in the Ice Hotel, but it was a maximum of two people per ‘igloo room’ and I feared I might not make it through the night sleeping on a fur bed of ice!
We also thought about going to Lainio Snow Village (a construction of snow and ice carvings and sculptures where you can also stay overnight) and Santa Park (which has an Elf School, Gingerbread kitchen, Santa’s Office and a Post Office (but it was a 7-hour trip and we knew it got notoriously busy with Lapland day trippers.) Therefore, we opted for the trips below, and these were worth every penny, if not more…
Santa’s Secret Hideaway
We were taken by coach (in a group of about thirty people) about an hour and a half away to a remote forest near the Swedish border. Here we were greeted by a ‘real life’ girl elf, who led us through a winding, snowy path to a family run hideaway. Dasher and some of the other reindeer were there to be petted and fed, and we made Christmas crafts in a cabin whilst waiting for our turn to visit the Big Man himself.
Santa was very authentic; He listened intently, as we had fifteen minutes of precious time with him in a private log cabin, and he sat in his rocking chair with his pipe, asking questions of the children and spectacularly answering their inquisitive questions.
The children didn’t get a tacky plastic gift like we are used to in Dubai – Instead they got a tiny, simple, metal bell. Mine thought this was ever so special because it was given by the real Father Christmas himself, and these bells have been treasured as the ultimate “jingle bells” in our house.
Santa’s Secret Hideaway was £176 for our family of four.
My Daughter and I were snug as a bug underneath a husky skin rug, for the chilly 25 km dash. Two people are seated per sleigh, so my Husband went with my Son and had the reins for our husky dash. This was probably my least favourite part of the trip, mostly because I’m not very good with animals and so found the barking of hundreds of huskies at the farm a bit overwhelming to be honest. However, my children adored the new, tiny husky puppy’s and we had a fantastic insight into the amazing stamina of these dogs and a beautiful, scenic tour of the forest.
The Husky Super Safari was £260 for our family of four but you can opt for a shorter, more cost efficient ‘mini safari’ too.
My husband was the ‘nominated driver’ for this one! This entailed some brief instructions and he couldn’t wait to get us speeding through the snow (and yes, snowmobiles can go fast!)
The snowmobiles have heated handle bars to prevent your hands from sticking, and I grabbed tightly around my husband’s waist, holding on for dear life! My children were safely snugged in a sleigh pulled behind the instructor’s snowmobile and we drive for about an hour through what I can only describe as the most magical winter wonderland I have ever seen in my life. Sights of frosted lakes, icicles and glimmers of sun squinting through the white forest were incredible.
We made our way to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, and had fresh hot berry juice boiled in an old metal kettle. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in my life as this day (but little did I know that this marked the start of me having the flu on this trip!). Feeling this excruciatingly cold, I can’t tell you how unbelievably good that berry juice tasted.
The funniest part of this excursion, was that my Son said those words you dread to hear when your teeth are chattering from the blistering cold… “Mummy, I need the toilet”. However, I had the perfect excuse for my Husband to have to venture out into the bitter cold, to help him.
The Snowmobile Safari cost £144 for our family of four.
We thought that as we’re likely to only do this trip once, we might as well do the reindeer safari too. We all really enjoyed this, as the children were allowed to choose which reindeer they want – (cue Rudolph in demand here!). Again, you can choose from a mini reindeer safari or a super safari, that lasts longer. Either way, the trip was about 4 hours from start to finish.
The reindeer safari was hosted by a local family who herd reindeers for a living and we learnt about the many things that traditional Lappish villagers use reindeer hide and antlers for, with an opportunity to purchase hand crafted souvenirs from them. There were the most beautiful hide rugs, antler key rings for children and even vacuum packed meats, so their little shop is well worth a look inside.
The Super Reindeer Safari cost £196 for our family of four.
With flights from Gatwick included, as well as transfers, all tours listed above, all equipment, ski passes for us all for 7 days, 5 days ski lessons for four people, our log cabin (which was a larger type and you can downgrade from this) and meals for four at nearby Akaäs Hotel, including the New Year’s Eve Gala, came to just over £7,000.
We found this excellent value, especially considering we left on Boxing Day morning and had New Year there too, (which is obviously peak season) and this is a trip my children make reference to time and time again.
If a log cabin’s not for you, we saw that Ylläs Saaga Spa Hotel, just five minutes up the road, has ski in/ski out rooms meaning you have to walk to a restaurant and you don’t even have to take a bus to the resort, meaning it’s super convenient for families too.
We do have one downside to our trip; no doubt you will have heard of nature’s most spectacular light show, the wonder of the Northern Lights.
In Lapland, the Northern Lights are visible approximately 200 nights a year, making it one of the best places to view them on earth, (as long as you have clear visibility).
Unfortunately, we had unusually mild and cloudy weather when we went, (and only two clear nights at the start of our stay), which coincided with our arrival. We didn’t make the effort at the start of our trip to venture out to see them, and this was something we lived to regret, as many other guests filled us with their reports of dancing bright green and pink aurora’s, and as the cloudy weather continued for the remainder of our holiday, it meant that they didn’t reappear again, despite us looking each subsequent night.
To be disappointed not to see the Northern Lights is an understatement; which now makes me even more adamant to return again one day. So what started off as the trip of a lifetime, was so spectacular, so unbelievably magical for the children and adults alike, has resulted in us saying we’ll most likely book this all over again one day!
For more info, you can contact Inghams on www.inghams.co.uk
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