Hello everyone! Back to Europe again, and it is time to start aligning with winter. Actually, it is time to get inside the heart of winter, as today's trip is in Finnish Lapland. Finnish Lapland (Finnish: Lappi) is the Arctic far north of Finland, strictly defined as the province of the same name, but in practice starting near the Arctic Circle. Temperatures can plunge as low as -50°C in the winter and the sun is not seen for days on end during the polar night (kaamos). By contrast, summer brings out the Midnight Sun and temperatures can occasionally rise to 30°C, although summer temperatures in the 10-20°C are mostly the norm. July is the warmest month.
Christmas with Santa Claus in Lapland sounds appealing, but it is often cold and dark at this time of the year; if traveling tourists should entrust their needs to a specialist. This an exceptionally good time to see the aurora borealis and Lapland is renowned for its visits to Joulupukki (Santa Claus).
By the end of February both the weather and the light improve, with temperatures on the better side of -10°C and nearly 12 hours of light a day, although the sun is low and it still feels like perpetual dusk! But the Finns only start to pack in at Easter, when things really start to heat up and it's possible to ski in the bright sunshine wearing only a T-shirt. It takes quite some time for the accumulated snow (as much as 2 meters) to melt off, and skiing may be possible as late as May.
In late spring and early summer, the landscape turns muddy as the snow melts, bringing on the curse of the Lappish mosquito (hyttynen), and if you think this sounds like a trivial nuisance you have never had to face up to the hordes that inhabit Lapland — don't venture out without industrial-strength insect repellent. Mosquitoes are far less present in the centers of the cities but it's virtually impossible to avoid the bite. Even though the mosquitoes' bites are itchy and their noise is irritating, they are completely harmless and contain no diseases.
On the upside, the famous midnight sun is visible almost everywhere in Lapland. Special events and film festivals are held to celebrate the midnight sun and equinox. At Rovaniemi the sun doesn't set at all between the beginning of June and the beginning of July, with this period growing longer as one travels farther north. Some foreigners have difficulty sleeping during these nightless periods, though a simple sleep mask should go a long way.
By late July the mosquitoes start to die out and they're usually gone by late August. Hiking in the middle of ruska, the colorful time of autumn, is a worthwhile experience. Other activities are held in Summer, such as quad biking, river boating, and fishing. Another key event in August is Luosto Classic, an open-air classical music festival in Luosto.
Lapland is the Wild North of Finland and the last refuge of Finland's Sámi people, who subsist on reindeer herding and (increasingly these days) selling trinkets to curious visitors.
There is not too much history to see, because at the end of the Second World War, retreating German troops implemented a scorched earth policy to punish their Finnish allies for agreeing to peace with the Soviet Union, razing everything in their path. By the time they were done, 100,000 people had fled, 675 bridges blown up, all major roads mined and the capital Rovaniemi had only 13 houses left standing.
But then, people don't come to Lapland for the architecture, they come here for the nature. While there are no craggy mountains or fjords here, the endless pine forests and the treeless rounded fells (tunturi) poking out between them can also be breathtakingly beautiful.
The local language is Finnish, but as in everywhere in Finland, you'll survive very well with English. Swedish, though official, is rarely spoken due to Lapland's inland location. Therefore, English is basically the sole option for those who don't speak Finnish. Sámi languages are spoken sparsely in northernmost areas (Sodankylä, Inari, Utsjoki and Enontekiö).
Entering Finnish Lapland
Flying is the most practical and fastest means of reaching much of Lapland, but for most destinations services are sparse and prices often steep. There are commercial airports in Enontekiö, Ivalo, Kemi/Tornio, Kittilä and Rovaniemi. Best options for airlines are Finnair, Blue1 and Finncomm Airlines. Air Baltic flies to Rovaniemi and Kittilä from Riga.
Long distance buses cover practically all of even the smallest places. They are the cheapest and slowest means of transportation. Although there are bus stops of course, they can also be stopped by hand sign when you happen to meet one as a hiker on a lonely countryside road.
You can reach the most places in Lapland by car, but traffic even on main roads is sparse and distances are great. Driving in Arctic conditions can be hazardous in winter. Winter tires (M+S) are mandatory from 1 December through the end of February. The most dangerous weather is in fact when the temperature is around freezing, when slippery but near-invisible black ice forms on the roads.
Stay very alert, particularly at dawn and dusk, for wild animals. Reindeer are a common cause of accidents, while collisions with much larger moose are rarer but very often lethal. If you hit a reindeer, you always must inform the locals, even if the animal seems to be unharmed, as they will, in turn, inform the owner of the deer. (You won't be charged with anything unless you were drunk or speeding.) Bring emergency supplies in case of a collision or breakdown, especially in winter. Locals will help if they can, but you may be in for a long, very cold wait.
Unlike moose which usually runs to the road suddenly and alone, the reindeers hang around peacefully in groups and collisions are usually easy to avoid when slowing down at once when first rein deers appear in sight.
Liikenneturva, the Finnish road safety agency, maintains a Tips for winter driving page in English.
Distances in Finnish Lapland are great and train service extends only to Kemijärvi (a little northeast of Rovaniemi) and Kolari, so the independent traveler will thus have to rely on slightly cheaper but infrequent buses to get around. Hitchhiking is also possible, but traffic is sparse even on the main highways and this can only be recommended during the brief summer season. On the other hand, the likeliness of getting a lift is quite high once a car passes.
Bitterly cold in winter, usually not very warm in summer, and sparsely populated, the main draws for visitors are the desolate yet majestic nature and the unparalleled opportunities for trekking and winter sports. Several national parks can be found in Lapland with marked hiking paths and log cabins open to the public for free. But in contrast to Norway, they are only equipped with an oven and wood for heating, no food is provided.
Bear in mind that Lapland consists of largely flat, vast forests and a lot of swamps: there are no soaring mountains or Alpine skiing pistes here, just gentle, rounded fells (e.g. arctic treeless mountains, tunturi). In the northernmost regions (Utsjoki and Enontekiö) you will find also treeless areas, but real tundra is absent in Finland. Mountainous views are mostly located in "the arm" at Enontekiö, but because of the location of the road right next to the fells, best views are actually towards Sweden. Still, there is magnificent environment available for hikers!
Finland's highest mountain, Halti (1328m) in the farthest north-west end of Lapland is not much more than a higher hill of loose rocks, the lower summit of a mountain with its top on the Norwegian side of the border.
For hikers, fishermen, and hunters, there is a nice online map of Finland with trails and huts marked.
Lapland is the place to sample reindeer (poro) dishes, which are not too common elsewhere in Finland. The traditional way to eat this is as reindeer hash (poronkäristys), usually eaten with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam.
Other Lappish specialties worth looking out for are snow grouse (riekko) and the delectable cloudberry (lakka or hilla), the world's most expensive berry. It grows in swamps, unripe it is red, ripe it is light orange, it contains a lot of vitamin C. In shops you find it most likely as jam (lakkahillo).
A La Carte Lapland (Lapland Safaris), Lapintie 7, Sodankyla Finland, ☎ 358 (0)201 620 600. AlaCarte Lapland provides accommodations and activites. Activities range from snowmobile safaris, husky and reindeer visits, ice climbing, and other outdoor activities.
Most nightlife is concentrated to Kemi and Rovaniemi and especially at wintertime: to the skiing centers! When hiking in the wilderness it's quite safe to drink water from larger rivers even without boiling. Do not take from small streams even though the water looks clear - it may come from a marsh. Boil lakewater.
Where to sleep
According to the Everyman's Right (jokamiehenoikeus) one can set up a camp anywhere in the forest, no matter who owns the land. However, making a fire is allowed only on extreme occasions or by special permission of the landowner. There are lots of good quality hotels and hostels around Lapland.
Hotel Bear Inn (Hotel Bear Inn), Lapintie 7 99600 Sodankyla Finland (From Rovaniemi: If you're arriving by plane or train in Rovaniemi, Hotell Karhu are only 130 kilometers, approximately one hour and thirty minutes drive. Simply take the E4 north and you'll find Sodankyla. The Hotel Bear Inn is located in the center of town By Bus: If you're coming by bus from Rovaniemi, there are several daily departures. For the most current information, please contact hotel reception desk and they'll be happy to assist you. By Car: If you're traveling by car, you can find the Hotel by the highway E4/75. They have onsite parking and motor heating is available in the winter.), ☎ +358 (0)201 620610. check-in: 13:00; checkout: 11:00. Welcome to Hotel Bear Inn in Sodankyla Finland. Superbly located just off the main E4 road the Bear Inn is the premier hotel in Sodankyla, ideally positioned for tourism and business alike or even as an overnight stop en route to Northern Finland.
Know your limits. The winter environment is perfectly capable of killing the unwary tourist who gets lost in the fells. The rescue service works well – each year several tourists are rescued and only rarely any serious injury is sustained – but taking your chances is not recommended.
If you plan to travel alone or, for example in your own car, remember that distances are great and getting help for any unexpected situation may take time. Plan accordingly; take extra warm clothes in your car and tell the hotel staff where you are heading and when you expect to come back. One more thing worth mentioning is the hunting season: Natives are usually very keen on hunting, and the start of the season draws most hunters into the wilderness. Potential dangers can be countered by wearing a red cap or some other easily identified garment, and staying away from areas where hunting is allowed during the season.
Otherwise, there are few serious dangers to your well-being. Tap water and even water of lakes and creeks are potable (in most places, bottled water contains more harmful compounds than tap water) and foods are almost without exception safe to eat. Crime rates are low and people are helpful and nice in general, but noisy foreigners on Friday night in a local pub/discotheque might be sitting ducks for harassment (in extreme cases; violent attacks) by drunken male villagers. This is mostly the problem of skiing centers. The probability of getting robbed or of any other harm is still extremely low.
In case you read this article and you found it fascinating, you may proceed and have a small break between November 2017 and January 2018.
Last but not least, every good trip starts with the nice mood and of course the right preparation. Make sure that you have managed to get all your documents, and also get the best accessories and gadgets, in order to make your trip a smart, comfortable but mostly a safe experience!
Visit tripatricks.com for more gadgets and accessories, and participate in the big Sale 20% off in all electronic and pet travel products (in case that you are traveling with your buddy).
Now that you know it all, go and get it!