Way up in Northern Finland, approximately 185 miles above the Arctic Circle line, and about 30 miles from the Russian border, lies a small town named Saariselka in the region of Lapland. Saariselka is Europe’s most northern resort town and is known for its large hilly landscapes and clean air. A five minute walk from the village center brings you away from the lights of the town and into the peace of the wilderness. The town itself has 300 permanent residents and even though there are many visitors, the town continues to hold a peaceful, serene feeling. Winter in Finland is definitely a special and unique experience.
Weather and the Region
The region has six weeks of uninterrupted sunlight in June/July, and six weeks of darkness in December/January. On our first day, the sun rose at 10:38am and quickly set at 2:04pm totaling 3:26 hours of sunlight! The amount of sunlight at this time quickly increases through the month and by the end of January the region will be up to 5:35 hours of sunlight.
The week we visited Saariselka they were having a ‘warm’ week of weather with temperatures ranging from 7-25 degrees F. Typically the temperatures are coldest during January and range from -20 – 14 degrees F, though a couple of years ago it got down to -63 F! Obviously, we packed many many layers, plus our typical ski gear. While walking around the town we took notice of the fresh crisp air and saw that snow covered every surface. It undoubtedly was a winter wonderland.
It was a little bit of a process getting to Saariselka. We flew into Helsinki, then connected on a flight to Ivalo. Next, we took a 30 minute bus ride (that had been waiting at the airport for our flight) to Saariselka. The bus dropped us off in the “center” of town, which was about a 10 minute walk from the cabin we had rented with our friends (another couple and their one year old).
In the town are restaurants and a grocery store. The restaurants serve typical Finnish cuisine highlighting reindeer and salmon. We arrived late the first night, but the next day we walked into town and bought some local food at the supermarket to take back for lunches and a few dinners.
Reindeer Sleigh Ride
Our first activity was a reindeer sleigh ride through the woods of Lapland, about ten minutes from Saariselka. With two people per sleigh we slowly went through a path in the woods with the moonlight shining our way. The guide who led the reindeer was a member of the Sami people, a rich culture with an interesting history that stretches over the Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish Lapland. This group of people are trying to preserve their culture and small community as much as they can. It was so interesting learning more about them. After our ride we were invited into a typical Sami “hut” and drank warm gooseberry juice next to the campfire. We were also fortunate to hear an old Sami song that was sung by our guide.
The next day Jon and I left for our second Arctic adventure – a husky safari! We were taken to a ranch where the barking of enthusiastic dogs welcomed us at the start. The head musher talked about the life and training of the Alaskan Huskies, which are better suited to run and pull longer distances than Siberian Huskies. Before leaving we were given instructions on how to control the sleds, which we rode in pairs. For two hours the dogs ran and pulled us through the woods, up and down hills, and around tight curves. Whenever we would stop the dogs would start barking and howling, anxious to get going again. After our rides we met our team of dogs and had a chance to look around the ranch. In total they have 106 huskies, all eager to run!
We were then led into a snow covered hut equipped with a fire stove and set tables. We were welcomed with a mug of hot gooseberry juice and a large bowl of reindeer and vegetable stew. It was just what we needed to escape the cold and warm up.
Search For the Northern Lights Via Snowmobile
After a quick hour of rest, we headed out for the night for our next excursion, a search for the Northern Lights by snowmobile. With the moonlight flowing down, we drove the snowmobiles through snow covered forests, and over treeless fells, stopping a few times to look at the sky. We drove to an igloo site where we were given hot chocolate and grilled sausages. While we didn’t see the Northern Lights on this adventure, we had an amazing time driving about 25 miles on this Lapland adventure.
The Northern Lights
After getting back to the cabin we opened a bottle of wine to warm up. Since it was a fairly clear night the boys decided to go for a walk to see if the Northern Lights would make an appearance. I just couldn’t bring myself to go back outside in the cold at 12:30am! However, after walking around for an hour and feeling defeated, the boys saw a faint green light in the sky. The clouds soon moved and this is what they were surprised with…
Eating, Drinking, Relaxing
Besides our excursions we spent a lot of time relaxing and eating! We walked and played in the snow, sampled the Finnish cuisine, and spent time in front of the fireplace drinking hot chocolate with peppermint liquor. We loved this vacation and are so happy that we were able to spend part of our winter in Finland!