In recent years, my husband and I seem to have started a tradition of going north to ring in the new year. This year, we went all the way to the Arctic Circle to celebrate properly in Rovaniemi, the town in Finnish Lapland that lays claim to being the official home of Santa Claus. While we decided to skip a visit to the Santa Claus Village this time, from the road it seemed like a truly magical experience for children and Santa-lovers of all ages. We were in town for something a bit more extreme this time…
That’s right. Finland is one of a few of the world’s most northern countries with the winter climate to support a hotel made entirely of ice and snow! There are a few such hotels in Finnish Lapland, but we were extremely pleased and impressed with our stay at the Arctic Snowhotel & Glass Igloos about 20 minutes’ drive north of Rovaniemi. More on the facilities in a bit, but first: how did we get there? While Rovaniemi does have a conveniently-located airport, we opted instead (as we often do) to take the train.
So… after a quick evening walking around Helsinki and enjoying the early new year’s fireworks, we boarded the overnight Santa Claus Express headed for Rovaniemi. For a premium, we secured a comfortable sleeper cabin with two bunkbeds and a private ensuite bathroom and shower. After a bottle of bubbly in the bar car to ring in the new year, we retired to our room where the train rocked us to a very peaceful sleep. So peaceful, in fact, that we slept with the sun until about 10:00, just in time to disembark as the train pulled into Rovaniemi around 10:45.
To make the most of the day’s 5-6 hours of daylight – and because checkin wasn’t until 15:00 – we dropped our luggage at reception and grabbed some of the hotel’s complimentary snowshoes to explore the frozen lake nearby and wade through the powder forests surrounding it.
Worn out and a bit chilly from our hike, we were greeted upon our return to the hotel by a friendly local reindeer and then escorted by the staff to our private session in the traditional Finnish sauna, SNOW sauna (pictured below), and jacuzzi (also nestled atop a snow wall in the picture below).
Feeling nice and relaxed, we took a tour of the hotel and grabbed some pre-dinner drinks in the Ice Bar. This is the ninth year that the hotel has been completely rebuilt with a new design and – the staff assured us – without any construction materials other than man-made snow and ice cut from the lake nearby. The hotel even employs art students from the University of Lapland to help carve some of the incredible snow designs. Some highlights:
One of real cultural highlights of the trip was dinner that night in the hotel’s traditional Finnish Kota, which served “glow friend salmon” – cooked right on the fire in the center of the restaurant and the most delicious we’ve ever tasted.
Warmed from the fire, and with bellies full of wine and delicious salmon, we headed back over to our room in the snow hotel. While the temperature inside was a balmy -10°C, we slept very well in our bed atop reindeer pelts and inside sleeping bags warm enough for temperatures of 20 below. The only downside? As you might imagine, installing plumbing in a snow hotel would be a little tricky, so an overnight bathroom break meant scurrying to the log cabin that hosts the hotel’s reception. But no mind, we awoke well-rested the next morning to a cup of warm berry juice and a delicious breakfast spread and prepared for the day’s adventure: dog-sledding!
Rovaniemi has tons of great, professional tour companies that offer a wide variety of wilderness safari experiences from snowmobiling to visiting reindeer farms. We opted to go for the two-hour dog-sledding tour offered by Safartica and had a truly incredible experience.
Two hours was the perfect amount of time on the sled in the chilly temperature, though we were also provided nice warm snowsuits from the tour company to protect us from the elements. At the end, we enjoyed some warm berry juice by the kota fire and learned about the care and training of the huskies, who are most comfortable when temperatures dip to -20°C!
That afternoon we walked around charming Rovaniemi and visited the impressively-designed Arctic Museum, or Arktikum, before making our way back for the overnight train to Helsinki airport and back home to Kosovo.
It was a quick, but amazing trip that I highly recommend!