THE Frozen North calls to me every so often and I just have to go – it makes me feel like I am heading to Narnia. There is something magical about the Kamoos light in the month of December which only happens when the daylight and arctic mist meet to shed a radiance of cloud berry coloured light across the snow.
'Over the open fire in the tepee we cooked sausages on a stick as we sipped warm berry juice while the children enjoyed toasting their marshmallows'
Pristine, sparkly, yet inviting, the Arctic is a site to behold. Frozen lakes, powder snow and fells await as the cold crisp dry air nips around my nose. Wearing layers of specially designed Finnish romper suits, I have my family in tow as we head to Taivaanvalkealt to seek out Santa Claus at the special Tonttula Elves Cottage.
I have visited this place at least 20 times before, yet each time I learn something new or see something I had missed before. One year I was asked by Lappish reindeer herdsmen if I would like to see his ‘Jacksee’! I kid you not. But as we say things can be lost in translation and what he in fact was referring to was his newly installed Jacuzzi outside the sauna at Lake Immeljarvi – we did laugh once we had cleared that up! This time my nine-year-old son taught me ‘poo’ in Finnish which means tree. Something I had managed to avoid in the past.
On this crisp morning, the children were introduced to new customs as well as good old fashioned play that did not involve an ipad! We played Molkky, a traditional Finnish game resembling bowling, with huge pins that looked like Santa. We took a kicksled, which is an established way for children in Finland to travel to school. One child sits and the other steers.
I soon found out it was a good to strengthen muscles as I pushed that growing son across the slick paths. Elves football, was a huge hit where Jingle Jamie, one of Santa’s little helpers, was a whizz on the pitch. The children also loved the toboggan slides and many hours were spent playing outside.
A snowmobile train was the best transport to get us to a traditional Finnish tepee called a Kota. Covered in reindeer hide, this kept us warm as we were whisked through the frozen forest. The shapes of the trees resembled an army of Penguins which seemed to be standing to attention but looked ready to march when Santa blew his whistle. In the warmth, over the open fire in the tepee we cooked sausages on a stick as we sipped warm berry juice while the children enjoyed toasting their marshmallows.
Santa lives in Korkkullaa, which is high up at the top of Finland near the North Pole, with his Elves and reindeer, but luckily for us he popped down to one of his offices near Levi to visit the children.
We met Mrs Santa Claus and helped her with the gingerbread making as she told us it was Santa’s favourite. We were urged to take them home, but the enchanting waft from the oven meant the children managed to polish them off before you could say Comet the reindeer, who was waiting downstairs for us munching on magic moss. Yes, it’s what helps the reindeer fly at Christmas.
We waited outside Santa’s big door with my son’s letter as well as chocolate coins he had bought Santa to give him some extra energy before his long journey across the world on December 24. In person the big man in red was charming, funny but most endearing of all, he actually looked exactly the way he was when I saw him 20 years ago and not a day older.
Toboggans are the best way to take anything or anyone around as the frozen paths make transporting so much easier. For children Levi and snow go hand in hand, it was a lot of fun.
Levi is billed as an arctic outdoors adventure playground and that is exactly what we came to experience. At Tundra Huskies, just a short journey outside of Levi, we met Tom the owner of the magical Siberian huskies kennels. This kennel is home to 70 dogs, which were raring to bound across the frozen lakes and into the forests.
My boys have never been on a husky safari before and I must say the safety talk did put them off a wee bit. Once it has registered that the trip was about balance and weight, not just lying there doing nothing – they engaged fully for the whole experience. Our six huskies were led by a beautiful white bitch called Blondie; she was the boss as we let the brake off and felt like we were in the Dr Zhivago film. The rest of her team were a mix of dog/ wolf hybrid and pure huskies.
Twenty minutes later we had covered two and a half kilometres of ground and come to a standstill on Tom’s orders for the important passenger/driver swap. All my weight on the brake as the boys jumped out was just enough to keep the dogs from karting me off into the forest. We continued along the remote peaceful track with shrieks from my son as dogs did try and pee as they ran. He found this rather amusing! The smell of the forest and the dogs together is quite an acquired taste, but I will not forget it.
On arrival we met a kennel of more excited dogs and found a pregnant mother who was just about to bring new puppies to life. She howled and the spookiness of the woods suddenly felt very real.
For a diversion after all this excitement we headed out for a spot of crab at the King Crab House in the heart of Levi. The couple who run this cosy restaurant are Håkon and Toini Karlsen from Norway, who have owned a hotel and fish restaurant in Repvåg for 20 years.
They came to Levi as they wanted to bring the North Norwegian atmosphere to the middle of Lapland and opened their doors in Levi in the beginning of November 2012.
Every type of seafood on the menu is brought straight from the Arctic Sea, usually by Håkon himself. The king crab lives in about 200-400m deep and is a very large creature. Its body can be up to a diameter of 22cm and weigh 15kg. The ones we saw in the aquarium were caught along the neighbouring Norwegian coast at North Cape (Nordkapp) at the part where the Norwegian Sea part of the Atlantic Ocean meets the Barents Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean.
The edible parts are the legs and shoulders with tasty white meat. We would have opted for the choice of a live crab which the kitchen prepares and is served with a melange of different sauces and lovely potatoes. A medium size king crab, which is around 3kg, is enough for eight persons for a starter and four for a main course.
Instead, as we were three, we enjoyed a succulent king crab croquette and green salad followed by a creamy seafood soup and for the little one cod and chips. To end the meal we shared a delightful carrot cake with cream cheese ice-cream.
Skiing in Scandinavia is a completely different experience to anywhere else in the world. The quieter, wider slopes also make it a great place for children to play and to find freedom under their own skis. The scenery is mysterious with huge expanse of terrain perfect for a family day of skiing. One thing this winter is its snow, sure even in early December, so we gathered skis and passes and head up the mountain for an adventure. Taking the north gondola up the mountain, we skied on the blue and red pistes. There are 44 individual pistes, served by 27 ski lifts, so plenty to play on.
We howled with laughter in the Snow Park, me on the snowboard and the rest on skis. We raced through the fell until the gentle wind on our faces helped us to head in to the warming Café Tuikku for a local treat of Mintu and hot chocolate for the adults and a milkshake for the little one. This stop had an exceptional view over Lapland.
Expeditions by snow mobiles, dog-sledding and ice karting are also all available to add to the thrill of Lapland, and we couldn’t help ourselves at the end the day heading to a traditional sauna, a fun activity which is second nature to Scandinavians.
I met with Yvette Vaucher today who was the first woman to climb the north face of the Matterhorn.…Read more
I'd have preferred it if this article had fewer details about the Cote d'Azur and more about the…Read more
For God's sake, why put flights to Zurich, which is hours and hours away. The nearest airport is…Read more
Hi, I'm wondering if there was in fact some typo's with the breathing/pacing figures above...…Read more