I’ve been arranging holidays for the O’Donnell family for quite a few years. I loved arranging this special trip as it was very different style of holiday for them. Karina is a wedding celebrant and writes personal vows for her couples. I love her way with words.
I used Nikki to book me a holiday for my husband’s 60th birthday in January. We aren’t a couple who spend hours sitting by the pool or lying on the sun beds at the beach, so I took advantage of the cold weather and booked a four-day stay in Finland.
We booked half-board accommodation and in advance booked our activities through Nikki. These included husky sledging, a trip across the Arctic circle on a snowmobile, a guided walk uphill to see the Northern Lights and a visit to the reindeer centre and sleigh ride.
Booking was simple. Nikki provided a choice of hotels and I decided to up the game a little with a request for a superior hotel. The one we ended up with not only came with a log fire in the lounge and huge picture windows which looked out over the snowy ski resort, but a fabulous sauna in the bathroom too.
Nikki arranged all of our transfers and I was very relieved to find her on the end of the phone at 6pm Finnish time (8pm UK) when our plane was delayed due to ice on the plane wings, and we missed the bus transfer to our resort. Thankfully, we only had to wait three hours in the deserted Rovaniemi airport until the next bus… Have you ever been to an airport which is closed for three hours? It was completely empty and there were no staff around at all… Frozen tumbleweed springs to mind… And it was -21° outside at this point.
With the next bus being 9:30pm and a 90-minute journey ahead, the hotel was going to be closed. However, Nikki remained in contact and was able to confirm that someone in the hotel would be around to give us our key, and even better, as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, there would be dinner left for us in our room for a midnight feast. We finally got on the bus. Warm and toasty, the temperature gauge showed as dropping and dropping and at the coldest point, just as we arrived at Santas Aurora, a winter wonderland resort in Luosto, we hit -23°.
Our gastronomic meal of smoked salmon and other Finnish delicacies was waiting for us on arrival to our room and we went to bed, with the curtains open, watching the snow fall outside.
Breakfast was served in the restaurant and was a fabulous continental buffet. Lots of great choice and plenty of strong coffee. We were going to need that to ensure we were wide awake for the planned activities.
We left to head outside to collect our complimentary snowsuits across the road at the event lodge. We were provided with an insulated and snow proofed onesie, and thermal socks and boots which were ours for the duration. Whilst trying on our boots, we were slightly concerned that mine were really big for me, despite the thick socks, and Peter’s were far too tight. Assuming we had been given the wrong size boots, we queried this with the staff, only for them to point out we were indeed wearing each other’s boots. You can tell we’ve never holidayed like this before.
With various thermal layers of our own, purchased from Mountain Warehouse online, we looked like something akin to the Michelin man… but we were warm and dry.
We explored the grounds of the Hotel Aurora, following signs to the lake, but never found it, but walking on fresh, crisp white snow, which was replenished daily was incredible. The ski slope was close-by and if we had wanted to, we could’ve hired mountain bikes, snow shoes and little sledges for the children.
The afternoon was spent out on a snowmobile. We donned balaclavas, crash helmets and thick mittens over our gloves. My husband (as did all the men in our group) took charge of the bike and I sat behind.
We drove out across the Arctic Circle, over the frozen river and through the forest for a couple of hours.
We stopped halfway through to sit by the fire with a hot drink before being given the opportunity to swap over the driving… I chose to continue as pillion.
We didn’t see any elk and the brown bears were still hibernating. We did however, ride over 40km across a bumpy snow terrain through forest trails and across rivers.
There is no power steering and despite being wrapped up, we had frozen noses and eyelashes. We slept well that night after a delicious dinner and plenty of hot chocolates by the log fire.
Our first activity of the next day was husky sledging. This was the most fun thing I have done, EVER. You need to try it.
We were taken by coach into the wilderness to meet the huskies. We could hear them before we saw them. Fifty huskies all raring to go for a run and then the ones who were missing out that day howling in the background.
We were introduced to our husky team, but asked not to pet them at the start as they were very excited and raring to go… We each had a team of five dogs and were shown how to mush them into action, how to stop, how to stay stopped and how to ensure we don’t injure any dogs with the sled.
My husband decided it was my job to drive the sled and he would sit on the sled and enjoy the experience. The designated snow trail is icy and bumpy. There are hills to go up which meant running to help the dogs up the hill and then on the way back down the other side, I had to jump (whilst moving at speed) to get both of my feet onto the narrow ski struts to then continue whizzing down the hill, braking where necessary so I didn’t run into our team of dogs plus at the same time controlling the sled and hoping, with fingers crossed, that I didn't lose my passenger every time we went over a bump. I can’t tell you how much fun I had on this activity. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
The five dogs are selected and placed in situ for a reason. Two females at the front, for intelligence and the fact they follow instructions. They judge the direction you need to go in. One noisy dog in the middle to bark instructions and keep the others moving, but described as not very intelligent... just cute. The two at the back where the sled weight is drawn, are both male, used solely for their brawn.
If you know how packs work in rugby, you’ll understand this analogy. The flyhalf and centre at the front. The props at the back with the scrumhalf in the middle.
Once we returned from the trail, we were able to reward our doggies with cuddles and petting. They were such sweeties and had the most wonderful temperaments.
We were shown around the puppy kennels and were treated to a delicious hot berry drink and cake in the warm hut where we learned about the differences between Alaskan and Siberian huskies.
The Siberian husky is the one you might recognise as pets in the UK. Thick fur, pointy ears and often blue eyes or one blue and one brown. The Alaskan husky is the by-product of a naughty Siberian husky and any other breed they could find for a night of passion. They are a combination of husky, wolfhound, greyhound, German shepherd or anything else which stood still for long enough. However, as a breed they are incredibly intelligent, gentle yet strong and perfect for the work they do.
The next day, we went on our reindeer sleigh ride. It reminded me of a gentle ride at Disney, with everyone tied together and following in a line. Reindeer are herd animals and like to keep up with each other, so this was a very lovely, easy journey guided through the forest, relying on the fact that the reindeer pulling our sleigh wanted to catch up with his friend in front. It also meant, we spent the trip with Boris the reindeer from behind, breathing hot air in our ears as he surged forward to join his friends.
We saw the reindeer in their natural habitat and heard from one of the guides about how reindeer farming works for both conservation of land but also feeding of the population. Reindeer meat is on most restaurant menus and we did try some during our stay.
That afternoon (early evening), we joined a group of 12 30-something French guys to head up the hill next to the ski slope to see the Northern Lights. Sadly, this was not at all what we expected.
Walking in snowshoes is an art in itself. Up a mountain, at pace is another. A race to the top with a team of competitive guys was not what we had in mind and we were very disappointed with our guide who clearly had no interest in our enjoyment and very quickly our inability to keep up the march.
We were both really struggling with the walk, Peter with his breathing, and we made an executive decision to head back down the track… which we were encouraged to do by the guide and group, on our own, to avoid delaying everyone else from reaching the top in time for the Aurora display, which according to six different smart watch apps was about to happen within minutes.
This walk was advertised as a gentle 10km hike, but for us, it wasn’t the case and if you are not into fast hiking up a mountain, then don’t book this one.
It’s a beautiful thing that karma was our friend that night… No light show for anyone due to the low cloud levels - apparently they were in Cornwall instead.
We didn’t want to end our holiday on a downer, so the following morning we chose to book a further snowmobile trip out across the Arctic Circle, at great speed, with a fantastic sausage cooking fest in a mid-forest hut.
We didn’t get to see the Northern Lights that night either, but eating hotdogs outside in the falling snow is a memory I will treasure forever.
I’m not an active person and see myself as a bit of a couch potato, but this short holiday was the best we’ve ever had and we would do it again in a heartbeat.
We crammed so much in and were pleasantly exhausted on our return. Only this morning, whilst telling my husband I was writing this blog for Nikki, he mentioned we should do it all again.
Karina and Peter O’Donnell