The winters in Stockholm, Sweden, are long and cold. Unbeknownst to a Travelin’ Man raised in the sweltering summers of the southern United States, a lot of people prefer an area with more cold than warm. They enjoy snow skiing, snow boarding, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, bandy (like hockey but with a ball instead of a puck), and much more.
We are expats, and have lived in Stockholm for almost two years now. Last winter we buckled down and admired the snow from underneath our warm, cozy blankets. But this winter is different. This winter we decided to go out there and see what all the fuss is about!
As I mentioned, we live in Stockholm. And we don’t even have a car. The public transportation system in Stockholm is top-notch. Modern, efficient, and cheap. So we walked five minutes to the subway station. Since it hadn’t been able to get above freezing for a few days, there was still about two or three inches of old snow on the ground, which was a tad slippery.
We took the red line subway to central station, then hopped off and bought our tickets for the high-speed train. This train will whisk you from central station to the Arlanda airport in under twenty minutes (up to 45 min drive). From there, we hopped on our connecting flight to Helsinki. This was about a 45 minute flight. After a short lay-over, we boarded the plane destined for the Ivalo airport.
After about an hour and a half, our plane approached the frozen town of Ivalo, Finland. As we circled the airport, we could see what we were up against. It was like seeing a beautiful, frozen fantasy world. Thick forests of evergreen trees loaded with snow. While the color palate was simple, it was the presentation that blew me away. Bright white snow, tree branches loaded with powdery snow, silvery-grey frozen trunks, black shadows. The sky had distinctive layers of color. It was an odd bluish-grey that changed to an eggshell closer to the horizon.
Then I could see what I was sure was the airport, but where was the runway? You couldn’t even see it as it was covered in snow! And I’m not sure airport is the right term here. Air strip is more appropriate. See for yourself:
But here we are! After we got our luggage, we went out to the main area where there was a driver waiting for us. He would take us, plus about four others, to the resort. The roads, like the runway, are covered in snow. But the driver doesn’t seem to notice as we fly down the highway in the van like there was nothing to it.
I took this one (above) as we were zipping along in the van. There’s a lot of information in this picture. Firstly, it shows that we’re moving pretty fast. And the white space between here and the woods is the other lane, so you can see how snowy the road is. You can also see from this picture how desolate and beautiful the area is. I think we saw two other vehicles during the twenty-minute drive. I have never seen this much snow in my life.
So here we are, at the Kakslauttanen Resort near Laanila, Finland, in the Lapland district of Scandinavia. Wait… where? That’s right, we are about 200km inside the arctic circle. Wintertime high temperatures here typically vary from (Fahrenheit) 10 to -20 degrees. It snowed some while we were here, but there was already about two and a half feet of snow on the ground. Daytime highs hovered around a balmy 0 to 12 degrees, falling quickly after the sun sets. And, mind you, the sun rises at around 10am and sets before 3pm this time of year.
But I have to tell you, this place is an awesome experience. The resort is incredible, there are tons of great things to do, and the staff is extremely helpful and friendly. They treat you like a VIP. By the time you get to your igloo, you can tell this is one of those vacations that’s going to leave a lasting impression on your life. And you should check out their website, it has more details and some fantastic pictures. Check it out by clicking here.
We had booked all of our activities from the web, so when we checked in, they reviewed our itinerary with us. We got a map and directions on how to get to our igloo, then we loaded up our luggage on the “luggage sled” and off we went to our cozy igloo. As you can see, above, I got to do the uphills while Jana did the downhills. I could lie and say it was a five-mile trek through a raging blizzard. But in real life, it was a pleasant ten minute walk. It was snowing lightly, and there was no wind. While still completely covered with packed snow, the path had been recently plowed. Get off the path, sink in snow. More on that later.
Their big claim to fame here is the glass igloos. There are two different types of igloos. There is the stand-alone igloo, and there is the attached igloo. The stand-alone igloos are regular glass igloos. They are small but cozy and have a small bathroom but no shower (public shower building nearby). These are located in what they refer to as “the east village”.
The attached igloos are physically connected to a larger cabin and are a separate room inside the cabin. The cabins are set up for six people, so they are large, and they’re located in the “west village”. They have full bathrooms with shower, sauna, and a small kitchen.
The east and west villages are a good distance apart. You can only get from one to the other via a shuttle van, and it’s about a five-minute ride. Thus, each village has its own reception area and restaurant. We tried both sides and, from what we could tell, they both served the same food. The east side, the one with the small igloos, has a smaller, cozier restaurant since there are only 30 or 40 guests, compared to 70 or more on the west side. The west side restaurant isn’t as cozy, but it has more panache.
We stayed in the stand-alone (east village) for two nights, and the attached igloo (west side) for one night. I’ll detail each of them below.
The Stand-Alone Igloo (east side)
In a word: cozy! It almost felt like entering a little hobbit-house. And even with all that glass, they were warm and toasty on the inside. Come on in and have a look!
There are two twin beds, one on each side, that you can push together in the middle, and a bathroom. The bathroom is toilet and sink only, no shower. There is a building not far away that has public showers. It also has additional bathrooms. There’s also a sauna and, for the true Vikings, an outdoor dipping pool. Seriously.
If you Look closely there, you will see that some snow has accumulated on the top glass sections. That’s because it was snowing at the time I took the pictures. When it’s not snowing, the snow on the glass melts away and you can see the sky above.
The beds recline, so you can comfortably lay and watch the stars above you and, if you’re lucky, you might even see the Northern Lights right from your bed!
The small igloo felt like a camping trip, you know, a little wild. Like a big, civilized tent protected from the frozen wonderland. This definitely wasn’t one of those leisurely sit around vacations, so we didn’t actually spend a lot of time in the igloo. We were either on an adventure, or in the restaurant/bar area. Which brings up the next subject….
East Side Restaurant/Bar
I told you it was cozy! The service was top-notch, and the food was outstanding. It may be a rustic, cozy resort, but make no mistake, this is fine dining. Each dish was cooked to perfection, and eloquently presented.
Now, in case you haven’t ever been to Scandinavia, they have a lot of reindeer here. We actually saw some in the wild. And as you know, they’re great for pulling sleighs through the snow (the flying ones are further north). We actually did a reindeer sleigh ride while we were here. So why am I bringing this up in the section about the restaurant? Well, because they also like to eat reindeer. I have to admit that I have eaten them, too, even in Stockholm, and…. they taste better than beef steak! I’ve never been a big fan of venison. It has that wild taste that is actually not bad, it just takes some getting used to. I always thought reindeer would be like that, but it’s not. It just tastes like a more flavorful steak and, in most cases, is more tender than beef steak.
So, having said that, the reindeer steak here was exquisite. So tender and juicy, and cooked to perfection. It was served with a red wine sauce and tasted like heaven. It really was the best dish I had the whole time we were there. You cut it with a butter knife, perfectly pink on the inside, melts in your mouth. YUM!
I know, hard to hold a candle to a review like that, but the wild boar was also good in it’s own right. And the desert was very unique and tasty. Cloud berries on top of a custard-like pudding inside an edible pastry bowl. Delicious Nordic tart!
The bar is downstairs from the restaurant. While yes, it is a bit dated, it just adds to its charm. There was a good selection of wine and plenty of custom cocktails. They didn’t think it was cold enough to light the fire (far right-hand side of the pic), but happily did so at our request.
The West Side Igloo
Brace yourself… here it is:
We stayed in this one for one night. As you can see, the igloo is literally attached to the cabin as an adjacent room. The log cabin architecture with the attached glass structure gives it a modern-primitive hybrid appeal.
There is way more space than two people could use here. As I mentioned before, there isn’t a lot of downtime since you are pretty busy with all the activities.
But if you do have a little downtime, this is a great place to have it! Fireplace with rocking chair, comfy snuggle area, kitchen (with fridge), and yes, that’s a sauna in the bathroom! Now for all you city slickers out there (like us), there is one tiny catch. As with the small igloos, there is no TV, radio, or WiFi (there is WiFi in restaurants/bars). You come here to unplug and relax (so bring your WiFi hub).
Now I know it seems like I’m up-selling the attached igloo over the smaller stand-alone, but they are really just two different types of vacation. We actually did like staying in the small one every bit as much as the larger one. In fact, if we came back by ourselves, we would prefer the smaller one. However, if we had some friends come with us, staying in the cabin would be a total blast! Did you hear that part about having some friends come with us? Oh, and you have to make your reservations about six months in advance. So…. friends, let us know ASAP!
West Side Restaurant/Bar
As I alluded to earlier, the west side facilities are a little more upbeat, vs. the cozy, rustic appeal of the east side. They are also bigger and, at peak times, more crowded. The food is the same on both sides. For the dinner over here, we had beef steaks. They were cooked perfectly and served in a feisty pepper sauce. But as soon as I took that first bite, I realized how much tastier and juicy reindeer was over beef. Just sayin’.
The bar on this side maintained the igloo theme to perfection. There was also a regular bar if this one was full. Spectacular, eh? They’re also working on a tower that has, you guessed it, a glass igloo at the top. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite ready when we were there.
Everything we did here was first-rate fun. But I have to say the snowmobiling was my favorite. This was my first time on one, and it was a real blast. Very much like riding a motorcycle. This was a two-hour adventure. Next time we’ll opt for the four-hour deal.
As you can see, above, we are pretty bundled up. I must say I always thought riding a snowmobile in 10 degree (Fahrenheit) weather would be cold. But with the gear, the windscreen on the snowmobile, and the fact that it had heated handles and heated foot holds, it wasn’t the slightest bit cold. In fact, as Jana demonstrates, you can even roll around in it! She said that the effort made her sweat a little.
After riding the trail through the breathtaking landscape for about an hour or so, we stopped for a snack. The guides provided ginger snap cookies and warm blueberry juice (very popular out here). Then we mounted up again and rode for another hour.
That was our morning run. We had another run that night, yeah pitch dark! The idea was to try and get a glimpse of the Northern Lights, but we weren’t able to catch them. But it was still a fun three hours of night riding! I actually got tossed on that ride. The trail got really bumpy, so I drifted over to the edge a little bit, trying to get away from the bumps. A little bit more, a little bit more, then sloosh, two and a half feet of unpacked snow! The machine literally just sank into it, then went on it’s side, and off I went! The helicopter ride to the hospital was actually kind of fun – haha, just kidding! The guide came over and together, we heaved the snowmobile back onto the trail and kept right on going!
This one requires a little backdrop detail. Our host, pictured here, was an authentic Sami. Sami are an indigenous people of Scandinavia. They inhabit the extreme northern regions of Scandanavia, extending into the far north-western reaches of Russia. They are similar to the American Indians in that they live off the land, and they put back more than they take. They were, and still are today, fisherman, hunters/trappers, sheep herders and, of course: reindeer herders. They are very good at these things as their people have been doing them for over 5,000 years. In fact, in some regions of the Nordic countries, Sami are the only ones permitted to herd reindeer.
So our reindeer sleigh activity was extra special since it was fully executed by our Sami guide. He lives in a remote area of the remote area we were in! In fact, some inhabitants of his small village did not even have electrical power until 1989. And in his own words, he does not live in the forest…. he is the forest. He hand crafted all of the harnesses and equipment used for our trip, and he owned and trained the reindeer.
On Vixen, on Dancer…. oh wait, ours was named Uril. Hmm, and the only red noses I saw were on people’s cold faces!
It was a great time. We plodded along at a decent pace. The thing about this was, it was not only taking us through some magnificent wintry forest land, but it was so calm, peaceful, and quiet. These next pictures are just too beautiful to put in a smaller arrangement, so bandwidth be damned, I’m going to give them to you raw and full-sized so you can really take them in. Note that the lighting here is just fascinating. These are completely untouched.
I think that last one was Santa’s summer-house. After an hour or so, we returned to village. Our guide had a tepee all set up for us with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, and a warm fire to help us thaw out.
He even sang us a song in his native language and told us some stories about his village and their customs. It was a special time that we will never forget.
The Horse Ride
This was another nighttime excursion with a side benefit of possibly seeing the Northern Lights. And darn it, they eluded us again. It started out nice and clear, but a few minutes into the ride, it clouded up and even snowed a little.
But even despite being thwarted by the Aurora Borealis again, it was a wonderful and romantic time clip-clopping along the snow packed trail.
Unfortunately, once the clouds rolled in, it was pretty dark, so we didn’t get a lot of pictures after this one. I know we look insanely photo-chopped into this picture, but I swear we really were there. No really, we were there. The whole trip was real. Of course it was…. no way it was a fake trip!
All-in-all, this turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. You’re so remote and in such a different climate and environment that it almost felt like being on a different planet. And everywhere you look is like seeing a postcard because it is so beautiful. I know a lot of people are scared of the cold and the snow, and I used to be one of you! But with the right gear, it isn’t really that cold. There was only one time the entire trip I felt cold, and that was after the reindeer sleigh ride. My feet got really cold and took a while to thaw out.
We would love to return to this frozen dream world. And would especially like to come back with some of our friends and stay in the party cabin, er uh, the attached igloo. There are still a lot of other things that we didn’t squeeze in. Like the husky sled adventure, Santa’s village, and hey, we have to go back since we didn’t get to see the lights!