Monday, 18 November 2013

Snowmobiling in Finnish Lapland

Snowmobiling at Harriniva has to be my favourite experience so far. Exploring beautiful winter landscapes whilst speeding over frozen lakes, slowly maneuvering around trees and along snowy forest trails is pretty exhilarating. It’s not as easy as I first imagined it would be, it takes a lot of control and concentration, but it’s so much fun!!

On some of the longer safaris you snowmobile to the fells surrounding Harriniva which provide a wonderful vantage point from which to admire the scenery. I travelled to Harriniva at the very beginning of April and although the temperatures were getting relatively mild (in comparison to the extremes earlier in the year) and the trees weren't heavy with snow, the setting was still very much a winter wilderness and one to be admired! 

Retreating to the sauna and outdoor Jacuzzi afterwards was certainly an added bonus!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Husky safari that never was - Karasjok

Personally I am not a huge believer in spirituality, for example I have never experienced people or places having auras or special meanings however when I met Sven Engholm the owner and head Musher at Engholm in Karasjok I was completely blown away by the sheer presence of this incredible man. 

Upon arrival at the husky farm I (as usual) headed straight out to greet the dogs and look for any unsuspecting puppies for a cuddle.  It was here in the middle of around 50 howling huskies that a sudden quiet ensued (absolutely unheard of in a husky yard – especially with visitors) and I saw a man coming out from the main cabin and walk towards us across the dog yard.  Completely unassuming Sven introduced himself and instantly I was in awe of this gentleman.  If I wasn't already aware of his incredible accomplishments I would have had no idea I was in the presence of Norwegian Mushing royalty (winning the hardest husky race in Norway 11 times will give an individual that kind of reputation).

Sven Engholm
We were invited to tour the log cabins that surround the husky yard and which were all built and furnished by Sven himself from wood found in the forests in the Karasjok area. Sitting in the communal cabin there was simply so much to look at and take in! From the reindeer antlers being used as cup holders to the carved wooden table and stools fashioned from tree trunks. 

As Sven spoke about his life with the dogs you could so clearly see the passion and the enthusiasm he has for this way of life and it was completely infectious! After around an hour sitting inside and chatting about the dogs and the types of tours he runs for musher enthusiasts we went back to meet some of the best behaved huskies I have ever laid eyes on. 

It is one of my biggest regrets that, on this occasion, we didn't have to go out and explore the Arctic wilderness around Karasjok as so many of our happy clients have done in the past.  One day I will go back to Karasjok – my boss just hopes it won’t be for the whole winter season as one of Sven’s assistants!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Harriniva- 9km Husky Safari


I thought Harriniva had it all. Great accommodation, great location and great activities.

The pine clad rooms were really warm and cosy. It was hard to believe it was minus 20 outside. If it wasn't for the temperature gauge outside our room window I would never have known.

The food was excellent. Tried my first ever reindeer steak. Wow

I also loved the calm, unspoilt surroundings. It amazed me to see guests leave the hotel and head off across the frozen river on cross country skies to follow the miles of well marked trails that criss-cross Finnish Lapland.

That's the beauty of Harriniva you can enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the hotel after your day's activities, have a few drinks in the bar, go for a sauna, book treatments at the wellness centre or head out for yet more wilderness.

Personally, the perfect ending to a perfect day was sitting in the outside Jacuzzi at 9pm with a view over the frozen Muonio River that runs between Finnish and Swedish Lapland. Very civilised!

As soon as we arrived at the Hotel we could already hear the huskies. As we walked through the entrance of the Arctic Dog Sled Centre I couldn't believe how many huskies there were. The dogs are really playful, some sat quietly in the snow enjoying the sun, but as soon as they got their harness on they were ready to go.

We got an introduction on how to handle the dogs, and how to drive the dog sled. I was a bit worried at first about forgetting the hand signs because I was so excited, but the guides were really good and made sure everyone was happy and understood before we set off. I decided to sit in the sled for the first half, and I have to say I couldn't stop laughing. As soon as my colleague took her foot off the break, we were off. I never expected the dogs to go as fast as they did. It was brilliant. As we headed out over the frozen lakes the dogs ran at a good pace, although some were keen to head off track into the deeper snow.

We stopped half way which allowed the dogs to have a rest, but as some were ready for the off we had to keep our feet firmly on the breaks. It was my colleagues turn to sit in the sled and me to drive. I enjoyed this just as much, and it took only a few minutes to feel confident that I could handle the sled. I particularly enjoyed the twisting trails through the snowy forest which require concentration and a foot ready near or on the brake to slow the dogs into the sharper turns. 

Loved it!


(Images: Antti Pietikainen)

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Snowmobiling at Harriniva

It was a beautiful sunny day, with clear ice-blue skies. A perfect day to go snowmobiling across snow covered frozen lakes, and wintery forests. This was my first visit to Finnish Lapland, and I couldn't believe how calm and unspoiled the surroundings were. Snowmobiling was a brilliant way to get to see the scenery. I decided to swap half way to ride as a passenger. Personally I enjoyed this better, as I was able to sit back and take everything in (still holding on tight!).
Snowmobiling at sunset (Antti Pietikainen)
Our guide was fantastic, and would occasionally stop to point out some of the wildlife tracks en-route. However, my favourite part has to be when we stopped off at Santa's cabin. Unfortunately he wasn't home, it was April and Santa was apparently sunning himself in the Bahamas!
Snowmobile adventure (Antti Pietikainen)
I had never driven a snowmobile, or been a passenger on one before. But I have to say, it was a truly amazing experience, and one I will never forget.
Taking a break (Antti Pietikainen)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

My favourite things...

Having been lucky enough to see most of our winter destinations (perk of the job you may say) choosing a favourite destination is almost impossible. There is one place however that has really stood out for me recently.  In March 2013 I visited the Lulea region of Swedish Lapland and I am not sure whether I have ever returned home more excited about a destination.
Huskies (Pier Rynback)
The activities on offer provide some truly remarkable experiences including one of the most wonderful dog sledding trips I have come across anywhere. There are opportunities to witness some of Lapland’s wonders such as the frozen pack ice and the ever mesmerising Northern Lights. You can stay in unique places such as the awe inspiring Tree Hotel and the Aurora Camp – ‘glamping’ at its best - and there’s exceptionally comfortable accommodation at Sorbyn and Pine Bay Lodge. It was however the people that live and work there that were, above all else, the reason for my enthusiasm.
Sorbyn Lodge (Graeme Richardson)
Lulea is a region where small independent and family run businesses with huge amounts of integrity have come together to work to promote their region and create incredible memories for any visitors. They are passionate and enthusiastic, dedicated to their region and so keen to show you all that it has to offer.  This is tourism on a smaller scale than many areas and fuelled by a community spirit amongst the providers that I doubt that I will encounter again. The region has so much to offer in terms of accommodation, landscape and experiences that create life long memories but the people that provide all of these things are the key to the success. 
Sunset Lulea (GraemeRichardson)

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My Favourite Destination

After joining The White Circle I went out to Luosto to assist our clients as the company’s representative accompanying a flight we had chartered over February half term.  I stayed in the small village of Luosto at the Tunturi Hotel and to this day it was one of the best weeks of my life.  A real highlight of my job is to visit as many of the destinations as possible and spend one or two days cramming as much as possible into my time. However, it was at Luosto that I really began to appreciate the slower pace of life, the friendly local people and the immense joy in the simplest of activities you may never even have considered.

I believe that there really is something for everyone at Luosto from enjoying the swimming pool, sauna and spa facilities at the Tunturi Hotel to curling up of a roaring log fire in a private log cabin to standing on the frozen lake behind the hotel, camera at the ready waiting for the spectacular Aurora Borealis.  

There are a number of downhill ski slopes in the village which are perfect for beginners or those (like me!) who are just a bit rusty and want to get some practice in.  It is at night that the ski slopes really come into their own… one of the things we advise clients who are keen on seeing the Northern Lights is to be outside and as active as possible (to keep warm).  I defy anyone to spend a few hours running up and sledging down the floodlit slopes to tell me they are cold! It is so much fun and really takes everyone back to their childhood. 

There’s the added advantage to night time sledging in that if the Northern Lights do appear you are far more likely to see them than those sitting in the hotel restaurant hoping to catch a glimpse out of the window. Nevertheless, my advice is to get away from the slopes if the lights do appear. The lake behind the hotel (approx. 400 metres from the ski slopes) is a much darker place and will enhance the view considerably.

The activities at Luosto are varied in duration and type and there really is something for everyone. If you just want to sample an activity they normally last from an hour (perfect for young kids or anybody who just wants a taster)  and go up to five or six hour snowmobile safaris  (a whole day in some cases).  A snowmobile trip to the only working Amethyst mine in Europe was one of my highlights and I still have the gem I dug up there sitting proudly on my desk in the office. 

So, it is with great confidence that I can say Luosto is my favourite destination*

*the above statement may be slightly biased as Amy witnessed her ultimate Aurora display during her first night at Luosto which coincidentally interrupted a fantastic sledging race.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Finland in Autumn

The Finnish Autumn is known colloquially as ‘Ruska’ and is a few weeks in September when the leaves on the trees change from a vivid green to an array of reds, oranges and yellows, presenting an incredibly picturesque vista to visitors to this part of the world.  The forest floors are carpeted with berries and mushrooms, creating a vast edible carpet for the local wildlife population. We were lucky to come when the weather was still pleasant with clear blue skies in the day and crisp cold nights. Our trip was a bit of a whirlwind tour of all the locations we offer in Finland, but the following were real highlights:

·         Standing on the banks of Lake Inari at Nellim which is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The water seems to go on forever and the trees which surround it were the most vivid colours. It was hard to imagine that this is completely frozen and covered in snow in the winter, but easy to see why this is such a sought after location.

·         When driving on the roads in Finland it is highly likely that you can drive for long stretches of time without seeing anything or anyone, so it came as somewhat of a surprise when we saw two reindeer making their way across the road at a leisurely manner, without a care in the world. Being non-locals we of course stopped to gaze at these gentle creatures and take the obligatory photo.  According to our local guides, they are at their loveliest at this time of year before they start to shed their antlers and look a little scruffy!

·         This was the first time I got to try sautéed reindeer (poronkäristys) and mash with lingonberry sauce. This is a lovely local dish which is both delicious and filling and is still a huge disappointment to me that it is not common in the UK.

·         We got to visit the Amethyst Mine which first and foremost offers a spectacular panoramic view over the Fells. Travelling down into the depths we were able to see the mine and where the amethysts are formed and found. The timescales are pretty astonishing, with amethysts being formed here over 3000 million years!

·         As a huge dog lover, the trip to meet the huskies was a great highlight and we were greeted with an enthusiastic cacophony of barking and whining. At this time of year the dogs are training in preparation for a winter of hard work. It is also puppy season so were lucky enough to meet some very young puppies who had been born a week previously. Adorable!

·         After a four hour drive we found our way to Kilpisjarvi in the far flung edge of Finnish Lapland. Here we got a wonderful glimpse of the pitch black skies that make themselves known in these vastly remote areas and for a very short few seconds saw a streak of green across the sky. I’m not sure I could call it my first Northern Lights viewing, but it was pretty spectacular nonetheless! Whilst here we were also lucky enough to go up in a Sea Plane and view the incredible scenery, including the point where the three Scandinavian countries (Finland, Sweden and Norway) meet.

·         You definitely can’t travel to this part of the world and not enjoy a sauna so I took the opportunity to make the most of them and got hooked. My aim in life is now to have a bathroom with an inbuilt sauna…
         Dawn Rawlings

Sweden in the Summer...

My first trip to Sweden really opened up my eyes to the beauty of Lapland. Coming at the end of the Summer on the cusp of the lovely Autumnal ‘Ruska’, meant that the weather was still warm and the hazy days seemingly went on forever (they had just had their Midnight Sun period).

Camp Ripan

Camp Ripan was the first destination for our trip and the first place I tried reindeer. Jo informed me that I had been very spoilt as it was some of the best reindeer she had ever tried, so my first taste may well have been my best ever! Delicious it was though, served with mushrooms and berries which are plentiful here. Camp Ripan was a lovely a lovely place to stay and with its homely chalets, it is the ideal base for families.


I found Lappeasuando to be lovely, welcoming and hospitable. Jo and I were treated to the biggest bowls of pasta we have ever seen, before Barbara (the owner) showed us all around her wonderful little lodge. With only eight rooms, the accommodation offers a real personal touch and the rooms were cosy and inviting.

Barbara took us by boat (in winter this would of course be by snowmobile across the frozen water!) to visit the wilderness camp which was pretty impressive (Ray Mears does wilderness training here) and would offer a wonderful vantage point from which to view the Northern Lights.


At first glance Abisko was a fairly inconspicuous wooden building and in the blazing sunshine it was hard to imagine what it would be like covered in snow.  However, upon stepping inside I could see why it was one of our most popular winter destinations as it seemed to exude a warm and welcoming atmosphere from the start.

Dick and Mina are wonderful hosts with a great sense of humour and after showing us around we sat down to a delicious dinner. It was here I tried smoked reindeer which was mouth-wateringly good and soon became a firm favourite on my Scandinavian travels. We were joined also by Klas, one of the hugely knowledgeable guides here, and Chad who runs the photography excursions and taught us all about the best way to photograph the Northern Lights. There is sadly too much daylight at this time of year to attempt to see them, but come the winter Chad’s excursions are very popular and nearly always successful.

Ice Hotel

At this time of year, the ICEHOTEL® is of course not built but we were shown into the warehouse where they had constructed some of the suites for those visitors who wanted to see them. I was amazed at the sheer scale of the construction here with enormous blocks of Ice stacked high in the warehouse, all ready to be carved into beautiful sculptures when the time was ready. The suites they had set up were beautiful with carved swans and bears, it was amazing what they could do with Ice. My favourite was the huge sand-timer they had constructed in the middle of one block. It was difficult to imagine a huge hotel made of snow and ice built on the shores of the river, but after seeing the creations so far, I imagine it will truly be a sight to see.   


We spent a few days at Tarendo, getting to know the new owners Margareta and Ingemar who were incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic about their work here. As a family run hotel, it exudes a welcoming and homely touch and its location on the banks of the river offers wonderful views across the surrounding wilderness landscape. They maintain ties to the nearby village and local Sámi population ensuring this a genuine experience that allows you to really get to know the local people of Lapland.

Dawn Rawlings

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Sautéed reindeer – A journey from the forest to the table

The local reindeer population roam during the summer and early autumn in the forests of Northern Lapland.  Here they graze from a vast edible carpet of berries and mushrooms, providing a natural marinade directly mirrored in the taste of the meat.
Gathering Berries
Sautéed reindeer is made from preserved reindeer meat which is carved into thin slices before being browned by coating the meat in its own juices.  The meat is then simmered over a low heat until it is tender.  If cooked perfectly the meat should ‘melt in the mouth’.
Restaurant at Nellim

It should be only lightly seasoned with a little salt to avoid spoiling the delicate flavour of the reindeer meat.  Sautéed reindeer is traditionally served with mashed potatoes and cranberries.

Enjoy your meal!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Forest Hotel, Tärendö, Sweden!

My favourite winter activity here at The Forest Hotel is definitely our very popular Northern Light Hunt by Snowmobile and Sled.

Snowmobiling is a way of life in Swedish Lapland!

In the late evening, we start our night expedition outside of the hotel sitting in a sled on cosy reindeer skins, pulled by a snowmobile.  We take you to an open space out in the wilderness, to a place far away from any disturbing lights. We all help out to build up a base in the deep snow and prepare ourselves to see and, if you like, capture the aurora with your camera.

Reindeer spot on the snowmobile safari.

Our guide will tell you stories and facts about the Aurora and teach you some wilderness survival tricks, whilst making a fire and boiling coffee in the open. The forest, the dark night’s sky, stars and the Aurora are just magic and an experience you will never forget.
A beautiful snowy landscape.
Life in Swedish Lapland is, in many ways, different from the big city life. Not only the difference in nature but there is also a difference in the culture. I was born and bred in Stockholm,  moving to Tärendö 2 years ago has in some ways been a greater change than when we moved to India and to Nicaragua.
It was very cold this day and it had snowed over 50 cm in a couple of hours.
Even the snowmobile safari became a bit of a challenge but it was still as exciting as always.
People in a small village on a remote place like Tärendö are more or less dependent on each other. It is very important to have a good relationship with your neighbours, due to long distances and sometimes difficult weather conditions.  Living in a small village is safe and you can always trust a promise. Here you never lock the front door. People put the broom outside the door, a sign that means, “We are not home at the moment, but please do come in and make yourself a cup of coffee while waiting for us to come home”.

Look at how thick the snow is on the roof of this cabin.
In Swedish Lapland we don’t have 4 seasons but actually 8 seasons. The reason why, is simply because the big difference in weather during the year. Each season is beautiful from the summer with the midnight sun to the winter with Northern light. 

Nov, Dec – Pre winter
Jan, Feb  – Winter
Mar, Apr – Spring winter
May – Spring
Jun – Pre summer
Jul, Aug – Summer
Sept – Autumn
Oct – Late autumn

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Finnish Winter Wonderland

After my forays into Scandinavia in the summer and autumn it was with a sense of great anticipation that on the day of my 26th birthday I travelled up to North East Finland in late January. My very helpful (and fun!) work colleague, Amy, was travelling with me and luckily had prepared me in advance for our adventure. I’m known in the office for not being hugely practical and ‘outdoorsy’ so Amy had helped to kit me out with all my cold weather clothing, including thermals, snow boots, head torches and other essentials that one needs when travelling here!

The first thing that struck me when we arrived was, of course, how cold it was - the kind of cold that I had never experienced before – cold that freezes your eyelashes and you can feel in your lungs. Over the course of our week here though, I discovered that given the right clothing you can easily be outside without feeling it too much, and you almost get used to the biting iciness that hits your face as soon as you head out the door. Unlike the UK, the cold is not at all damp and there was little wind chill when we were there so it was easy to get accustomed to once kitted out in your snow gear.

Our first port of call was Nellim. The last time I had been here was in the autumn so it was wonderful to see Lake Inari, previously viewed reflecting the trees in its shimmering surface, completely frozen and covered in a thick frosting of snow. After getting kitted up Amy and I headed down for a walk around, keeping an eye on the sky of course. We saw nothing but stars that night, but got to experience the deep snow in all its wonder and the pitch black, albeit cloudy, sky dotted with stars was fantastic.

The next day we got to go out on snowmobiles for the first time which was hugely exciting and one of the real highlights of the trip! We were taken out by Jouko, owner of Nellim who lead us to Muotka, the new accommodation they had just bought. I have to admit that I was a little nervous at first, but soon got the hang of it and found it to be great fun – there’s something remarkably exciting about whizzing across the snow. That evening we got to once more head off on snowmobiles out into darkness to one of the nearby Aurora Camps. Here we warmed ourselves by the fire and waited for the Lights to make an appearance. We had almost given up hope and were about to head back when a streak of green light split across the sky, shimmering and dancing against the inky black backdrop. It is something I’ll know I will remember for the rest of my life as it was a truly incredible feeling to gaze up at the Arctic sky and witness the Aurora in all her glory.

The next day we made our way to Menesjarvi, but first stopped off to spend a few hours with a Sámi Reindeer herder. This was a fantastic way to get to know how the Sámi people make their living and we had a lovely afternoon in the wilds. After being driven via snowmobile-pulled sleigh into the forest we came across the reindeers in their natural habitat where we had the chance to feed them . The best part was when the herder called them in and they seemingly appeared like magic through the trees, lured by the sight of the hay and the call of the herder. We then sat around the fire and got to ask questions about the life of a reindeer herder and chat about living in Lapland.

When we reached Hotel Korpikatano in the afternoon we were warmly greeted by the hosts Anne and Timo. Timo was kind enough to teach us all about photographing the Northern Lights and offered a great introduction to this phenomenon from someone who was born and raised in this part of the world. That evening Amy and I strapped on some snowshoes and made our way to the nearby frozen lake to practise our photography (and walking!) skills. I can’t say that I was particularly skilled at snowshoeing but it was great fun nonetheless.

The following day we arrived in Inari, the centre of Sámi Culture in the area. After visiting the fascinating Sámi Siida Museum, and then enjoying a reindeer pizza (delicious!) we spent the night at the Kultahovi Hotel in Inari where after dinner we sat in their lovely bar and restaurant area and chatted about our adventures! The following day was then spent in Saariselka where we snowmobiled for a few hours. It was just as much fun this time, despite a near miss with a sign post!

Our final destination was delightful Kakslauttanen where we spent the night in one of their glass igloos. A pretty remarkable end to a memorable and brilliant trip.

Dawn Rawlings