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