UK FAM Trip with Finnair 12–17th December 2017
I was thrilled to accompany Finnair and a group of UK Tour Operators on a FAM trip to Finnish Lapland. The group consisted of sales consultants from Artisan Travel, Discover the World, Regent Holidays, Wexas, and Destinology.
Finnair has started flying directly from London Gatwick to Kittilä every Tuesday and every Thursday to Ivalo until the 20th/22nd March and the FAM trip really emphasized the ease of travel from the UK. The FAM focused on two popular resorts of Levi and Inari-Saariselkä.
My first impressions of Lapland were of a magical winter wonderland with these amazing Birch trees covered in fresh powder snow, a backdrop of gorgeous scenery which looked like it had been painted on. Even in the dark of the night it was so beautiful and so tranquil. I can see why there has been a double digit growth from the UK in the last 5 years.
The host accommodation for the first 2 nights was at the Taivaanvalkeat that is located in Kongas Village, 8km outside the popular resort of Levi. The hotel was very rustic with big living area and cosy and we warmly welcomed by the owner’s brother with midnight snacks for the late arrivial. There are 13 bedrooms, each one very individual in appearance and comfortable. Having 8 rooms to choose from on the ground floor I went for one with an old antique looking bureau desk for my laptop.
After a hearty breakfast one of Santa’s Elves met with the group and we walked through a snowy forest and icy tunnel to see the Elves Hideaway village, that is deeply rooted in nature and Finnish culture. I loved the Gingerbread house where we we got to meet Mrs. Santa. She assisted in the baking of gingerbread biscuits we were given the task to make and given the dough to roll out, cut out the animals and festive shapes ready to be baked.
In another house children are given all the craft materials to make elves and festive ornaments. The group and I once again unleashed out creativity to make elf heads, my effort below. The Elves Hideaway is great for children and adults alike and we were told that a group of 500 children had visited early December. Santa visits to make it extra special although I didn’t personally meet him, I think I spotted him at breakfast…
By stark contrast to a very ethereal early morning of elves and Mrs Santa, we visited the town of Levi, which is a Finland biggest ski resort that is 60 years old. Marari our guide was born in Spain and fell in love with Levi whilst skiing, she now lives permanently in the resort and works as a tour guide. A stop was made to kit everyone out with ski salopettes, jackets and socks so we would be able to brave the elements for outdoor activities. I was told many visitors staying in Levi can hire the snowsuit for the whole duration of their stay which saves buying or bringing bulky wear from back home.
In 2000 they built a Gondola for the world cup and I enjoyed the experience of ridding up and seeing incredible views. It gives you a great perspective of the mountain at the top of Levi fell 531 metres above sea level, however the visibility was poor and facilities closed, so soon headed down again. Apparently the snowfalls as early as late October and can continue to mid-May. Downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross country skiing are all popular and Levi also caters well for beginners. I think they have designed Levi well without being overcrowded. There are plenty of good shops and restaurants in the resort.
There was lots of accommodation conveniently located centrally in the resort and something to suit all tastes and budgets. We got to see the stylish Break Sokos hotel Levi and also hotel Hullo Poro, Crazy Reindeer Hotel which is part of the same group as our host hotel and the Elves Hideaway. The Levi Hotel and Spa had amazing facilities including 16 pool complex, spa and bowling alley which you can visit with a payment without having to stay onsite.
Whilst in Levi we got to experience some activities in the snow, provided by Polar Light Tours who have huskies, reindeer and Finn Horses. My favourite one is the husky ride, the dogs are so energetic and got to meet one of the huskies Riikka who was an affectionate Alaskan husky.
The Finn horses were beautiful and the ride a little smoother. You don’t get cold with the cover over you. We had a much needed hot gluggi that is the local hot juice and a biscuit in between rides. It was great to be outdoors in the snow amongst idyllic nature and make some furry friends in the process.
For the more adventurous snowmobiling was great fun. It was the third time in my life of snowmobiling and I was pleased it was only an hour as very bumpy, however really exhilarating and the company running the activity make sure you are kitted out with the right gear to keep you toasty warm.
Levi Ice gallery was really fascinating, a glowing ice structure 10,000 sq. m that consists of a wedding chapel and Ice hotel which was getting ready to open. The guide informed us that that there had been a wedding party from the UK last week.
The food at the Ice Gallery was fantastic, soups in Finland are so tasty, and I also had my second taster of reindeer and it was delicious!
The Finnish sauna is wonderfully relaxing after such a long day in the cold and it really warms the bones and relaxes before bedtime, in the UK we just have a cup of cocoa and hot water bottle to warm up. I was pleased that all the accommodation we saw and stayed in had a sauna. Some of the group ran in the snow, I was not so brave…
During our stay in Levi, the accommodation got more and more interesting and luxurious, we saw some amazing privately owned apartments which I thought really had the wow factor in terms of décor and comfort. The new Northern lights ranch that had these stunning sky view cabins and the Golden Crown Igloos that were well designed and very swanky with a very hip restaurant. Levin Lapinkyla was more rustic and I love the way the glass roof is heated so not to spoil your view.
Goodbye beautiful Levi, I will be back and I hope to try out the cross country skiing and all the summer activities!
After a 3 hour drive north to Ivalo I was excited to get to stay in an aurora cabin at the Wilderness Hotel Muotka. Apparently it is a perfect place to see the Aurora and we were informed by the GM of the hotel we had just missed one by an hour after arriving slightly late. After another sauna Finnish style this time, I was able to get some sleep dreaming about being woken up to see the Aurora.
Tarja Manninen from Inari-Saariselkä Tourism was a great guide and very knowledgeable about the area. Saariselkä was much less built up than Levi and the accommodation in the surrounding area was in beautiful wilderness with great attention to detail to mix traditional style with a modern twist. The new Wilderness Hotel Inari just opening was a perfect example of this!
The Sami culture is fascinating and we got to meet a reindeer herder and his family who run a tour called Arctic Slider. We fed the reindeer their favourite food lichen and learnt all about the family and Sami ways and culture over a roasting fire and hot juice. The couple met when they were studying and they were surprised they had so many mutual Facebook friends in common and had never met before! Their son was so cute dressed in his traditional costume and they seem to have a simple but pleasurable life in the North of Finland.
The final part of the trip we spent in a family run lodgings Nuorgam Holiday Village. It was run by a lovely couple Raimo and Marjatta who showed great hospitality and their sons cooked some delicious food. My favorite food is salmon, so this generous portion of salmon right from the Arctic Ocean was an absolute treat.
One of the main attractions of visiting this region is the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). Raimo kindly let us know he was going to wake us up to see an Aurora, however Bruno from our group had set up his camera and tripod and we were alerted via the whatapp group that there were some Northern lights that the camera picked up. It was staggeringly beautiful through the lens and seeing the Aurora really made the trip! Everyone was so inspired!
Overall I throughly enjoyed the wilderness and authenticity of Inari-Sariselka. There is plenty to do and see, or just relax and recharge your batteries taking in breathtaking nature.
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