Queen of the Snow Castle for a day in Kemi, Finland
Fairy tales are hard stories to forget. It’s easy to see why with all of those pretty princesses, the grand castles, the knights in shining armour and of course there’s always a handsome prince with great hair dishing out life-saving snogs. All those tales we are told by story books and Disney, they stay with us. Even now, when I am almost certain that I’m too old and pear-shaped to be a princess, I still cling to the main theme that runs through fairy tales; that anything is possible. Perhaps this is why I was so intrigued by the idea of a Snow Castle. Particularly one that was designed and built around the theme “Fantasia”.
Built on the sea front of Kemi, a small but historic town in Finnish Lapland, the Snow Castle has been a seasonal feature here since 1996. So rather than staying a fairy tale it is fast becoming a legend. As was typical with fairytale and real castles, the Snow Castle – or Lumi Linna as is the Finnish translation – is more than just one building and serves many purposes. Now there are no steep towers in which long haired ladies are trapped, there are no evil Stepmothers asking mirrors to tell them what’s what, but there is a Snow Restaurant, a Snow Chapel and a number of corridors and rooms making an accomodating Snow Hotel.
Yes, this is a fairy tale castle for Sleeping Beauty too with over 40 beds for people to experience a night sleeping surrounded by snow and ice. While there’s no guarantee that Prince Charming will wake you up in the morning with a gentle kiss, as part of the experience you will be invited to a nearby hotel for a lavish breakfast and sauna, not that you apparently need that much warming up. A special layering system of a wooly hat, gloves, thermals, fleece and sleeping bag is supposed to keep you toasty all night despite the air around you needing to be no higher than -5 degrees celsius.
And you really don’t want these walls to melt. The group bedrooms (which sleep up to 5 people so ideal for families or a group of friends) and the spectacular honeymoon suite feature some of the most creative and elaborate snow carvings in to the walls. It is these carvings and artwork that makes the Snow Castle more than a novelty experience. You can tell that effort, passion and love has been poured into the making of the shapes and curves that bring snow to life.
My favourite room in the Snow Castle was the Snow Chapel. A quiet, calm domed space atmospherically lit up with a pale green glow, an old fashioned model ship hanging from the ceiling. A small alter stood at one end with rows of ice benches facing it. I was told that people get married here and the romantic in me could see how special that would be, to see Prince Charming kiss his bride under a dome of snow.
On the other side of the Snow Castle are more rooms for you to marvel at themed with snow statues and ice sculptures depicting old and new fantasy-inspired characters from the Mad Hatter to a space dedicated to modern Finnish heroes: Angry Birds.
Outside, the Snow Castle has a turret, of course, from which you can look out across the Bothian Bay and the frozen sea. I realised here how well the theme of Fantasia suited the location. Even without the Snow Castle Finnish Lapland is truly like another world with snow covered trees lining roads, magic hour light for hours every day and cosy wooden cabins blowing the smoke of roaring fires into the sky above. As I gazed out I felt strangely regal – perhaps I could cope being a Queen if my princess days were over? My thoughts of crowns and velvet robes were interrupted when my real-life Prince Sometimes-Charming spotted a slide for him to throw himself down in a rubber tube. I’ll be honest and say it didn’t take long for me to follow him.
Back inside, which was noticeably cooler than the outside air, there is an informal cafe that serves as an open space to drink a warm drink and discuss the rooms you’ve walked through; it holds a surprisingly “warm” ambiance where you can spend a few moments discussing your experience, your favourite room and whether you’d have the courage to spend a night in the Snow Hotel.
While my own nerves and our travel plans didn’t allow us to stay the night my boyfriend and I did enjoy the most unusual meals of our relationship and let’s just say that we’ve eaten a lot of meals together. It was also one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed; delicious food and a truly unique atmosphere. We giggled to each other as steam rose from the cold water we were being served. Behind his head Beauty and the Beast were carved into the wall, lit up in soft red and blue lights, and behind me Tinkerbell watched us eat smoked salmon soup, tender reindeer and soft steamed fish.
As we left the Snow Castle, well-fed and thoroughly fascinated, I gave Tinkerbell a wink and thanked her for waving her magic wand and making me a Queen for a day, a Snow Queen, of course.