I don’t like bucket lists. There, I said it. Ticking off places from such a list doesn’t interest me much. However, there are a some places that are definitely bucket list worthy and if I had a bucket list, they would be on it. Without such a list I never really make a solid effort to get to places but rather just go with the flow. And if there is a place that looks really enticing I just hope that it will somehow, magically fall in my lap. This story is about how I did get to see one of those places and how yes, it magically fell into my lap.

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I was all set to go to China with Finnair when I got an email from Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort asking if I wanted to come visit them in April? As I was going to China via Helsinki the idea to spontaneously add a trip to the arctic circle on my way to China wasn’t as absurd as it may otherwise seem. I was a little concerned about the fact that I own nothing more than one cashmere jersey (given to me by my brother who took pity on his freezing sister who still only dresses for South African weather!) and because I generally dislike the cold.
 

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But this image had me lusting to go and when Visit Finland offered to get me a flight from Helsinki to Ivalo, the closest airport to Kakslauttanen, I packed my sole jersey, borrowed some boots, and went north to Finish Lapland.

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Lapland is not a country but a geographical area that spans parts of Finland, Russia, Norway and Sweden. There are about two persons per square kilometre, which makes it the perfect place for some solitude. I never had a problem with solitude, but the lack of warm sand and ocean scare me a bit. I hoped that reindeer, Northern Lights and a visit to Santa could make up for it.

Aurora Hunter

Kakslauttanen offers various kinds of accommodation but they are most famous for their amazing glass igloos which owner Jussi invented back in 1999. The purpose of the igloos is to have a comfy spot to watch the Northern Lights all night long. Unfortunately, Northern Lights are fickle and even when the Aurora forecast is good you will still need a clear sky to see them. No wonder that some say that Aurora Borealis are spirits moving across heaven, they are really fast!

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There is no Aurora warning system in place so on my first night I check every 15 minutes, put coat over pj’s and take a few tentative steps into the snow. At 23:30 I get lucky. There are some green shreds on the sky, barely recognizable if you don’t know what you are looking for but a lot brighter once I capture them with my camera.

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In case you care for a clear Northern Lights shot you will need a tripod. Needless to say, I didn’t bring mine. Nevertheless, I am ecstatic – the legend is real! I am excited for the days to come because now I want to see more. Luckily I don’t know yet that it will be the one and only night I will see some green and even my final night spent in a glass igloo will be in vain. With that said, a night in a glass igloo is quite an experience in itself, plus there is no (money back) guarantee for Northern Lights!

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Sleigh Ride

The next day I don’t care about the Northern Lights anymore because I meet Elmo, Kuisma, Tiikkal, Franky and Voitto, my husky quintet for the morning. They are young, strong and very eager to get going. It is my job to play mean mommy and slow them down, not a pleasant task but neither is seeing a dog overrun by a sleigh so I do my best.

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Even with one foot constantly on the brake, they are incredibly fast and a manic grin is frozen on my face in the icy wind.

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After our ride, we can pet our boys and I can finally take husky selfies. I am not allowed to give them any treats, though, running is their treat explains sled master Santo.

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I, on the other hand, am in for a treat when our snowmobile guide, OP, not only puts a hot berry juice but also a husky puppy in my arms. By now I am in love with Lapland and think warm sand and ocean is much overrated if it doesn’t come with husky puppies. While snowmobiling comes with the most stunning views, a reindeer sighting, and is overall lots of fun, I am sad to say goodbye to the little one. So sad in fact that I suggest to OP that the puppy who doesn’t have a name yet would do very well as an Annika.
 

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Care for a more traditional mode of transportation? Then I recommend a ride with Rudi! Reindeer herding is a big part of the Samis, the indigenous people of Lapland. These days that includes reindeer sledding with tourists. And yes, while I am well aware that it is a very touristy activity and that Pente our guide puts on his Sami clothes mainly for visitors, it is nonetheless a fun activity. In fact, it makes me feel a bit like Santa though my nose is a lot redder than those of the reindeer. And no, unlike the huskies you cannot take a reindeer selfie – they are still wild animals and are not to be petted!

Make a list, check it twice!

If meeting Rudi is not enough for you, Kakslauttanen is also the place to meet Santa. And while there are a few places that offer this opportunity in the north, here everybody is sticking to their story: there is only one Santa and he lives just across the river and up the hill. Especially for those Travelettes with children, a visit to Santa’s house is a real highlight as are the houses of his elves and the Celebration House with an eternal, year-round Christmas tree. Here even the grown-ups may start to think twice about whether they have been naughty or nice…

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Fire & Ice

Worried about getting too cold? Fear not because sauna culture is big here in Finland and will heat you up nicely. I am spending my first few nights in a cabin which comes with its very own sauna and fireplace. A first for me – I manage to make my very own fire! While the little saunas offer ultimate privacy and seclusion, the real highlight is the smoke sauna where you can sweat in traditional style.

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While an ice-cold shower awaits you in your cabin, the smoke sauna is located next to the frozen river. For your convenience, there is a hole in the ice and a ladder waiting for you to take the plunge! If a dip in the icy lake doesn’t satisfy your inner ice ice baby you can always spend the night in a proper igloo. From December onwards you can sleep on a bed of snow or if you want to take a real plunge you can even get married in their very own snow chapel.

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I don’t take the plunge but I do fall in love. I have gladly traded Nemo for Rudi, exchanged on aggregate state of water with another. Me, the girl who likes it hot, has fallen for a world of snow and ice. Me, the girl who has always worshipped the sun is spending her nights chasing stars and green spirits. And I’m loving it – my cheeks don’t hurt from the cold but from laughing non-stop and I finally get the appeal of Frozen, too.

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Practical Tips to plan your trip to Kakslauttanen so you too can play Elsa:

To get there you will need to fly from Helsinki to Ivalo and from there take the shuttle provided by Kakslauttanen. Alternatively, you can fly to Rovaniemi and drive for about 3.5 hours by car.

In winter the temperatures can drop to -40 degrees but luckily it is a rather dry cold. Still you will need thermal underwear, good boots and lots of layers. For the outdoor activities, you will be outfitted with overalls, boots, mittens, and hat if you need to. Snow igloos come with special sleeping bag and mattresses.

Kakslauttanen is open all year except for May (they call it the ugly month as everything is thawing) and offers a variety of winter and summer activities. Book far enough in advance for Christmas time and to score a glass igloo any time during Aurora season.

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A big thank you to Kakslauttanen and Visit Finland for making this amazing stay possible. And of course, for naming a Husky puppy after me!

First 2 images by Valtteri Hirvonen, all other images by Annika