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In commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Article by Terhi Ilosaari

On my day of departure, Southern Finland had been released from the grips of winter. The road had thawed and was watery all the way to Kuopio. Then along came a snowstorm. The landscape was completely white, nothing but dusty clouds of white. On arrival at The Puukarin Pysäkki Guesthouse, relief set in – it’s winter in Valtimo. Although I had managed to get there in one piece, my car got stuck in a snowbank. I got to know the members of our three-day Guesthouse to Guesthouse ski tour group as well as the hosts during our evening exercise session in the snow. We pushed the car back onto the road.

Puukarin Pysäkki’s granary accommodation

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse tour is a full service cross-country ski tour in North Karelia with daily skiing distances averaging 25km. However, we forgot all about the upcoming trip as the guesthouse hostess Anni delighted us with her Karelian food and hilarious tales. Bowls and baskets were passed around the table, each raw ingredient and dish with its own story.

Puukarin Pysäkki’s bread oven and the old landlady’s traditional rye bread

‘Remember, there’s no rush with the skiing’, the hostess calls out as we roll to our beds with full tummies. Outside the window, so much snow was falling that the yard lights were covered under a thick blanket.

From Puukarin Pysäkki to Laitalan Loma

Puukarin Pysäkki’s host showed us the day’s route. A little worried, we asked what colour signs we should follow and how to find the right track.

‘There’s only one track, and I’m about to go ahead of you and make it’, he reassured us.

And so it was. We, the privileged few, got a fresh, unspoiled track made especially for us.

The route mainly went through fields that were sleeping under diamond-encrusted snow, low-lying and leisurely. You don’t need to know any special skiing techniques or even have downhill-skied. It’s enough if you can stay upright on your skis. The adventurer in me wanted to go off-track, but I soon realised that there’s over a metre of snow and it’s really soft and easy to sink into! On this tour you can use almost any type of ski. Poles should have a slightly bigger basket than usual.

Lost, but in a good way

Skiing at a slow, easy pace, enraptured by the snow and warmed by the sun, it’s easy for your thoughts to wander off into the unknown. I forgot who and where I was. It was only the first day of skiing and I had already lost track of the days of the week and where I was on this planet.

Our group skied unhurriedly in small, 2-3 person groups. After the halfway point, a small cute kota (type of Lappish hut) emerged from the edge of the field. When we got there, we all opened our lunchboxes with delight. Hollola’s skiing demons were already jumping back onto the track, as the last group could just be seen waving from the other side of the field.

Perfection at the kota

‘Everything is as perfect as it can be’, sighed one group member during the lunch break. Another followed with: ‘Even as a pessimist I can’t seem to find anything wrong’.

Everyone started talking about an abandoned house on the riverbank that they had been admiring along the way 

One person pondered out loud how the children would have travelled to school, another speculated how much property tax one pays, the third person thought about who had built the house and cleared the plot when the house had to be vacated, the fourth wondered why there was no barn. The fifth person just said ‘what a beautiful house!’

I wondered how much it would cost to rent the house for a whole summer, how much it would need to be heated in the summer, how many mice would need to be caught and would it be an endless work camp or would I have time to write alongside being the house’s caretaker?

To ski or paddle?

Alongside the route flows the river Karhujoki, which means that you can do the same trip by kayak or canoe in the summer. The gentle silence of Karhujoki is interrupted by the Neitivirta rapids, in which the cruel tax collector Simo Hurtta lost his maiden. ‘What of the wretched girl, but there went a good saddle’, the mean taxman is claimed to have said.

Our ski track-making machine, luxuriously in private use

With lunch in our bellies, the journey to our destination flew by without us noticing. We had clocked up about twenty kilometres on skis. In the yard I felt a moment of dismay… where had I left my belongings! In recent weeks, I had been hiking with my sled and rucksack, unpacking and packing, drying my sleeping bag and hammock. I sighed with relief when I remembered that my luggage had been transported by car to the destination hours before me.

Ski’s resting in Laitalan Loma’s yard

At the door of the guesthouse, our hostess Henna called us to come inside. The coffee was hot and karelian pies with egg butter were warm. This was followed by pancakes and three different types of jam.

Taken care of by a cranky old woman

Henna, the hostess of the second house told us the following:

‘Laitala farm was originally my in-laws’ dairy farm. It’s where my husband and I spent all our weekends. Leaving to return to the daily grind in Kuopio was always difficult. Suddenly one day, the in-laws suggested that it was time to hand down the farm to the next generation and soon we were in the yard with our moving trucks. As I sat on those steps, a curlew sang and I thought: I don’t need to go anywhere else anymore.’

Our minds were already travelling to the next guesthouse. After the first day on fields it was nice to weave in and out in the shelter of the forests. The track sloped up and down in parts, but was still easy to ski. Gentle snowfall softened the rest of the sounds in the landscape. The very thought of ‘ski-track rage’ made me almost giggle hysterically.

The Rhythm of the Track

As I was preparing to leave, I contemplated with friends who are as greedy for endurance exercise as I am, if this kind of trip was really my thing. Should I go and jog an extra circuit in the morning or keep skiing a bit further down the track in the evening? The atmosphere on this laidback trip is different. The world became meditative. Despite my hesitation, I slotted right into the daily pace: breakfast at 9, lunch into the backpack, bags to transportation, track, new guesthouse, afternoon coffee and treats, sauna, dinner at the guesthouse with stories and then slipped into unconsciousness.

A coffee break with real locals

Hulkkola farm could be seen from the edge of the field. Raija and Aimo invited us in for the halfway coffee. Sat around the kitchen table, with cardamom buns in our mouths, we listened to the story of the house, which although unique is also similar to that of many other houses we had admired on our journey.

Parents or grandparents planned the house using matchboxes. Modern architects would question how well these sorts of blueprints worked, but the house was built for oneself and so it was known exactly what was needed. When handed down to the next generation, electricity, children and running water inside were added. People got on with life. Children went out into the world, and then there was no-one to continue the farm.

The last cow was led out from the cowshed and now the house was regularly being heated only using the bread oven, evenly, in the quietening landscape. We were comforted by log walls and a stunning landscape. At the same time, somewhere in the world, someone is bumping into someone else against their will in a cramped metro. How can one send a package of this space and peacefulness to those who need it the most?

How many long to get to know normal local life, rather than engage in the usual tourism? This is now it. Genuine and ordinary. The cottage table and cardamom buns straight out of the oven next to it. A host, who was born in this very house.

A miserable blizzard

In the afternoon the snowfall was more intense. The track was wet and soft, the landscape white from top to bottom. Ahead of us was the final spurt. Four kilometres to Viemen lake on top of the 20 that we had already skied. The snow spa massaged our faces without asking. Water that had risen above the ice made the snow stick to the bottom of the skis. Today we were working hard to reach our destination. I added skins to my skis to prevent clods of snow sticking to the bottom. I think with horror about how tough the rest of the route is for those who don’t have a plan B in their rucksacks.

My thoughts turned from the lake ice to the next guesthouse, of which I only knew the name: Pihlajapuu, run by entrepeneurs Äksyt Ämmät. This kind of trip was a lot of fun after all! In the afternoons we got to open a completely new present, the door of a new guesthouse. The present was always pleasant and delectable, but also new and surprising. The two first guesthouses exuded old wisdom from their solid log walls, but with this third one you can immediately sense fun and a touch of saffron right on the doorstep.

With our coffee we got to sample kukkonen, baked rounds golden with egg butter. Talk around the table focused on the ghastliness of the weather and comparing ski waxes. I suspect new skin-based skis are going to make it on the shopping lists of many.

Gentle steam and a cranky woman

At this guesthouse, you can book a massage if you wish. Blissed out, sauna’d and massaged skiers arrived at the buffet table. While we had been in the sauna, Minna the host had prepared flame-blazed salmon, and the chef had braised beets in the oven. But before eating, we received a splash of Kiteen Kirkas, the famous distilled spirit from the hostess’s home county.

Minna told us that in the beginning, permission had to be sought from 90 landowners along the ski route, and now it had gone up to 220. As Minna told her stories of seeking and asking for permission we saw small flashes of the cranky woman that her business was named after (Äksyt Ämmät means cranky old women), but otherwise the lady of the house was of a very good disposition.

Guesthouse Pihlajapuu dessert

Bomba’s Tracks

There was a small hamlet in Nurmes, where names were briskly collected on a list. The village wanted its own school. A trusted man was sent on his skis to deliver the message, with the name list in his pocket. On the way the skier sank into a ditch, but at the last minute saved the inky list from a soggy end. The village got its school.

In Bomba’s yard, leaving for the final day of skiing

Winter arrived this year in Northern Karelia later than usual. Lakes did not form a proper layer of ice, before snow started to fall. That’s why the lakes are now full of puddles. The last day of skiing to the fourth guesthouse was mostly on Lake Pielinen. One of our group asked if we could move our route onto Bomba’s tracks in Nurmes. It was agreed. We managed to avoid the same fate as the school hero and got to ski with dry feet.

Majatalo Pihlajapuu, previously a village school. The classroom invites you to stay a while longer.

The quiet, one-way track switched to the back of a taxi with a chatty taxi driver and then to wide tracks that were in very good condition. The snowstorm from the previous day had calmed down. Birds tested their voices as if to ask: can we start to sing our spring song yet?

Along Lake Pielinen

For the last stretch to the guesthouse, we moved along a track just made for us, in Pielinen’s peaceful snow flurries, each person going at their own pace.

Männikkölä Cottage´s vatruska rounds in a basket

It felt quite strange to ski right there, on Finland’s fourth largest lake. Only a stone’s throw south was Koli’s shore. If on that shore a group of good people hadn’t offered my father a boat ride over the lake, my father wouldn’t have got to school, or ended up getting an education in Joensuu, or met my mother. If that group of partygoers hadn’t taken my penniless future father on board, maybe I wouldn’t exist.

The track ends in a courtyard of red houses. Red ochre paint could be seen here and there amongst the snowdrifts. All the buildings were buried under the snow. This would be a good place to hibernate like a moomin. I might just stay here.

A skier who has skied for 30 years on Lapland’s ski-tracks sighs:

‘There’s too much of everything in Lapland! I can’t relax, because I want to take part in everything from ski boot dances to evening shows and in between go do the rounds on all the tracks. This is something completely special. Here I can really relax.

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse route in a nutshell

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse is a full service cross country ski tour. The package includes overnights in four guesthouses full board, saunas, tracks made especially for the group, luggage transfers between accommodation and trip information.

Food is mostly organic and local and of the region.

The route goes from Valtimo’s Puukarin Pysäkki Majatalo in Pohjois Karjala to Salmenkyla in Nurmes on the shores of Lake Pielinen. Daily distances are about 25km. There are three skiing days, but you can of course extend your holiday at either end. In  the summer, you can do the route by paddling or by bike. Dogs are also welcome on the ski tracks. Even though the journey might sound long, a basic level skier can manage it on pretty much any kind of ski – you have the whole day and the only things on the programme in addition to skiing is sauna and meals.

The Ski Tour Package is brought to you by Northern Karelian entrepreneurs working in close cooperation. Read more and book your own trip here!

From Guesthouse to Guesthouse Tour accommodation:

Majatalo Puukarin Pysäkki

Kajaanintie 844, 75700 Valtimo

Laitalan Lomat

Laitalantie 85, 75710 Karhunpää

Majatalo Pihlajapuu

Salmenkyläntie 81, 75500 Nurmes

Männikkölän Pirtti (in Finnish)

Pellikanlahdentie 1, 75530 Nurmes

Translation by Becky Hastings

Polar night has officially begun in the North and the whole of Lapland is already covered with a thick layer of snow. Here are some photos that I have taken during this last month in the areas of Kittilä, Muonio and Sodankylä. I hope you enjoy them – see how beautiful Lapland can be in November!

Above: Sun shining in a snowy forest near Levitunturi fell. In the beginning of November there was still some bright sunlight that we could enjoy. Day by day there was less and less sunshine and now it’s almost completely gone.

Above: Afternoon moments by Jerisjärvi lake. These little houses are very old but fishermen still use them actively – Jerisjärvi is famous for having lots of fish. This was a really cold day: it was -22 degrees celcius or about -8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Above: Some last rays of sunlight make this snowy forest look almost pink. This photo was taken by Kitinen river in Sodankylä.

Above: My friend on top of Levitunturi fell. Levitunturi or Levi is a cool place because it’s easy to reach: a road leads to the top and there’s even a parking lot and a café!

Above: This was a cloudy day, no sunshine whatsoever. I saw a white reindeer walking alone on the ice of Ounasjoki river. The reindeer noticed me as well and looked at me.

Above: Not all waters freeze even during the coldest winter nights. This photo shows what it looks like in Immelkaltio spring near Levitunturi fell.

Above: I took a picture of myself standing in the middle of some beautiful snowy trees. We had had lots of fresh snow the previous day.

Above: a whooper swan on Jerisjärvi lake. There’s a part of this lake that does not freeze – each year there are some whooper swans that decide to stay here instead of heading South. Whooper swan is the national bird of Finland.

Above: In Lapland there’s not much, if any light pollution. That’s why spotting the Milky Way is relatively easy, as long as there are no clouds.

This past winter here has been a bit different for me in terms of photography. I focused less on creating my more typical landscapes and tried to introduce a more human element into my images. I wanted to somehow show what it feels like to experience the amazing and surrealistic side of the Finnish wintertime. Whether it’s watching the sun go down in the middle of the day, or witnessing my city becoming hidden from snowfall, I had some fantastically memorable experiences this time around, and now I’d like to share a few of these memories with you. Here are some photos from winter.

Above: My favourite local island ”Voiluoto”, sits on the frozen lake in the chilly and fresh weather. I love how soft and calm the scene appeared on that particular day. It was almost like the clouds appeared as markings from a paintbrush pressed flat onto a canvas.

Above: Curves of snow sweep along the lake at sunset. I decided to put myself in the image to show the scope and vastness of the scene. It was really a beautiful moment to behold.

Above: Not my most interesting photo, but I just found it to be a very simple way of showing the snowy treetops on a typical overcast and wintery day here in Finland. I really enjoy the contrast that the snow has with the darker shadows from the trees.

Above: A night spent exploring under the stars at twilight. I was waiting for the sky to get darker so that I could do some astrophotography, but whether you’re into photography or not, I highly recommend having a nice winter walk after sunset. It’s amazing when the last glow of sunlight stretches across the horizon and the stars start to pop up in the sky. Just remember to dress warmly and to take precaution when venturing outdoors, especially on the lakes.

Above: In this image I wanted to recreate the beautiful sense of mystery that the Finnish winter scenery can provide. The frozen lakes and night sky can make a great combination for photography, or even if you just want to experience the other-worldly atmosphere without a camera.

Above: There was one particularly stormy day here in Joensuu. The snow was coming down like crazy and the wind was blowing like mad. This image was taken just outside of the city, showing someone skiing through the stormy conditions. I found this stormy weather to be fascinating, so I sheltered myself under a tree, set up my tripod and took this shot.

Above: Another moment venturing outdoors. The winter weather can occasionally be so wintery that it conceals everything in the distance, making for some awesome and simplistic photography. Just to experience it feels like you are in a dream, or up in the clouds!

Above: Sitting on the lake one night with my lantern. The air was incredibly frosty and refreshing. This image would probably round-up my experience over the last season best. The adventure, moody and mysterious darkness, crisp air and spectacular snowy landscapes all combined to make it a winter worth remembering.

Although the winter is cold and dark, there is a strange and wonderful side to it. There is something special about Finland and its nature all throughout the year, and I think that however you wish to experience it, there is always something special to find or some alluring moment to take in. Now that spring is here and the lakes are starting to thaw again, I can’t help but feel excited for the summer, even though I know that a part of me will miss the ice-cold beauty that winter has to offer. Anyways, it’s all good stuff over here 🙂

Hope that you all had a great snowy season and that you have a fantastic spring! See you out there in the nature.

-Jason

Deep in the forests of Eastern Finland, there lies a peaceful and unspoiled place. Here, one can find snow that goes knee deep and frozen trees that tower all around. It is totally quiet here, and it is possible to be in harmony with nature while walking through these woods.

This place is Koli National park, and last winter I was lucky enough to explore this snowy realm. I have put together a 12-photo album of this adventure as I make my way to the Ukko-Koli, where one can see one of the most spectacular views in all of Finland. The hiking trail is the forest walk which can be taken from the Koli village (Kolinkylä) to the lookout at Ukko-Koli, overlooking lake Pielinen.

The first thing I was greeted with was fluffy snow peacefully adorning the branches of the many trees. Old spruces and birches grow in these protected forests.

I was sinking knee-deep into the snow with every step, but it made for a more memorable adventure.

There is no better place to be mindful of the surroundings and enjoy the delicacy of nature. Koli has inspired artists for centuries.

A lonely sign could be found along the hiking trail, guiding the way through these mysterious white forests.

‘The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.’ – John Muir

Walking through these peaceful landscapes was indeed very calming and relaxing for the mind.

The walk is also about the little things, such as the fresh cold air.

With every passing minute on the walk, the views get better and better. Even a ski area can be found here.

Then, at last, I reached the summit, where the iconic ‘National view of Finland’ can be found. It was an unforgettable sight. The lake Pielinen lies ice-covered in the distance, as misty clouds cast their shroud over some of the frozen pine woods.

Once, long ago, great glaciers shaped these landscapes. Back then, the land was permanently frozen under glacial ice caps which didn’t melt for thousands of years.

Some of the greatest trees can be found here. They span from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts in what is known as the Main Taiga, the world’s largest ecosystem.

On the way back down, I found a traditional cozy winter cottage with its gates lying open in welcome.

And finally back again at my homely accommodation, Kolin Ryynänen, a traditional wooden lodge.

Every year, the fells of Saariselkä are covered by a layer of fluffy white snow. This ski centre, the northernmost in Europe, boasts a myriad of beautiful slopes, fun sledging hills, well-maintained ski trails and guided treks, guaranteeing a memorable holiday.

Text: Helena Sahavirta, Photos: Panu Pohjola

In Saariselkä, the ski season is guaranteed to last from November to May – perhaps even longer, as in the past the ski centre has opened its doors on three days in June to offer its visitors the memorable experience of skiing on slopes lit by the midnight sun.

The natural snow in Saariselkä is of excellent quality and lasts until late spring on the slopes between two fells, where beginners can find suitable courses and more experienced skiers can try their hands at tricks. Saariselkä also boasts two extra long sledging slopes, one of which is the longest in Finland. On this 1,800 metre run, daredevils can whizz down from the top of Kaunispää all the way to the lower chairlift terminal. The toboggan slope is illuminated with aurora-inspired light art.

In December the sun never rises in Saariselkä, but the ski centre’s well-lit slopes guarantee that the winter fun doesn’t have to stop. The polar night brings its own magical atmosphere to Saariselkä – and the arrival of spring offers another enchanting experience when the days get longer and the April sun glistens on the snow like a thousand diamonds.

Even for visitors who have never experienced snow before, learning downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledging and cross-country skiing is safe and fun with Ski Saariselkä’s professional instructors. To ensure safety, the beginner slopes and other practice facilities have been designed with novice skiers in mind.

The ski resort of Saariselkä boasts about 200 kilometres of well-maintained ski trails, 34 kilometres of which are illuminated. With its vast wilderness area, Urho Kekkonen National Park, situated a stone’s throw from the ski centre, offers great opportunities for cross-country skiing and trekking. A map of the ski trails is available online at infogis.fi/saariselka.

Snowmobile safaris into the wilderness

Playing in the snow comes naturally to children, and the unspoilt, snowy forest often brings out the inner child in many adults too, who find themselves building snowmen and making ‘snow angels’.

For some, on the other hand, snow may be such a novelty that they feel slightly nervous about the unfamiliar conditions. For this reason, Saariselkä’s winter safari organisers often pick up their customers from the hotel or Saariselkä centre and kit them out in warm snowsuits. They also rent outdoor gear such as snowsuits, skis, snowshoes, sliding snowshoes and sleds to DIY travellers, as well as offering ski waxing services. Shops in Saariselkä sell a wide range of winter clothing, from socks and thermal underwear to hats and outerwear.

Lapland Safaris’ most popular excursion, the Aurora Borealis Safari, takes visitors on a hunt for the Northern Lights half an hour’s drive, or an hour’s snowmobile ride, away. Situated by a large lake, the viewing spot, far from any artificial lights, has been selected to maximise the chances of seeing this incredible natural display. Also fat bike treks are organised along snow-covered forest roads to a frozen lake for a spot of ice fishing.

Snowmobile safaris offer adventures in the forest and on the fells.

Northern Lights Village also offers a variety of winter activities, including tuition in cross-country skiing and photographing the Northern Lights. Children over the age of three can put their skills to the test on a children’s snowmobile. In addition to an ordinary restaurant, the hotel boasts a snow restaurant where diners can sample drinks and savour á la carte dishes while seated on ice benches covered with reindeer rugs. The hotel has its own reindeer farm, and visitors can discover a world of Arctic adventures right on the hotel’s doorstep, including snowmobile, reindeer and husky safaris.

Ice fishing on a frozen lake

Joiku-Kotsamo Safaris, run by a local Sámi family, offers a variety of reindeer safaris. Once the ground is covered by a layer of snow, reindeer-pulled sled rides are arranged every evening. On these two-hour outings, you can scan the skies for the magnificent Northern Lights before stopping to warm up by a campfire with some hot drinks. During the day, the reindeer safaris weave their way through snowy pine forests.

In December, when lakes get their ice cover, fishing on a frozen lake makes for a memorable experience. After riding to the lake on a snowmobile, you can fish for Arctic char and grayling through a hole cut in the ice. Your catch is transformed into a mouth-watering fish soup, washed down with coffee brewed on a campfire.

In the daytime, snowmobile safaris, lasting either two or three hours, take visitors to admire the majestic fell scenery, while in the evening the goal is to make an Aurora Borealis sighting. The reindeer farm also has a traditional Lappish log cabin where you can enjoy authentic Sámi delicacies: smoked reindeer, salmon cooked on an open fire and Arctic berries, with the experience completed by Sámi yoik and folktales. Advance booking is required.

Snow safaris arranged by Lapin Luontolomat take visitors through vast northern forests to the shore of a lake, known for its clear water, where they are welcomed by a log cabin, sauna, hot tub, lean-to and a fisherman’s cottage. This spot under starry skies makes for an idyllic setting for ice-fishing and enjoying a candlelit meal by a campfire, while keeping an eye out for the Northern Lights. The open fire is also perfect for grilling sausages.

Local delicacies can also be savoured at the cabin, which seats 50 people and serves lunches and dinners with yoik as an accompaniment. The place, though far from urban noise and artificial lights, is easy to reach by car and snowmobile. For those looking for a real adventure, a longer snowmobile safari to the Russian border is an ideal choice.

With its wide range of activities, Saariselkä offers something for everyone – whether you are in search of action-packed adventures or relaxation amid Lapland’s magical landscapes.

Read more:

Inari-Saariselkä – Far in the North

➡ 1 km nature trail
⚫⚫⚪ Moderate: steep hill side
🔥 Shelter with a campfire spot
📌 Lapland Visitor Center address: Peuratie 15, Enontekiö

In the village Hetta in Enontekiö there is a nice walking route up the hill Jyppyrä for a day trip if you are in the area. The route starts from the yard of the Fell Lapland Visitor Centre which is located just a few minutes walk from the center of Hetta.

In winter this route is beautiful and an easy choice if the snow is too soft and deep for other places. You can also rent snow shoes from the visitor center and try out this fun activity!

The route is not too long, around one kilometer, but it is really steep, so you have to make some effort. But the view up the hill is really worth it. You will be able to see all the way towards the great fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park and the snowy trees look amazing!

Up on the highest point there is a traditional open shelter with a campfire spot, and it is possible to grill food there. At the entrance there is a lookout, but if you climb a little bit more and go behind the kota-shelter, you will get an even better view.

The day is short in Lapland during the winter, but the colors of the polar night are amazing. And what could be better than to climb high to watch a beautiful sunset?

The best winter days are ahead now that the spring comes with the sunny days!

After 3 months of being on student exchange, the time had come for me to embark on a long-awaited Christmas adventure to snowy Finnish Lapland. This experience is literally the polar opposite of what it’s like in my home country, sunny Australia. I was especially looking forward to the untouched nature and of course the elusive northern lights.

On the long bus journey, we stopped over at Santa’s village in Rovaniemi and walked across the arctic circle. It can’t get any more Christmas vibe than this!

After over 12 hours of being on a bus, my group finally arrived at the pine-tree filled winter wonderland that was Saariselkä. We were staying in a rustic wooden log cabin complete with a fireplace and sauna.

Picturesque log cabins are where you can expect to stay at in Lapland.

There was fluffy snow up to the knees everywhere. Being above the arctic circle, this time of year is the polar night, where the Sun does not rise for several weeks. However, there were about 3 to 4 hours each day with twilight conditions. Being an avid aurora-chaser, it makes for an ideal opportunity to catch a glimpse of the northern lights – if only the clouds stay away at night.

The local area around where I was staying… so pristine and natural.

Beyond searching for the elusive northern lights, this place was an amazing location for a wide variety of activities that I tried, including husky-sledding, snow-shoeing, skiing, sauna, ice-swimming and of course nature photography. It was especially great to meet some husky puppies. But more than anything, it’s a place to wind down and take in the quiet and fresh air of the nature on short walks. It was indeed one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.

I actually have a very funny story to tell about my phone whilst husky-sledding. After my turn on the sled was complete, I realised my new Finnish Nokia smartphone had fallen out of my pocket (duh!) and into the snow somewhere in the arctic wilderness.

Husky-sledding in the arctic.

After lunch, the tour guide and my friends decided to make a search party. Walking through the snowy wilderness in the fading light conditions at 2pm, there seemed to be little hope, but the untouched and silent nature was just surreal. Suddenly, at the very end of the journey we found just a tiny bit of the phone sticking out of the snow. It was basically a block of ice.

But it was still on! And to my great surprise — still at 75 percent battery. The next thing to do is typically Finnish — to take the phone to the sauna so the ice can melt.

And this plan worked! Because afterwards it was working perfectly fine.

Lapland with its photogenic forests.

On the first night, I was most eager to see the northern lights. There were good geomagnetic conditions for aurora, so it was promising. That’s until I stepped out of the warmth of the cabin to see that the sky was mostly full of cloud. Nevertheless, I went outside as there was a few gaps where I could see a star or two. After walking around the village and shooting photos without luck for over an hour in -10 degrees, it was time to head to bed.

Then I awoke suddenly to find my cabin-buddies announcing that the northern lights would be visible soon! Half-asleep, I looked out the window to see nothing. I thought the window was facing north, but it was actually facing south, a mistake that would bite me this night.

I managed to find my compass which pointed me north, and by the time I got outside, there was only a very faint polar light show, with cloud rolling in again. The others who reacted faster saw a much better show this night.

Finnish Lapland is one of the best places in the world to see the enchanting northern lights. Photocredit: Jonna Saari.

The next night, in even colder and windier conditions, more luck was on my side, but only for a good twenty minutes. The skies cleared briefly just at the right moment to see a band of aurora flickering overhead and down to the horizon. I managed to get this photo before it clouded over again.

No matter how many times I have seen the lights, or how impressive they have been, it is always immensely exciting!

A brief show of the northern lights in the forested fells of Lapland in the midst of the long polar night.

The next night had even better auroral conditions, but it was cloudy and snowing heavily so there was no point of going outside. The following (and final night) there was a few hours of clear skies in the early evening, but the auroral conditions were so weak that only those on the aurora tours managed to see them, and only briefly. Though I did hear of a couple who got engaged as soon as they saw them! That’s definitely a Christmas to remember for them. And for us, it was for sure an adventure to look back on!

The blue twilight hour falls relatively early in the afternoon at this time of year in Lapland.

On December 6 Finland celebrates 101 years of independence. Happy birthday Finland! On the flag of Finland there’s a blue Nordic cross on a white background. To show you how blue and white our nature can be, here are some photos that I have taken over the years in Lapland. Enjoy! 

Reindeer in Utsjoki, Lapland. This photo was taken on March 2015.

A woman drinking water from a stream in Muonio, Lapland. December 2015.

Pallas fells photographed during polar night in Muonio, Lapland. December 2015.

A café and some snowy trees on the top of Levi fell in Kittilä. January 2016.

Watching auroras in Kittilä. December 2016.

A birch forest in Utsjoki, Lapland. February 2017.

Perfect silence. Sompio Strict Nature Reserve, Sodankylä, Lapland. December 2018.

Black dog in a white forest. March 2017.

A view from the top of Kaunispää Fell in Inari, Lapland. March 2017.

Snowy birch in Sodankylä. March 2017.

 

It’s the best moment of the year. At least, that’s my opinion! The first snow of the season is a moment I am looking forward to from the moment the snow has melted in spring. This year the amount of snow (in autumn) was quite a surprise, we were able to have a lot of fun thanks to the big load of snow that mother nature had given us.

I started off my day by taking out the sledge from the shed, fixing it up a little bit and, of course, taking it for a ride. I own only one Siberian husky that is of age to run, so usually me and my neighbor combine our dogs and go for a run together.

The dogs were really excited because of the snow, and that made them work extra hard in front of the sledge. But still, us humans had to work hard as well, since the snow was so heavy and wet that it was too hard for the dogs to pull us all the way. Not that we minded, it was great to be back on the sledge!

After some rest and warming up by the fire, we started our afternoon hike. The snow makes everything look so romantic and breathtaking. The sun was setting quite early at the time, which made the scenery even more unforgettable.

During our hike we walked between some tracks of reindeer that had been there not so long ago. Luckily, with two huskies, it’s not hard to find their current location. After a couple of meters of sniffing their way through the snow, we were able to spot them in the distance, but sadly they decided to run away after a quick picture.

Of course, with a scenery this beautiful, you have to take pictures of your husky, just to add some to your already way too big photo collection.

After our hike we ate some small snacks and went off to our next activity: watching the northern lights. Word in the village was that it was going to be a breathtaking show tonight, so of course we didn’t want to miss out on it.

We made our way to the river and made a nice little campfire, prepared our cameras and then, we waited. But we didn’t need a lot of patience this night: just after 10 minutes, the show had already started.

Let’s be honest, in this case pictures say more then words.

Then we went off back to our cottage, where we would wake up the next morning knowing that the snow fun was only going to last for a couple hours more. Luckily the real winter is already around the corner. And I couldn’t be more excited about it!

Sleighride at Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Prancing through the snow, on a one-horse open sleigh? Come on, it’s not Xmas… Little did we expect that our day trip to Puijo hill on an ordinary winter day in February would include a sleighride!

Our main reason for visiting Konttila farm on top of Puijo ridge, only few kilometres from the city centre of Kuopio, was that there is a small café which serves also hot drinks along with a selection of sweet and savoury snacks. A mug of hot chocolate never goes amiss on a cold day like this: -18 °C.

Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The main building at Konttila dates back to 1770 and is among the oldest in Kuopio city. These days, the farm welcomes visitors on a daily basis all year round to learn about the surrounding nature as well as to its café that is located in the main building (just try the door handle). The farm is usually open until 6 p.m.

We were just about to leave the warmth of Konttila when our host asked if we’d be interested in a sleigh ride? Yes please!

Finnhorse Miilu at Konttila, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

 

Who would be doing the hard work? The 27 year old gelding Miilu (a Finnhorse) whose grandad Vieteri was a Finnish harness racing champion, just like Miilu’s uncle, an equally famous Viesker.

We walked to the end of the shed, sat down on the open sleigh and our host drew a warm blanket over our legs before we set off.

Sleighride at Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Miilu turned towards the track and we moved swiftly on top of the crisp white snow, with the lovely winter sun shining above us from the perfectly clear blue sky.

You just can’t compare this to a snowmobile ride.

Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The track took us round the open space, right next to the lovely, snowy forest, and at intervals, our host stopped Miilu so that we could take photos.

Sleighride at Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

When we were getting closer to the main building of Konttila farm, we thought the ride was almost over, but now: our host led Miilu towards the small road. Finally, thought Miilu, and our sleigh picked up speed when he started trotting happily.

The lovely 15-minute sleighride really made the Puijo visit special.

Puijo tower at Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

However, our trip to Puijo wasn’t yet over. To finalize our great day on top of Puijo ridge we walked the few hundred meters from Konttila farm to Puijo Tower which isn’t just an observation tower but also has a nice restaurant/café.

View from Puijo tower at Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Below our feet were the ski jumping tower, the downhill skiing slopes, and the forests of Puijo nature conservation area. Puijo Tower is well worth a visit as from there you can get a lovely view all over Kuopio and its surroundings, maybe even spot the location of Konttila Farm.

Thanks again to Miilu, we’ll definitely be back at Puijo!

Konttila Farm, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland on the map