Santa, Sleighs and Igloos in Finland

Do you believe in Santa Claus? What if I told you that the letters you address to “The North Pole” actually make it to a small town in Finland, where Santa and his helpers sit at their desks and read each and every letter? You probably won’t believe me, thinking it was a made up kids story. But really, it is actually true and I have seen it with my very own eyes!

I flew to a city called Ivalo, in northern Finland, located inside the Arctic Circle. Even in April, there was snow as far as my eyes could see. Reindeers appeared wandering around the alpine forests, as I took a 30-minute shuttle ride to Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Lapland.

Most people say they have never heard of Lapland, until I mention the “igloo hotel.” The iconic photo of a village dotted with glass igloos glowing against the twilight sky in wintery wonderland, has appeared across many social media posts. I had only dreamt of going there myself someday, and here I was.

igloo resort finlandThe shuttle dropped off the passengers at a log cabin used as the reception area. We fetched our keys and were told to use the sleighs kept outside to carry our luggage to our respective cabin rooms or igloos.

While it was snowing heavily outside and temperatures dipped under 30F (“unusually warm for this time of the year” they informed me), I dragged my wooden sleigh to my cabin.

laplandThere are three kinds of rooms at the resort. The first and most popular are the glass igloos, available in two sizes – sleeps 2 (with toilet, no shower) or 4 people (with shower and toilet). The igloos have limited space to store luggage and almost no privacy, since they are made entirely of glass. Though you have to walk through the snowy cold weather to get to the igloo, once inside, it is nice and toasty.

The second option is to get a log cabin. Here, you can get a very comfortable king size bed, kitchenette, breakfast area, as well as a personal sauna. Now, that’s luxury! For those who cannot decide between the igloo or the cabin, there is the Kelo Glass Igloo, which combines a cabin with an igloo, so you get the best of both worlds. Store your luggage in the cabin, enjoy a nice hot sauna, and sleep in the igloo at night.

kakslauttanen_kelo-glass_igloo_rgbPicture yourself lying in bed, looking at the sky, while the Aurora Lights dance around in their green, orange and red hues. That is the main reason to come here. In Lapland, you can see northern lights almost every night from August-April, in their full splendor. The resort also offers activities “Aurora Hunting” on snow mobiles or reindeer sleighs.

During the day, guests can enjoy winter sports such as cross country skiing, dog sledding, hiking, riding snow mobiles, and more.

dsc06915For lunch, there is always all-you-can-eat soup (two choices) and homemade breads. Dinner at the restaurant is also quite good. The menu features local ingredients and Lappish dishes, such as reindeer stew, Alaskan crab, grilled salmon, and stewed cloudberries.

reindeer & salmon

The resort is actually quite large and worth exploring for a few hours. First, you want to visit Santa’s house. Here, resident Mr and Mrs Claus live, meet guests and participate in activities through the season. The Celebration House is where Santa throws elaborate parties. It is also used for weddings and events. There are other small workshops, an ice chapel, and of course, the local wildlife. Couple of dozen reindeers live on the property.

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is one of it’s kind. It was started by a visionary, Jussi Eiramo. While on vacation, he discovered this patch of beautiful area where he could camp and see the Northern Lights almost every night of the year. So, he opened a souvenir shop about 40 years ago, then made ice igloos for people to stay at, and later designed the first glass igloos using unique Finnish technology.

Today, Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is a bucket list destination for those who seek adventure, romance and off the beaten path travel. It is a place where families flock to in the winter to celebrate the holiday season, party with Santa, and enjoy the essence of the North Pole.

5 Good Reasons to visit Ilulissat, Greenland

Ilulissat is a popular destination for those visiting Greenland, most of whom come from Nordic and Scandinavian countries. Direct flight on Iceland Air takes you from Revjivik, Iceland to Ilulissat, Greenland in a mere 3 hours. Once there, you hardly realize you have landed at a latitude of 69.2 degrees North, 280 kilometers above the Arctic circle. With about 5,000 residents, Ilulissat is the third largest city in Greenland, even though you won’t feel it by looking at the remote surroundings.

illulisat port

Here are 5 reasons you must visit this beautiful city…

1. Ilulissat Icefjord – A scenic backdrop to the entire township, the slow moving icebergs are a small reminder of what lies north of here – the world’s second largest glacier. At first glance, nothing is more captivating than watching these majestic white hills floating around in your backyard. Once you soak in its beauty from land, take an expedition on a sailboat or kayak. World of Greenland touring company offers spectacular sunset sails (with hot chocolate included) that are designed for those who want to admire the glaciers up close in comfort. Another option is to go kayaking in the ice fjord. The water is cold but still, while the memories are bound to freeze as long as you live.

sailing among glaciers

2. Hotel Arctic – Not just a place to rest for the night, this 4-star hotel offers uniquely designed igloos overlooking the Ilulissat Icefjord. Walk through the hotel’s hallway along a deck, observing the manager’s sled dogs, and make your way to your room/igloo. There is a comfortable double bed with 180 degrees view of the fjord, that lay only a few steps beyond. These dome shaped huts are designed with modern day amenities, including flat screen televisions and private bathrooms. Although the space is small, it fits 1-2 people and makes for a very secluded romantic getaway.

hotel arctic

If confined living is not your thing, rooms and suits at the hotel’s main building also have great views of the Icefjord. Hotel Arctic offers amenities such as wifi, bar, restaurant, lounge and conference rooms as well.

 3. Charming City – If there was a Portofino of Greenland, that would be Ilulissat. A small harbor packed with fishing and private boats marks the focal point of the city. Fishing is the main occupation of the residents, as Greenland is the largest supplier of halibut in the world. Cod, arctic char, shrimp, seal and whale also account for majority of the country’s exports.
The houses are brightly painted in different colors – red, yellow, black, blue – looking like containers of a ship from the outside. Exposed water pipes give sign that residents are dwelling inside. Every home includes a dog sled for winter and a boat for the summer.
ilulissat harbor
There is also a church painted black, a gymnasium, couple of grocery stores, and a few shops in the town. It is possible to walk the entire city in less than an hour, but photo opportunities are endless. The summer brings with it the midnight sun, almost 24 hours of daylight, so visitors can enjoy nonstop activities; but winter is the best time to go dog sledding.
4. History of the Inuit – Just on the city’s exterior, you will find Sermermiut, a 4000 year old Inuit settlement that was abounded in 1850. World of Greenland tours take visitors on a guided walk to the settlement and Ilulissat Icefjord World Heritage Site. Although the archeological site has very little remaining, it gives you a good idea of the circumstances under which different Inuit populations thrived. There is a replica of their summer home, where an entire family would sleep using lamps fueled by whale oil. The residents spent their days fishing and hunting by the glaciers, and moved inland during the winters.
Once you walk through the boardwalk, get to kællingekløften, where you can enjoy the magnificent view of the Icefiord, where there is nothing but white as far as your eyes can see. Makes you feel small and insignificant in its presence!

illulisat glacier walk

5. Dog Sledge with Huskies – The Greenland Husky is an ancient dog breed that is raised by residents throughout the country for hunting polar bear and seal, and sledding. Because of their stamina and warm coat, they can easily survive in the freezing arctic temperatures as working animals. Ilulissat is the biggest sledge district in Greenland and offers many great dog sledge experiences. An Inuit tradition, dating 2000 years back in time, this is still a viable means of transportation for many residents.
Walking around the  outskirts of city, you can see some 6,000 huskies kept in open fields. Packs of 8-16 dogs are maintained by each family, but the dogs live together in fenced areas. They often have a shed or wooden kennel for sleeping, but don’t seem to wind the cold winds. The dogs are fed fish heads and whatever protein is available.
Legislation prohibits Greenland Huskies from being moved south of the Arctic Circle and other dog breeds frombeing brought into the Arctic Circle, ensuring that Greenland huskies are the only dogs in the region. Do not approach the dogs as they are not raised to be pets. If you want to experience the local culture, take a dog sledding tour for 3 hours to 3 days with a professional company.