Santa, sleigh rides and snow: Lapland is one of the world's best winter holiday destinations. But summer is beautiful too, says Penny Bunting
Summer in Lapland
Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland. With most of Lapland within the Arctic Circle, it's a prime winter holiday destination featuring wild frozen landscapes, snow-filled ski resorts – and, of course, Santa.
But Lapland is beautiful in summer too – as we discovered this year. With long sunny days (and nights, during the period of the midnight sun), clean, clear air and vast areas of wilderness, it's perfect for getting outdoors and active.
Over the next few months, we'll be publishing a series of articles that focus on some of the great things you can see and do in this stunning Nordic region.
For now, though, here are 10 quick ideas for visiting Lapland in the summer.
Urho Kekkonen National Park
In a country that's full of wilderness, this is one of the wildest regions. Stretching form the ski resort of Saariselkä in the west, all the way to the Russian border in the East, Urho Kekkonen National Park feels like Europe's last frontier.
With hundreds of miles of trails, and diverse landscapes – including fells, forests, lakes and gorges – it's a fantastic place to immerse yourself in Nature.
Biking, hiking, canoeing and climbing – Finland offers every activity imaginable for outdoor enthusiasts.
One of the best places to head for is Levi, where winter skiers are replaced by thrill-seeking mountain bikers who hare down the mountainside on specially designed bike routes. The year-round Gondola offers an effortless way to reach the top of the mountain, with access to hiking trails – including the excellent, fully accessible Peak Trail – and a great little café with panoramic views. Read more.
There are quite a few trees in Finland – it's Europe's most forested country, with almost 80 per cent of land covered with trees. In Lapland you're never far from a forest, and picnic areas along the roadside offer easy access into the woods. Or head to one of the region's national parks, such as Pallas-Yllästunturi or Urho Kekkonen.
Perhaps the best time to visit the Finnish forest is in late August or September, when the autumn hiking season - known as ruska – begins and the beautiful countryside colours rival anything that Canada or New England have to offer.
Pyhä-Luosto National Park
For sheer variety of landscapes, it's hard to beat Pyhä-Luosto National Park. Hike through ancient forests, fens and mires, with woodlands carpeted with cloudberry and blueberry bushes.
Isokuru, Pyhä-Luosto National Park
Aapa mire, Pyhä-Luosto National Park
Birch forest, Pyhä-Luosto National Park
One highlight is Isokuru – Finland's deepest gorge. A trail leads through the bottom of the gorge to Lake Pyhänkasteenlampi and the Pyhänkasteenputous Waterfall. It's a stunning walk, with gorgeous scenery.
Cruise on Lake Inari
Lakes are a key feature of the Finnish landscape, and Lake Inari is the third largest lake in the country. A cruise from the town of Inari is a fantastic way to appreciate the vastness of the lake and get a glimpse of a few of the 3,300 islands that rise out of the water.
One of these is Ukko Island, used as a Sámi sacrificial offering ground up until the 19th century. The boat stops here so that you can clamber to the top of the island and enjoy the glorious views.
The Sámi are the only indigenous people of the European Union. Living in the northern parts of Finland, Norway and Sweden, as well as in parts of North-Eastern Russia, the Sámi are known for their close connection to the land and Nature, and for their rich cultural heritage.
The superb Sámi Museum SIIDA, in Inari, is one of the best places for an introduction to Sámi culture and traditions, with a reconstructed outdoor Sámi village and absorbing indoor exhibitions about life in the Arctic through the seasons. Or visit the Fell Lapland Visitor Centre in Hetta.
Heading into the forest to gather mushrooms and berries is, for many Finns, an annual ritual – and a great excuse to spend time in Nature.
According to 'every man's right' – a Finnish law that allows free access to everyone to all countryside areas – anyone can pick mushrooms and berries, for their own use or for selling. In northern Finland, more than 70 per cent of the population takes advantage of this free harvest – and more than 50 million kilos of berries are picked each year!
Blueberries, ligonberries and cranberries can all be found on the forest floor – but it's perhaps the golden yellow cloudberry that is the most sought-after fruit. The succulent yellow fruits taste a little like melon – and finding them and picking them for yourself makes them all the more delicious.
Reindeer are everywhere in Lapland. They frequently hold up the traffic, as they amble down the road – and we even saw one wandering past our (ground floor) hotel window! So seeing these magnificent creatures is pretty much a given.
More elusive wildlife includes elk, lynx, wolverine, wolves and bears. You're much less likely to see these, unless you join a wildlife tour – but keep your eyes peeled!
While the Arctic Circle may not leap out as the best place to enjoy a wild swim, there are plenty of wild swimming opportunities about. Known as “The Land of a Thousand Lakes”, there are actually closer to 200,000 lakes in Finland – and a swim in a Lapland lake is certainly an exhilarating experience!
Some lakeside beaches are equipped with changing rooms – and you may even find a sauna, to take the chill off after your dip.
Swimming in Lake Pyhäjärvi, near Pyhä
You don't have to visit in December to soak up the Christmas atmosphere in Lapland. Rovaniemi is the place to head to for, with Christmassy attractions such as Santa's Post Office and SantaPark open for business year-round – and without the crowds.
A visit with the big man himself is a must. “Visiting in summer means we have more time for a long chat and to take lots of photos,” said Santa Claus, when we met him at SantaPark. At SantaPark you'll also find ice sculptures, a magic train, a bakery producing gingerbread – and acrobatic elves!
You can even stay in a Christmas-themed room, complete with fireplace and decorated Christmas tree, at Sokos Hotel Vaakuna in Rovaniemi. Why wait for December?
Green Adventures September 2017