Seeking connection and captivation in one of the most remote parts of the planet all come together in an exhilarating trip to Lapland

We’re working with four hours of low winter sun, hidden behind a moving drift of chalky clouds. Birch trees bend backwards under the weight of virgin snow. It is apocalyptic, but magically so, without a foreboding sense of doom.


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The world here is in black and white. Day and night are easily interchangeable. It feels like the most solitary piece of this planet, and the most primal. As we drive through colossal banks of thick mist, it’s like the land is keeping secrets from us. And we might be tricked into believing we are on another planet altogether were it not for sporadic signs directing to ski slopes, reminding us that others have traced their way through the sheer scales of snow.

Lapland Finland

“In Finnish folklore, an element of mystery is associated with Lapland,” enthuses Ari Kurulaa, our guide for the five-day trip – a self- and publicly-proclaimed travel guru, whose three-decade longevity in the industry and Lappish roots cannot be faulted.

Among large swathes of uninterrupted, bleach-white snow are 43 ski slopes scattered around the town of Levi, a force in Finland’s tourism infrastructure. Levi sits 170km north of the Arctic Circle and Rovaniemi City (Lapland’s capital), and is the largest ski and recreational resort in the country, complete with clusters of remote luxury igloos, cabins and villas. The compact town centre is dominated by cosy eateries, skiing and hiking shops, your standard franchise accommodations and some fluorescently zapping karaoke bars, as if plucked from the 1980s. Karaoke, Ari earnestly explains, “is taken very seriously by the Finns.” Think along the lines of America’s Got Talent – the final.

As adventurous and active as Levi is, our yearnings are more sedentary and spiritual. We’ve come, like many do, to capture nature’s most spectacular light show, the Northern Lights, unreliable and unpredictable as they can be – the itinerary makes no promises either, prefacing each day to “hopefully” end with a sighting.

Lapland Finland

We stay for a night at the Levi Igloos, which is the stuff of Instagram dreams. We each have our own superbly insulated glass igloo to retire to. Though the unchanging, starless sky dashes the prospect of the Aurora lasering into action, the see-through solitude of the Levi Igloos dispenses another kind of Nordic beauty, one of stillness and silence, experienced from horizontal comforts, in a motorised bed that can be adjusted to suit your 360-degree viewing. The temptation to hole up in your fully equipped cocoon and watch the wilds of Lapland is gloriously strong. Here is where your imagination is given space to roam because in Lapland, fantasy is more reliable than reality.

Moving around Lapland in winter (the better part of eight months of the year) can only be done on wheels – on foot is manageable for all of 10 minutes. Anything above that requires steely perseverance and a wrap of Michelin man apparel. The particulate content of the air, however, is more or less 4 µg/m3 – in other words, about as pure as it comes. Our lungs flood with crisp, clean air. I want to jar it up and take it home with me. Unsurprisingly, the land-to-people ratio is greatly stacked in nature’s favour. Catching sight of humans in this surrealist winter is a scarce event. That being said, when the rest of the world goes into a deep freeze they deal with it by way of shouty memes. The Finns call it Tuesday. Because, pragmatism. They excel at winter. The Finns take to snow like we in the UAE take to the alfresco season. Ari asserts his personal barometer of what is deemed cold, which apparently “it is not right now,” spoken with a hint of pride. “When we have the first fall of snow, we run outside and stick our tongues out.”

Lapland Finland

We embark on a reindeer safari, which is as paramount an experience in Lapland as a camel ride is in the desert. While it’s no white-knuckle ride, you’re bobbing along through what can only be described as Narnia. Ari’s deep-seated reindeer know-how comes into effect: “Don’t touch the antlers and don’t pet them. They are indifferent animals who don’t care much for humans. And be quiet around them.” We are herded in convoys, rumbling through vistas so impressive they prick our eyes with admiration. In joined silence, we try to keep hold of it all in our mind’s eye, as well as take some wobbly selfies.

As much as the Finns love the outdoors, indoor pursuits take over once it is prohibitively cold. It is said that there are two million saunas in Finland. With a population of just under six million, sauna shortage isn’t a problem here. Indeed, each home (apartments too) is installed with a sauna. It’s the same expectation we have of air conditioning in the UAE. Sauna is an embedded pastime in the Finnish culture – so much so the noun is converted to a verb (“shall we sauna?” you’ll often hear) as the Finns can sauna up to five times a week, if not more. “But what do you do each time? Don’t you get bored?” I question. “No, of course not,” beams Ari. “We totally relax. We sit and do nothing. We love it.”

It turns out, the Finns are good at staying in. We experience this at Levi Spirit, which, as per the likes on my Instagram account following a panoramic shot of the chalet-chic interiors, should receive an influx of snow-seeking GCC tourists any day now.

We are in a villa that can bed up to 10 people. The modern decor is contemporary enough to sit within the pages of an interior’s magazine, but is also in tune with its woodland surroundings. The deep wood panelling is the very definition of cosy-chic.

We conclude our Lappish adventure at Levi Spirit, around the dining table, along with some Finns who educate us on national idiosyncrasies. We latch onto ‘noniin’ – a word of versatile interjection, namely to say, ‘let’s do this!’ or ‘oh well…’ – context-specific, ‘noniin’ is a conversation filler. We find ourselves throwing the word around between bites of salmon marinated in fresh juniper berry, and boletus mushroom soup with thyme foam. Initially I eschew the proposed taste of reindeer. “I was just driven by one – how can I possibly eat one now? Loyalties, please!” But I succumb with creased eyes, gulping it in one fell swoop. And let’s just say, I feel my steak passions starting to wane. But I decide that its lack of availability back home is probably a good thing.

In the morning a slow dawn breaks in, scattering a luminous grey light over every snow-covered surface. The villa’s full-aspect floor-to-ceiling windows make sure you can see far into the distance. For a moment I feel as powerful as nature, as if I have it gripped in my very calm hand. Ari tells me I’m beginning to feel like a Finn. “What? How?” I tease – “Finns are content with simple pleasures, no matter how cold, dark or high the taxes are,” he says with a placid grin on his face. He’s right, I’m as content as a cup of cocoa. Sometimes it takes stripping away all that you know to feel connected and captivated once again. In a world hooked on speed and information, Lapland, a world of its own, is true luxury.

24 hours in Helsinki

Lapland Finland

For everything a European city is supposed to be, Helsinki does a fine job of scratching an itch. Where industrial is married to majestic, Helsinki has a mix of Brutalist architecture (particularly around the port) and romantic 19-century buildings with gilded finishings for a well-rounded old versus new experience.

We stay at Hotel Kämp, a venerable site with classically maintained interiors and a plethora of luxury accents, where heads of state secretly saunter in and out. Its restaurants serve up perfect pre-theatre elegance, while its central location is a draw for ease. Elsewhere, an honourable mention for dinner goes to Yes Yes Yes.

This corner of Helsinki’s gastronomic scene was formerly occupied by a McDonald’s and thus redeemed with a more cultured establishment where menu items include roasted sweet potato with black tahini, peanut and fennel aioli, and a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, haloumi fries. And being that Helsinki is manageable on foot, you can easily take in all its highlights, including Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art  (go here just for the light), Esplanade Park (people-watching galore) and the Old Market Hall, where merchants have been selling a wide variety of delicacies since 1889, and we find every type of smoked salmon possible.


Flydubai operates daily flights from Dubai to Helsinki on its new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircrafts, which feature flat beds in Business Class and a very decent seat pitch in Economy Class. From Helsinki, you need to take an internal flight with Finnair to Kittila. From there, it’s a 15-minute bus ride to the centre of Levi.

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Images: Supplied