Apologies for the late posts. No, I am not dead.
Lapland, Finland is the northern most part of Finland and is home to reindeer, the northern lights, and lots and lots of snow. The weather was much colder than Oulu, but that’s to be expected because it is more north than Oulu. Many people come to Lapland every year, especially during the winter, because of the large variety of activities and the picturesque scenery that Lapland has to offer. One such activity is the ice hotel located in SnowVillage.
This was the part of the trip I was looking forward to the most. the ice hotel is just like what it sounds like: a hotel made of ice and snow. It sounds crazy, but seeing it in person really is quite amazing. The outside isn’t really anything interesting. The real magic is inside the hotel itself. There are multiple sections of the hotel with two big “warm” areas: the reception area and the warm room. Jutting off from these are the ice restaurant and the ice hotel rooms themselves. There’s even a chapel at the ice hotel! From the outside, you just see plain snow walls (like an igloo except less interesting). On the inside, though, there are decorations, sculptures, and carvings on the walls. It makes for an almost surreal experience.
As part of my trip, I decided to spend the night at the ice hotel because it’s been touted as a “once in a lifetime experience”. The package I booked was off of TripAdvisor through their partner Viator. The provider of the tour was Lapland Safaris, and I’m sure you could book directly through them if you wanted. The package I got included a night stay at the hotel, a three course meal in their ice restaurant, a guided tour of the hotel, a wake up call with hot berry juice, a ride to and from the ice hotel from a pickup point in Yllas, and a breakfast in the morning after waking up.
My pickup was at 6:15PM from Hotelli Yllasrinne. I took a 4:45AM train out of Oulu up to Kolari and then took a bus from there to Hotelli Yllasrinne. Around the hotel there were a lot of skiers, so I assume the area is a popular ski spot. I had to wait a while at Hotelli Yllasrinne for my pickup, but it has a nice lobby with an upstairs area (lots of bean bags) as well as free wifi and a bar/restaurant. The area around it is very idyllic, especially with the whole cabin in the winter woods aesthetic.
The ride to SnowVillage was realtively quick, mostly because I was the only person on the tour. I believe most people book their own room through SnowVillage and find their own way to get to the hotel, but that wasn’t something I could do easily, especially as a solo traveler. When I got there, there was surprisingly wifi (only in the reception area and warm room though), so I waited around reception until the tour started at 7:00PM.
Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, and the tour was pretty good. I mean, there aren’t many ways to mess up a tour. After the tour, I took pictures of the hotel while waiting for my dinner reservation at 8:30PM in the ice restaurant. The ice restaurant was themed to celebrate Suomi 100 which was something I first encountered while in Helsinki. Suomi 100 is celebrating Finland’s 100 years of independence and is a pretty big deal here. In fact, one of the big things happening during this time in Finland is the ISU World Figure Skating Competition and I’m sad I won’t be anywhere near Finland to see it. The restaurant itself was really breathtaking as well as the bar area. I was going to get a shot in an ice glass, but was too cold after dinner to order one to try. Maybe next time.
Dinner was really good. The tables are marked with little nameplates, so you first look for your nameplate. Once you sit down, if you are cold, there are fleece blankets outside for your use. The tops of the tables have wooden boards to prevent the warm food from melting the ice table. They’re also set up to look like a fancy restaurant which was really cool.
The menu has quite a few options as far as the three course meal goes. The three courses offered are a starter, main dish, and then a dessert. The drink is separate from the meal, so even though my meal was included, my drink was not. I ended up getting something similar to an apple cider which was called a glogi. It was very warm and helped tide me over while I waited for the food to arrive. I had bread first which was mix of traditional bread and then some more pita-chip like bread. The dip/sauce that came with it was really good.
For my starter, I was really torn on having the beet soup since I am a soup person or having the blini because I had been wanting to try blini. In the end, I decided on the blini since I didn’t know where else I would get a chance to try it. I could always buy it at the market, but it’s not the same feeling I think. It’s like when I got some bread cheese and cloudberry jam on my own and ended up not really taking to it. It’s also the reason I avoided the Taste of Lapland choice on the starter menu.
My main course was a reindeer fillet with roasted pottatoes. The reindeer was a lot better than I thought it would be. I was assuming it would be thicker and tougher, but however they cooked it made it as tender as chicken or really well cooked beef. The whole dish was actually really good. It also had these sauteed mushrooms and thyme.
My dessert was a creme brulee with these flowers on top. I actually have only had creme brulee one other time and that was with Sam in Japan during the winter. We got one from a street cart where we watch the guy torch the dessert right in front of us (for the burnt sugar taste). This one was just as good, although I don’t think there’s much variability in how to make creme brulee.
The restaurant itself had great food, but it was very very cold. Actually, there was another family sitting nearby my table. They were split between two tables. One of the dads (?) came up to me and started talking to me then relayed back to his family later that I was American. They invited me to sit with them because I was by myself, but I didn’t want to move in case that messed up the order and such. It was a really nice gesture though. They all said bye to me when I left too which was really nice.
I bring this up because this same family then helped me when I lost my phone. While in search of the northern lights after dinner, I somehow lost my phone. I was beginning to panic because what would I do without it? All of them tried to help me out by looking around the lobby and outside with me for my phone which was something they definitely did NOT have to do and I’m really grateful there are people out there that would do that for a stranger. Meeting people like them really restore my faith in humanity just a bit. I finally found my phone near the teepee (almost frozen solid and stuck to the teepee entrance!), but I think I would’ve been freaking out more without that small encounter with that family.
While I did briefly lose my phone, I also got to see the northern lights in person for the first time. I didn’t get a chance in Iceland (mostly because I was too lazy to go outside), but I finally managed to get myself to endure the cold for long enough to get a few pictures. Because of no tripod, they are a bit blurry though.
The day ended with me gathering up my sleeping bag for a night of sub zero temperatures. Actually, to be fair the inside of the hotel, while cold, stays warmer than the outside ends up being during the night. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to just sleep in the cold. We had these special sleeping bags plus sleeping bag liners. They even gave us exact instructions on what to do with all our stuff so we wouldn’t wake up to wet things in the morning. I still managed to mess up tighting my sleep bag up entirely and ended up waking up in the middle of the night slightly cold, although I’m pretty sensitive to the cold so it’s no surprise. As I closed my eyes that night, I prepared for a slightly long night.