Finding the perfect romantic winter wonderland is harder than you think. I have employed a significant amount of money and effort over the years trying to find a spot that would deliver the ideal combination: deep snow; crisp, sunny days; cosy log cabins; roaring fires; good food; and – if possible – the northern lights blazing away in the sky over our heads.
Either there has been too little snow, or too much rain, or cloudy skies, or bad cabins or terrible food or all of the above.
I am delighted to report that, finally, I have found what I have been looking for; the only snag is that you have to travel to the very opposite side of the world to enjoy it. The place is Luosto in far northern Finland, inside the Arctic Circle. After the 24-hour flight from Australia to Helsinki, you’ll need to hop on an overnight train which takes you through frozen forests to the town of Rovaniemi, which is famous for enduring winter temperatures of -32oC and for being Santa Claus’s ‘official’ home. There’s a Santa Technology Park, Santa Claus Village and each December the town’s post office is overwhelmed with thousands of letters for Saint Nick.
From here it’s a two-hour bus trip to Luosto, crossing the Arctic Circle and dodging herds of reindeer roaming across the road.
It’s a trek but it’s worth it.
The snow starts falling in autumn (around September or October) so by Christmas it has coated everything several times over, frozen solid and created the perfect postcard scene.The boughs of the pine trees are weighed down with inches of frozen snow and the forests are silenced. Summer lakes freeze and hibernate and the skies are a perfect duck- egg blue.
Luosto is a small family-friendly ski resort at the foot of a low mountain. It’s low-key, quiet and civilised, an early to bed and early to rise place where après-ski involves log fires and hot chocolate rather than nightclubs and tequila slammers.
We spent our days cross-country skiing on gentle trails and tumbling headfirst into snowdrifts, and taking quiet walks through silent forests and catching glimpses of snow bunnies and Siberian Jays. On one day we hired snowmobiles and shot off across a frozen lake at breakneck speed, and on another we took a magical husky sleigh-ride through icy woods under an aquamarine sky. If you can honestly say your partner still looks sexy in six or seven layers of puffy Arctic survival clothing and a face-compressing balaclava, you know your relationship is going to last.
The log cabins are sealed tight, warm as toast and fitted with big beds, a drying cabinet, cooker, microwave, fridge, log fire and cosy sauna.There are few things more romantic than thawing out in a log cabin sauna with your partner after a day cross-country skiing through Arctic pine forests. Our sauna had a small triple-glazed window which meant we could sit in the warmth and watch the polar night wrapping around us outside.
The least reliable thing on anybody’s winter wonderland checklist is the northern lights, or the aurora borealis to give them their scientific name.
These amazing curtains of colour dancing across the winter sky are the result of solar flares on the sun which emit charged particles called ions.These ions collide with gases in our atmosphere, which makes them glow, and the Earth’s magnetic field directs them to the North and South poles, where they dance.
According to NASA, the sun is waking up after a decade of slumber and starting to spit out some seriously big flares again so the prospect for good aurora displays through 2011, 2012 and 2013 is better than for many years. One night at Luosto we got lucky.
Exhausted after a day on the slopes and anaesthetised by the warmth of the sauna, a plate of delicious Arctic Char and a nip or two of whisky, my wife and I were falling asleep in front of the log fire when we heard a whoop from outside. Someone had seen something.
We threw on our layers of clothing and ran out into the perishing cold, catching our breath as the -28 degrees celcius wind hit our cheeks. Above us, bursting across the sky was a kaleidoscope of colours – the northern lights were firing! A great curtain of white billowed and rippled, turning crimson and purple the closer its edges got to the treetops. It moved much faster and more dramatically than I had expected – I thought it would be a leisurely affair, an elderly dancer in the sky, but these were the moves of a young nimble ballerina skipping and leaping across the heavens.The curtain turned into tubes of light like a giant cathedral organ shifting through the entire spectrum of colours.The tubes faded in and out, lengthening and then shrinking again, flashing and then disappearing into the inky blackness.
There was more, over to the east; a deep red glow turning to orange and luminous green as it waxed into a full display, static and then flickering rapidly.Then, as suddenly as the lights had arrived, they vanished, leaving us open-mouthed and lost for words. We huddled together in the snow, our gloved hands holding on tight and our heads strained upwards, begging the polar gods to send more.They heard us and a second display began, lower down this time, throwing the pine-tops into silhouette, but then rising and flickering and blazing across the clear sky once more, like the finale of a firework display. At the very end, a surge of orange and red spread from left to right, resembling a swishing tail and I remembered that the Fins call the aurora revontulet or ‘fox fire’.
There was little talk when we got back to our cabin. Instead we hopped into our warm bed and fell asleep with the memories of a truly spectacular phenomenon soothing our minds. Now, that’s romantic!
FLY: Once you get to Bangkok, the quickest route is direct to Helsinki on the very likeable FinnAir.
TRAIN: You can book your night-train tickets online at vr.fi.Try to get a cabin for two-people only (with shower and loo) on the upper deck.
STAY: Scandic Luosto has cosy log cabins in the woods, each with log fire, sauna, self-catering facilities, drying room, underfloor heating and free wifi.The hotel offers a vast breakfast and delicious evening meals.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit Finland