A real-life Santa Claus Village beckons those dreaming of Northern Lights and snow-dusted Arctic adventures, as Matt Brace discovers from the back of a snowmobile.
I was clinging to the rear-seat passenger handles of a snowmobile, whizzing through a polar-white forest on the Arctic Circle.
My wife was at the controls, and it was clear she had lost none of the dirt-bike skills she learned as a girl in rural Australia. She couldn’t see me getting airborne behind her as she rode over the bumps. She couldn’t hear me yelling at her to slow down above the roar of the engine and her own joyful whooping. Even when I headbutted her with my safety helmet to get her attention, she still rode on, oblivious.
She wasn’t even speeding, just staying on the track behind the guide, but from the backseat it felt like we were doing 100 km/hr.
Reindeer deep among the trees must have raised their eyebrows at my yells — if reindeer have eyebrows — as if to say, “there goes another bunch of snowmobile newbies”.
The forest we had ridden through had been coated with snow and ice for five months, since October; snow upon snow upon snow had transformed it into a true winter wonderland.
As the trees began to thin out, our guide Alexis slowed to a crawl ahead of us and cruised to a halt on the edge of a vast frozen lake.
“Everyone OK?” he asked once we had dismounted. I was about to say it was a miracle I hadn’t been jettisoned off into a snowdrift a few kilometres back but once I lifted my helmet visor, all my fear subsided and was overtaken by awe.
The frozen lake spread at least five kilometres ahead of us. The silence was broken only occasionally by a light breeze, and above us was a vast, ice-blue sky. We spotted a small herd of reindeer making its way along the lake’s edge by the trees, over what in summer must be the shoreline. They picked their way deftly, stopping every now and then to inspect the ground, pawing it to check for anything edible.
“We are just north of 66 degrees here,” said Alexis, “so, we’re almost exactly on the Arctic Circle.”
To move across this land in winter at speed in any kind of comfort we needed all our thermal layers plus the full, insulated ski suit each of us had been loaned by Wild Nordic, the excellent local company that runs these Arctic Circle snowmobiling tours.
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As we were getting kitted out at their base near the Santa Claus Village — yes, it’s a real place; more about that in the fact file — the Wild Nordic crew had said it was going to be a fairly mild winter’s day with a high of -14ºC predicted. “It has to get below -20ºC before we think it’s really cold,” General Manager Ana Vouk told us.
We headed north across the lake, which had been frozen for so long there were metres of solid ice below the surface. After a kilometre or so, Alexis guided us back to the woods and along a narrower, slower path that wound up a hillside. He led us to a small wooden shelter almost at the top of the low hill, where we gave the engines a rest. Alexis poured us mugs of hot fruit juice and grilled vegan sausages on a birchwood fire as we gazed at the spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding landscape.
One of the advantages of snowmobiling here is that it gets you to out-of-the-way places you would otherwise probably never reach. It allows you to venture deep into the forests, where the pure snowdrifts are marked only by the tiny tracks of small animals.
A couple of local cross-country skiers stopped by to warm themselves by our fire, producing from their rucksack a flask of coffee and a small dog wearing a ski jacket and tiny snow boots. It was like a scene from one of the famous Finnish Moomin books brought to life.
As the chill began to take hold we extinguished the fire, said our goodbyes to the skiers and their dog, and were off once more, back down the hill a different way and through more majestic pine forests — giving my wife one last chance to try to bounce me off the backseat.
Once ‘home’, we thawed out by sipping mugs of steaming glögi (the Finnish version of glühwein) and sharing a huge cinnamon swirl pastry at the Loft cafe in the Santa Claus Village, just a few steps away from the Arctic Circle.
Need to Know:
Finland’s national airline (and Qantas codeshare partner) Finnair flies frequently from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, just south of the Santa Claus Village. If you have more time, take the romantic and much more climate-conscious night train, which trundles almost the entire length of Finland to the Arctic Circle while you are tucked up in a private and super-cosy, two-bunk compartment with its own shower.
How to snowmobile the Arctic Circle
Get in touch with the fabulously helpful team at Wild Nordic Finland (email them at email@example.com) whose address really is Santa Claus Village, 96930 Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi, Finland. They are the best team we’ve used for activities in the Nordic countries. You can book online but chances are you’ll be staying at the Santa Claus Village anyway so take a snowy walk under the road bridge to their HQ at the petrol station and book in person. In the meantime, check out their Instagram and Youtube channels.
Santa Claus Village
The Santa Claus Village is a collection of winter activities, restaurants, cafes, hotels and shops straddling the Arctic Circle line itself. It sounds tacky but in fact it’s cute and the perfect spot for a few nights, chiefly because of the Nova Skyland hotel, Glass Restaurant (at the Glass Resort) and Wild Nordic snowmobiling operation.
Romantic place to stay
For complete luxury romance, book a duplex room at the Nova Skyland resort, which has tonnes of space, fabulous double-glazing, its own in-room sauna, a wonderful daybed on which to laze and watch the snow fall on the forests, and huge windows through which to watch the Northern Lights.
Romantic place to eat
A short walk (or slither) through the snow will get you to the Glass Restaurant, which has some of the best food we had on the entire trip. One local speciality is Arctic char, a delicious Nordic fish. They also do an amazing Rakka, a wicked Lapland take on rocky road with white chocolate and berries.