In my last post, I left us relaxing in Rovaniemi after a rather disappointing journey aboard the Santa Express. Pop over here to read about that, if you missed it. The next stop on our Finnish Lapland adventure is Levi, where we were hoping to find reindeer and the Northern Lights.
Before leaving Rovaniemi, we took a quick detour to the Santa Claus Village, which lies right on the border of the Arctic Circle. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s also super magical and fun. I really enjoyed popping into the post office and seeing all the letters to Santa.
The Santa Claus Village also offers reindeer-led sleigh rides, snowmobiling, and apparently husky puppies, although we didn’t see any. We did pop our heads in to meet “Santa”, who turned out to be one of the nicest Santa’s I’ve ever seen. He was genuinely interested in us and our travels even though it was pretty obvious we weren’t going to pay for a photo with him!
On the road to Levi
Our drive to Levi was marred by a huge blizzard. Usually a 2-hour drive (or 170kms) from Rovaniemi, the road to Levi is pretty straight and uneventful. It took us a fair bit longer, mostly because we weren’t used to driving in such conditions. We were on the opposite side of the road, it was icy, and the snow was falling heavily.
Lucky for us, our hire car (and probably most cars in Finland, to be fair) had a heated windscreen, so the snow instantly melted as it hit the glass. None of the locals seemed to mind how slow we were travelling. Well, they didn’t honk their horns, at least; they just passed us as soon as they could. I was quite surprised and mildly impressed at how fast the locals were driving, considering the weather and lack of visibility. But, I guess they’re just used to it.
Winter in Finland consists of short days and long nights at the best of times. But night seemed to creep up on us much faster due to the dark sky full of snow. By the time we arrived in Levi, it was pitch dark as we made our way up the mountain to our accommodation.
Ticking off a bucket list item
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to spend at least one night in an igloo. What can I say, the idea of sleeping in a snow cave really appealed to me in my primary school days. Now that I’m older, the thought of sleeping in a frozen room doesn’t quite hold the appeal it once did. However, igloos come in all shapes and forms and aren’t necessarily made of ice or snow. Enter the glass igloo.
Glass igloos are not the cheapest form of accommodation, but if you’ve made it all the way to the Arctic Circle, then you might as well treat yo’self. So we did. My ultimate dream is to lay in bed, looking up at the night sky, watching the Northern Lights dancing above. That alone would be worth the hefty price of the room!
Alas, my dream was not meant to be, as the sky was cloudy AF. Thanks a lot, blizzard.
But, it was still pretty cool to sleep in a glass igloo. Our room was cosy and warm, and surprisingly spacious. We had a queen bed, table and chairs, and a small kitchenette and bathroom. Curtains covered most of the windows, so privacy wasn’t an issue. And it felt really special sleeping under the night sky.
Because we’re regular humans and not 5-star royalty, we only spent one night in our cosy igloo. The next day we moved to a log cabin on the outskirts of Levi. It was so huge and rustic, in a quiet neighbourhood near a frozen lake.
Finding out the Northern Lights
To find the Northern Lights, you need to go where it’s dark, on a clear night. So, we drove up to Levi fell (or Mountain), and were greeted with a small burst of dancing green Lights. Unfortunately, they were short-lived, and it was freezing cold outside, so we gave up and went back home. Upon pulling into our driveway my jaw dropped open and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. The Lights were out in force and were simply glorious. I’m still trying to figure out how best to capture them, but if you ignore the glare from streetlights and nearby houses, I think these photos turned out pretty great.
Sammun Tupa Reindeer Farm
Northern Lights? Tick. Our next challenge was to find some reindeer “in the wild”. Prior to this trip, we’d only ever seen reindeer in wildlife parks or Santa villages. In Finland, reindeer roam free during the warmer months, but every winter most of them return to their “owners” where they’re put to work in return for board and food, so it can be difficult to find them in the wild.
After a bit of research, I found some great reviews for the Sammun Tupa Reindeer Farm. Most tour groups in the area end up visiting Sammun Tupa as part of their snowmobile or cross-country skiing tours. However, it is open the public, so anyone can visit.
It was freezing cold outside, so we popped into the small café for hot chocolate and pastries. Hand on heart, it was one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had! So creamy and delicious. The cafe was super cosy, so we almost didn’t want to venture back outside to the below zero temperatures. But, we spied reindeer on our way in, so we bought some food, rugged ourselves up, and braved the cold.
The reindeer were tied up but had plenty of room to roam around in. They’re very used to humans, so many of them didn’t pay us any attention. However, as soon as we rustled our bag of food they would trot over to say hello, but mostly to grab whatever they could from us!
One bloke, in particular, was very feisty and kept cutting in as we were trying to feed a smaller reindeer.
It was so lovely to see and interact with them up close, albeit behind a gate. Reindeer are such funny creatures with huge personalities, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Sven from Frozen whenever Mr Feisty came over for more food.
Walking in a Winter Wonderland
During our final day in Levi, Chris went snowboarding, while I chilled out in our cabin. I was super keen to get some photos of the neighbourhood, so I did brave the cold for a short spell and wandered along to a nearby cross-country skiing track. That’s where I took my favourite photo in Finland: the one with the mailboxes.
We booked ourselves into a snowmobiling tour that night. I was a bit nervous, as I’ve never been snowmobiling before. After my mishap on the ATV in Hawaii, I wasn’t keen on driving a snowmobile myself! So, we booked one between the two of us, as did most of the other folks on our tour.
Night riding in the wilderness
Our tour started at 7 pm, and by that time it was already pitch black outside and at least -20 degrees. We listened to a safety briefing from our guides and then layered up for the cold night. I was already wearing my full arctic getup (thermal top and bottoms, hoodie, jeans, and snow jacket and pants), but they insisted I leave all that on and then wear their snow overalls over the top. At first I thought it was overkill, and definitely felt like the Michelin Man! But once we got on the snowmobiles and hit the road, I was grateful for having so many layers on.
The trip took us through the outskirts of Levi and then into the wilderness. The glow of the moon and stars guided our way, although I have no idea where we actually went! I think we passed over a frozen lake, we definitely went uphill, and we also got the opportunity to go very fast. One thing is for sure, there is no way I’d be able to go that fast myself. It was so fun being a passenger, and I had an absolute blast. I could not wipe the smile off my face and spent most of the trip laughing and thinking how incredible it was to be there.
About halfway through the tour, we stopped at a small cabin on the edge of a vast lake. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to see any Lights. So, we all bustled indoors for coffee, warm berry juice, and sausages. Our guides had set up a campfire, which sat in the centre of the room, and warmed us up as the sausages sizzled.
We took a different route on our way back to town, and all up the tour lasted around 3 hours. It was such an incredible experience, and the only real downside was not seeing any Lights. That’s Mother Nature for you though!
And that’s it for Finland!
Have I convinced you to explore Finnish Lapland yet?
What’s for Eating?
Wanha Hullu Poro: Levi’s answer to the Hard Rock Cafe