Have you ever considered planning that once in a lifetime trip to Lapland? I have, but have also found myself questioning if it really is worth all that money? Branwen Davies and her family visited in December 2018 and we asked her to share her experience and to tell us if it really is worth a visit
“I want to go to Spain!” That was how my 5 year old first responded to the news that we were going to Lapland! Not the best start, blinkin kids (but to explain, we hadn’t been on a foreign holiday before and his only association with plane travel was the fact that his childminder and family regularly go on holiday to Spain and tell him how nice it is!) .
Fortunately, we did eventually persuade him that a snowy Lapland was a better option than Spain in mid-December and by the time we left school for the last time and packed the cases there was much anticipation of our first family holiday. We had considered the 3 day trip that’s popular with many, which essentially involved 2 days of travel and 1 day at a Santa Park, but frankly I was exhausted at the very thought of that with two small people in tow, although had the children been a bit older I’d have been more tempted. We opted then to go for 7 days staying half-board at a ski resort in order to make a proper holiday of it.
When we arrived at Bristol Airport at 5am (we left home at 1.45am) it was a heaving mass and we literally spent the next 2 hours in queues until we boarded our flight at 7am. My naïve plans for buying myself a book and the children some colouring items for the plane went out the door, a basic error from someone who hadn’t been to an airport for many years and who’d never before travelled en famille – next time I’ll try to be better organised! And the experience was a reminder why I’d never ventured abroad when the children were younger!
As we landed in Kittilä airport, in the middle of a snowy wilderness, we knew immediately that we were somewhere extremely remote. And clearly the newspaper headlines a couple of weeks beforehand about the lack of snow in Lapland – to quote one, ‘Crapland’ – were now irrelevant. We were staying in an area called Ylläs, at a ski resort called Ylläsjärvi, with a hotel, some apartments, a few shops (selling ski gear) and a couple of bars and restaurants. Oh and a caravan park (with some occupied caravans, despite the sub-zero temperatures!). The hotel’s location was fabulous, at the foot of the ski slope with a view of the black run from our balcony.
Unfortunately, my 3 year old daughter was too young to take part in ski lessons at the resort – children have to be 5 years old to do so – so we stuck to sledging and there was a separate, dedicated slope just for this. Our days consisted mostly of lazy mornings, a bit of sledging, some swimming in the hotel pool and then a little trip to the pub at the end of the afternoon – a pattern that led to my daughter demanding, “I want to go to the pub!” around 4 o’clock each afternoon!
We also booked a few organised trips on certain days throughout the week – once again, Mari was too young to join several of the tours on offer from the resort so that’s worth some consideration before you go. One day we headed on a 5km husky safari, whizzing through the snowscape behind 6 manic dogs, something that will stay with us forever and probably the highlight of the trip for us parents. On the final day we took a long trip to visit a traditional Sami reindeer farm not too far from the Swedish border, which was also a unique experience, especially in temperatures of -20! And of course, we saw the man himself, Santa Claus – we didn’t see him at the Santa Park but instead went on a short trip to his cottage in the woods after dark, where the children also had a chance to try ski shoes, make biscuits and more.
In addition, my son had set his heart on trying ice fishing; when we investigated doing this on an organised trip it was hideously expensive but one of the guides suggested that we hire the equipment ourselves and catch the snow bus down to the local lake some 4km away and that’s what we did.
In truth, there wasn’t one iota of a chance that we would actually catch anything on this particular lake and we got some very funny looks from the locals, but the experience of standing in the middle of a frozen lake, drilling a hole in the thick ice and lowering the line was enough to make a 5-year old happy. We were hilariously Welsh about the experience though, being very tentative and suspicious of walking out on the ice – and despite seeing snowmobiles whizz across, it was hard to dismiss years of warnings about never walking out on frozen water! I loved standing out in the middle of the lake though, contemplating the view and the tranquillity.
So, all-in-all, an unforgettable holiday that may have set a terribly high bar for future family holidays and my children might now be set for a lifetime of holiday disappointments. In all honesty, we hadn’t done much research beforehand and it was sheer luck that we found ourselves somewhere quite special. It might be that visiting the more popular Rovaniemi is less peaceful, busier and more commercial but Ylläs was surprisingly quiet, especially considering it was the week before Christmas. And there were no garish lights and naff Christmas music, it was all very low key and tasteful, just subtle lights on the odd tree twinkling against the snow to create a magical atmosphere.
Of course, not everything was perfect. It’s extremely expensive there. Luckily, as we were half-board we spent very little on food (me, smuggle food from the morning buffet? Never!), and we treated ourselves to only one round of drinks each day (maybe a good thing!). All the organised trips were pricey and additional to the core price of the holiday – but in truth unless you were able to ski all day they were a necessity really. Thanks to the snow and the darkness (there was about 3 hours of proper light every day) do-it-yourself trips would have been tricky (and with 2 kids, my days of being an adventurous and intrepid indie traveller have long gone, I want safe, comfortable and easy!).
Of course, it’s cold there and we had hired the attractive all-in-ones that every tourist sports but to be honest as it was only around -8 on several days our Aldi ski outfits did the job well. On the final two days, however, the temperature plummeted, the cold was biting and the hired suits were needed. The cold itself I didn’t mind at all as we were ready for it and it’s part of the experience– BUT, the bit I least enjoyed about the holiday, was the palaver of wrestling everyone into their 6 layers of clothing in order to leave the hotel. As one other mum said to me, “Do you find getting everyone dressed adds an hour to your day?” Yup.
And of course there was a healthy portion of family tantrums and arguments and there were several incidents of PDLMS on my part (Public Displays of Losing My Mothering Shit) – I have a son who is currently prone to irrational angry outbursts for no apparent reason and a daughter who has a wilfulness and energy that whilst I admire, can be hard to live with on occasions – especially in a hotel room that’s impossible to escape of an evening!
I would certainly consider visiting Lapland again and returning to Ylläs for a skiing holiday as it was a beautiful place with such a conveniently located hotel (it was possible also to catch the bus over to Äkäslompolo on the other side of the fell to ski there). I’m pleased that we chose to go on a longer visit rather than just to visit Father Christmas – it was a proper holiday and I hope that even when the children are older and their experience of Christmas is different, they will have great memories of Finland, so much more than just Santa. Trystan says now in fact that his favourite part of the holiday was the fishing – I think if I pushed Mari on the subject she’d say that it was the i-pad that dispensed the drinks at breakfast, she was obsessed!
Me, I’ll remember all sorts of things. Yes, the children’s faces when they met Santa and saw the huskies hurtling before them through the white landscape, but also the cold that made my skin tingle, the crunching snow underfoot (especially in the woods at night when I’d head out on one of my – unsuccessful – attempts to spot the Northern Lights) and miles and miles of nothing but trees and pure, sparkling snow. Oh, and the fact that it was so cold the snot in my nose froze – who knew, huh?
Mam Cymru would like to thank Branwen for sharing her experience and her thoughts. It obviously is a magical experience and it’s good to learn that you can make a few changes to make the trips and excursions a bit cheaper. Shall we go?!