Autumn Adventure to Northern Finland
Recently our Marketing and Business Development Director Adele (pictured above), took a few days out of the office where she joined a couple of other tour operators from Germany and Helsinki to visit Kilpisjärvi and surrounding areas in Northern Finland.
Kilpisjärvi is in the far North of Finland and sits on the border of Sweden and Norway. Indeed it is possible to stand on the boundary of all three countries and experience them all in the same trip. However the purpose of the trip was to meet both new and existing suppliers and to see what new products we can offer to our clients in this really special area of the North.
Please note, this itinerary is quite different and a lot more intense than our regular itineraries as we’ve got to pack a lot of different things in whilst we’re in different places.
Adventures in Northern Finland
It was an early start, up at 4am ready for the journey to Heathrow. As we’re based in Wiltshire it was a quick jaunt down the M4 to arrive in good time for my 7am flight to Helsinki. Helsinki is a really easy airport to navigate and get around, everything is well signposted. As I was on a through flight I only needed to go through a set of security gates with my passport and then straight to the next gate. As I has a couple of hours before my next flight I was able to grab a quick bite to eat – there are lots of food options available. Sandwiches start from around 7 Euro at the airport. If i’d had baggage, it would have been automatically transferred between planes for me as I was on what’s known as a ‘through flight’ however I was only travelling with hand luggage for the duration.
Flying into Tromso, Norway, you’re immediately greeted with the beauty and remoteness of the Norway area. As the plane glides gently into the airport, from the plane you can see the mountains and lakes. Tromso airport is small and only handles a few hundred passengers each day. There are two different luggage areas so if you’re luggage doesn’t come to the first collection area, be sure to collect it from the second! Once other guests had collected their baggage we jumped into our waiting taxi transfer.
On this trip I unfortunately only got to drive through Tromso rather than spend any sort of time there as we were only going to be in Finland for 3 days it was straight to Kilpisjärvi. After a drive from the airport to Kilpisjärvi of around 1 hour we arrived and grabbed a quick bite to eat. We had been planning to do a Northern Lights Safari this evening however the weather had unfortunately turned against us with lots of cloud and drizzle and we were doubtful we’d see anything. After taking our time over dinner, chatting and relaxing we decided we’d give it a go as the drizzle had subsided a little (not much). We jumped in the car with the local guide Jussi from the local safari company. As the temperature was dropping, Jussi lent us some thermal clothing – this was a large over suit to keep warm. He’s lived in the area all his life and was still confident we’d seen them, in spite of our reservations and he wasn’t wrong. We drove for around 30 minutes to a gap in the clouds and where the sky was clearest and low and behold, we saw the aurora!
Tromso is 1 hour ahead of the UK and Kilpisjärvi is 2 hours ahead of the UK. We got back to the accommodation around 1am, having been up since 4am (UK) you can imagine I was rather bleary eyed!
On day 2, after the night sleeping like a baby in a very comfortable bed, we were up for breakfast at 8am, this was to be taken at a nearby hotel as the chalets we were staying in were on a self catering basis. The breakfast was very traditionally Finnish and washed down with some very strong coffee! 9am was the start of our first activity for the day, a Husky hike. This is perhaps one of my favourite things to do whenever I travel anywhere in the North, be it a husky hike in the summer or autumn or husky sledge riding in the winter and spring there really is nothing quite like feeling the raw power of the dogs. No matter what time of year they can’t wait to get out and about.
Sinnikka and Marti (pictured below) introduced us to their two dogs and we headed off on our hike. When walking with a husky you’ll be equipped with a belt to which the dog is attached by a leash. The dogs are strong and it’s important to remember that Siberian Huskies are highly energetic and inquisitive dogs and walking with them can be energy consuming. If you’re thinking about doing a husky hike or any sort of husky tour you should have a decent level of fitness and be steady on your feet. If you’re doing a Winter Husky safari (with sleds) you should always be prepared to run to help the dogs out. The length of the hike was approximately 3,5 km and we made midway break on the shore of Lake Tsahkal to enjoy a hot juice. We were lucky enough to spot some reindeer on the opposite river bank which the dogs were very interested in.
Following a light lunch, there was then work to do – we visited a variety of different accommodation options in the area and met with a variety of different suppliers. We pride ourselves that we visit 99% of the accommodation options we offer to our clients and part of this is taking in a lot of different types of accommodation. The value in doing this is because we know our client expectations and we can then ensure the products we offer match (and exceed) these expectations. We wouldn’t send our clients anywhere that we wouldn’t want to stay ourselves!
We were lucky enough on this trip to meet Mia (pictured below, we’re hoping to start working more closely with her – it’s going to be very exclusive and very exciting!! (** Squeee **… contact us for more info)
In Kilpisjärvi there are around 120 residents living full time, their school has fewer than 20 students and their local supermarket has an annual turnover of over 10 million Euros… yes, you read that right, 10 million Euros, in a supermarket in Northern Finland in the middle of nowhere! The reason? this supermarket sells EVERYTHING it is extremely popular with Norwegians from over the border as it is cheaper to buy products there than in Norway and it is the only shop for miles. if you’re thinking it’s on some massive complex, you’re wrong, it’s likely to be smaller than your local ‘Big Tesco’, probably half the size!
After a very busy afternoon of checking out various accommodations we then headed back to our chalet for a pre-dinner sauna and beer. Dinner this evening was to be at a local restaurant in their dinner ‘Kota’. If you’re wondering ‘What is A Kota?’ a Kaota is a traditional building which was previously home to the Sami people. Now the buildings are very solid made with sturdy materials however in times gone by the Kota would have been made with large branches/sticks arranged to form a pyramid shape, this would be tied at the top leaving a hole so that smoke could escape. Fabric or hides would be used to form the ‘walls’ of the Kota, wrapped around the wooden frame, to help keep out the wind. Generally a small fire would be lit in the middle. After a delicious reindeer burger, it was time to retire back to our chalet for the evening.
Day 3 saw a slightly earlier start of 7:30am for breakfast with an 8:30 departure for Hetta, a small town of around 1200 people. Hetta is located on the shores of Lake Ounasjärvi and south of Hetta lies the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. We arrived in Hetta around 11:30 am which, after checking in to our new accommodation, a lovely family run hotel, and enjoying some home cooked cookies and more strong coffee, we headed back out we took a short tour to another area; Galdotieva an area just next to Palojärvi Lake (pictured below)
Galdotieva is surrounded by fells and Palojärvi is the old Sami village and reindeer herding area and is the perfect place for people who like the outdoors. Their cabins are basic and their food is delicious. Following lunch we drove around 40km further to the Sami village of Näkkälä to learn more about the types of tours local suppliers offer and check out the different facilities and options that we may potentially offer to customers.
After yet more snacks and warming berry juice, we headed back to Hetta to meet one of our Husky suppliers. In the same way we visit all of the accommodation, we also meet and visit all of our activity suppliers. This means we can personally check that our suppliers are adhering to the standards that we expect from them. This husky supplier has previously been awarded Gold in the Responsible Tourism Awards. In addition, the kennel has been independently rated as: ‘Certification-Plus’ according to the standards outlined within MUSH with P.R.I.D.E. – the only organisation offering an internationally recognised industry standard in the sleddog world. This basically means that the standards of care exceed those which are currently accepted as ‘Good’ within the Sleddog Industry and ‘certification plus’ is effectively the only available symbol of excellence.
This is one of the largest Husky kennels we work with, with over 200 dogs currently in their pack, it is essential we are be confident they are well cared for and meet all of the standards we expect. You’ll be pleased to know they do!
It isn’t just about the huskies though, the centre also has a variety of other options available to guests including fat biking and kayaking. After meeting all the dogs we headed down to the lake to jump in a canoe and paddle over to their summer house. It was a bit windy and choppy but we needed to earn our next slice of cake and coffee…
After saying goodbye to our husky friends we headed back to Hetta to meet with other accommodation suppliers and chat with business owners over a farewell dinner.
Day 4 was upon us and the flight was scheduled for later that day. We has some time in the morning to visit the local visitor centre and exhibition to learn more and gain a deeper understanding about the Sami community and culture. This was a really fascinating insight into the Sami way of life and is definitely an hour well spent! After some final goodbyes, and a final cup of strong coffee, we were taken to Kittilä airport ready for our flights back home.
This area really is worth checking out, particularly if you enjoy hiking and getting away from other people! We’re still working out some packages however if you’d like us to tailor a trip to your requirements please do get in touch 🙂