Itching to get away to somewhere different? With more and more countries opening up if you’re fully vaccinated, now’s the time to consider a memorable winter wonderland experience writes Lorna King.
Finland has never been on my travel agenda, but when my son invited us on a winter holiday to experience more than a sprinkling of snow I was genuinely excited … and a little apprehensive. Understandably so. We were going from a hot, humid climate to one that barely registered more than a few degrees.
With suitcases packed with winter woollies, thick jackets and pants, boots, socks, thermal underwear, scarves and beanies, we arrived in Helsinki early in the morning. Great planning – we had the entire day to explore, but as it was still dark and freezing as we headed out of the airport, it was time to put our winter gear through its paces.
A quick train ride and brisk walk and we were checking into Hotel Kämp in the city centre. Elegant, timeless and luxurious, our room and marble bathroom was spacious and the perfect retreat at the end of the day. The breakfast buffet was everything you’d expect, the staff were professional and friendly, and the complimentary coffee and snacks in one of the lounges kept calling us back.
There was much to explore in Helsinki. If you’re into admiring beautiful architecture, you’ll be overwhelmed at the mixture of old and new – from the grand Helsinki Cathedral standing proud looking down on Senate Square, to the breath-taking, state-of-the-art Helsinki Central Library which opened at the end of 2018 and is known as a “living meeting place”.
Contrary to what I had heard about the Finnish, everyone we came across was friendly, and everywhere we went we were spoken to in English. And all restaurants had English menus. From a vegan cafe to the local pasta eatery, a food market and even a very special fine dining meal at The Peak Restaurant in Ruka, I can honestly say all our meals were tasty and memorable.
By day, Helsinski seemed like any other city, but when daylight faded – at about 3pm – and the lights came on, the ambiance and vibe was awesome – especially with Christmas lights adding to the festivities. The shops came alive – in fact by day I didn’t even notice most of them, but by night there was a special kind of magic. One thing that did stand out was how impeccably clean the city was, and there were no crowds.
The second leg of our holiday was to Ruka ski resort in the northeast of Finland, an hour’s flight from Helsinki and -6 degrees when we arrived. We were lucky enough to stay in a log cabin – kitted out with all the mod cons and centrally heated – and a short drive from the hub of a vast range of snow activities.
Catering for families, Ruka ski resort offers skiing (and lessons if you need them), snowboarding and cross-country skiing, while snowmobiling, husky sledding, visits to a reindeer farm, ice-karting and lots more are on offer in and around Ruka. We enjoyed the husky sledding and snowmobiling, but be advised, everywhere looks the same, so take someone with you who knows the area.
A gondola lift connects Ruka Village with Ruka Valley, and allows you to get off at the top and take in the magnificent views of the breath-taking wilderness all around you – all gently blanketed in snow. It was truly wonderful, and well worth standing outside in -10 degrees. A quick ride down into the village and we warmed up with a traditional Finnish meal – a steaming bowl of creamy smoked salmon soup and chunks of bread. So yummy I tried this out three times during my stay.
Sadly we did not see the Northern Lights – but perhaps next time. This was a “real” winter holiday – thick snow, freezing temperatures – a complete contrast to our east coast way of life, and well worth it.