It's a Kind of Magic | Posted: 11 March 2014
Discover Narnia-like landscapes on a cross-country skiing holiday in Finland
Explore Narnia-esque scenery on a cross-country skiing holiday in Lapland
Stop for refreshments at wilderness huts - one of the joys of cross-country skiing in Lapland

As soon as I set foot in Äkäslompolo, 150 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, I feel like Lucy in CS Lewis’s novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, stepping out through the coats and straight into Narnia.

There's something about the otherworldly light of January, as Finland emerges from the perma-gloom of the winter solstice, which casts a wonderful spell over everything.

It’s there in the fingers of pink light that suffuse the valley as we crunch through the snow after breakfast, and in the creeping blue of the slow dusk as we ski back to our hotel lodge in the late afternoon.

Staying at the Ylläshumina Hotel, the magic just keeps on coming. From our lodge, with its crackling fire, we watch the snow sparkle like fairy dust outside. After a day of cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing, we ease our bones in the sauna with a blast of arid heat and a slug of chilled sloe gin – or skitter across the ice on frozen toes to splosh into the wood-fired outdoor hot tub, hoping for a glimpse of the ethereal Northern Lights. And then there’s the food – from wood-smoked salmon carved out in great chunks, to reindeer sausages with lingonberry sauce, every night I leave the buffet groaning with satisfaction.

The hotel is a picturesque collection of rustic wooden cabins and lodges clustered around a restaurant and pub (famed for its Finnish karaoke), on the shore of a frozen lake. Cross-country tracks pass right through the Ylläshumina’s spacious grounds, so each day we ski past the log cabins and straight onto the lake. Out here the silence is as thick as a downy pillow.

Äkäslompolo village snakes around the other side of the lake, just a few houses and shops surrounded by the seven fells that make up the unspoilt area of Ylläs (pronounced OO-las) and the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.

Ylläs feels like a wilderness in suspended animation. But nestling beneath the trees is a network of cafes and Kotas (tepee-style huts) that spice up the wintery vales. Each one has its own unique charm – and each claims to serve the best Munkki (sugared Finnish donuts).

The first hut we see is at Kutujarvi, a gloriously picturesque valley illuminated by shafts of golden light. We stop to sit by the fire at the wooden Kota, where a couple of Finnish skiers are using toasting prongs to grill sausages over the embers.

Further Information

Winter Holidays at the Ylläshumina Hotel in Lapland

Narnia-esque landscapes, cosy trail-side wilderness huts and Munkki donuts are key ingredients of a snow holiday at the Ylläshumina Hotel. Explore on cross-country skis or enjoy the snow in lots of other ways for a memorable Arctic winter experience.

More about our winter holidays
in Finnish Lapland >

Ylläs Jazz & Blues Festival

The festival’s official website is in Finnish but, thanks to online translation tools, you too can find out what’s happening when.

yllasjazzblues.net

 

But the log hut at Elämänluukku offers something even better than grilled sausages – wild Angelica tea.

Angelica has been cultivated in Finland for almost 1,000 years, and was cherished by the Sami people as a digestive aid. Now the bearded woodsman who serves us promises something even more exciting.

“We call it Finnish Viagra,” he winks.

With its unique flavour (pine and juniper mixed with something unidentifiably savoury), the Angelica tea is a tangy accompaniment to our sugary Munkki – and the reindeer sandwich we buy for extra sustenance.

The woodsman tells us reindeer are sometimes waiting on the doorstep when he arrives on his snowmobile in the morning. “Not the one you’re eating, though,” he assures us.

An atmospheric glow

Heading home, we spot a lantern outside the Navetta Galleria, enticing visitors to cross its threshold...if they dare.

Hints of enchantments unfold inside, as uncanny puppets gaze down from the rafters and spindly old ladies with woollen hair weave invisible spells from the walls. But the witchcraft here is entirely benevolent. Working her magic mainly in the kitchen, the sculptor-proprietress serves lip-smackingly good home-made cinnamon buns, while the berry juice is so intense it stains our lips crimson. Just a couple of kilometres out of town, this is the most accessible of the wilderness cafes, and the most fairy-tale like.

But the most atmospheric of all is Velhon Kota (Wizard’s Hut), a conical log-pile half-buried in huge drifts of snow. Lit entirely by candelabra and studded with reindeer antlers (which serve as impromptu hangers for drying soggy hats in front of the magnificent fire), the whole hut has a benevolent glow so warming it’s hard not to snooze off. A savoury pastry made with local cheese and sprinkled with aromatic herbs, and an intense pot of coffee, keep us alert enough to enjoy the afternoon’s entertainment – a Finnish guitarist with a stomping left foot and a mean line in Chicago blues. Staged as part of the Ylläs Jazz and Blues festival, now an annual event, there’s something wonderful about slipping out from an afternoon of listening to muddy blues to strap on skis and glide home through the slow dusk while snow twinkles all around us.

Photographs by Toni Hoffmann


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