And so reluctantly resolved to override any urges for idle chit-chat and with a suitcase full of thermals, I flew north to Rovaniemi the capital of Finnish Lapland. Perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle, the city is famous for being the home of Santa Claus and is as close as reality gets to a winter wonderland. As well as the chance to meet the big man himself, a chance of seeing the Northern Lights is what draws many to this remote part of the world.
According to the Finnish Tourist Board, the region is one of the best places to witness the elusive aurora borealis appearing on more than 200 nights of the year.
But as we flew into Rovaniemi Airport, my expectations sank as heavy grey clouds hung over us – it’s a four-day trip I reminded myself. It could clear up.
Nevertheless, our first stop was the SnowCastle resort in the coastal town of Kemi, a 90-minute drive away, which offered much to distract from the gloomy skies boasting an all-year-round ice restaurant, a traditional sauna as well as wintry excursions and activities.
On the shoreline of the frozen Gulf of Bothnia, newly-built luxury glass chalets face out over the vast expanse of ice.
Simply decorated in calming grey tones, the cabins are designed so visitors can snuggle up in bed and look out over the paralysingly beautiful frozen seascape.
I was tempted to do just that but our host Noora had other plans and after dropping off our bags she led us to a large hole cut into the 3in thick surface for a spot of “ice floating”.
Not one for outdoor pursuits, I was troubled to say the least, imagining some kind of brutal SAS cold water training exercise. Fifteen minutes later dressed in a Michelin man-style Arctic survival suit I found myself, against all odds, peacefully bobbing about in the zero-degree water gazing up at the sky.
I couldn’t help squinting to see if there was any sign of those dancing lights behind the clouds but no such luck. Hey ho, next was another icy encounter in the resort’s intriguingly named SnowExperience365 – imagine an enormous freezer with illuminated ice sculptures, an ice slide and an igloo-like ice bar with ice tables and benches.
No need to worry about warm beer here as it is kept at a chilly -5C even in the summer.
After a warming amuse-bouche of mushroom soup in the ice bar, we retreated to the warmth of the main restaurant and enjoyed a contemporary Arctic region five-course tasting menu including a stand-out dish of reindeer carpaccio with smoked lichen.
Over dinner I tell Noora about the cultural warning I’d received.
She agreed and joked: “This is small talk in Finland” then clamped her mouth shut and pulled a stern expression. So my friend was not wrong then.
In the morning we set off on an adrenaline-pumping quad bike ride through a snow-blanketed forest.
Not for the faint-hearted but it is a thrilling way to explore the Lappish wilderness – just remember to keep your mittens on the brakes.
More than 70 percent of Finland is forest and according to theWorld Health Organisation the air is the cleanest in the world. It was also named the happiest nation on Earth by the UN.
Dashing through the snow in the freshest air surrounded by unspoilt nature, it’s easy to see why.
Our next stay was the Apukka Resort. Just 10 minutes from Rovaniemi Airport and located in the middle of a Narnia-style forest, it offers stylish wooden igloos with heated glass roofs for sky gazing from the comfort of a warm bed.
Guests craving a little more luxury can stay in newly built suites inspired by “komsio” or traditional Sami cradles. Shaped like a “kota”, a Lappish teepee, the nest-like bed is located in the glass apex with a full 360º-view.
All cabins are a short, frosty, walk from the 100-year-old wooden lodge reception authentically decked out with sheepskins, furs and wall-mounted antlers. It has a buffet and a la carte restaurant serving a mixture of Lappish and modern dishes as well as a bar.
In the evening you can huddle around a log fire with a glass of mulled wine and, on certain nights, enjoy a side of salmon basted in butter and roasted on the flames in front of you.We were greeted by one of the resort’s wilderness experts, also called Noora (no really), who took us out deep into the forest for an aurora hunt on Apukka’s unique snow train.
Standing around 6ft tall, with a mass of blonde curls and a fearsome looking utility belt, Noora 2 cut an impressive figure as she leapt onto a snowmobile and towed us in our heated cushioned carriage.
Eventually we reached a large canvas kota and within minutes Noora 2 had a fire roaring.We waited patiently with hot chocolate and cookies but sadly those stubborn clouds showed no signs of ever shifting.
But it didn’t matter as Noora 2 kept us entertained with extraordinary campfire tales of survival, Finnish history and Lappish folklore.
The small team of highly experienced staff provide excursions from dawn to well past midnight.
Activities include snowmobile tours and guided snowshoe hikes for the adventurous. For a slower pace guests can enjoy reindeer sleigh rides as well as a choice of modern and traditional wood-burning saunas.
For me the most memorable activity was a traditional husky ride.
As we approached the kennels, the hounds howled with excitement eager to stretch their legs on the two-kilometre track.
Expect to fall face first in the snow at least once as husky mushing isn’t easy. But once you get the knack, it is the most joyful way to spend a winter’s morning.
Just before heading home I paused for one last moment in the soundless frost-kissed wilderness and finally understood why Finns don’t do small talk – it’s just air pollution after all.
easyJet flies to Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, from Gatwick and Manchester from £59 return. (easyjet.com)
A Komsio Suite at Apukka Resort, near Rovaniemi, starts at £300 a night in November. (apukkaresort.fi) A Seaside Glass Villa at the SnowCastle Resort in Kemi starts at £280 a night in November. (experience365.fi) More info at visitfinland.com
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