Saariselkä, Finland

Photo: Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
Photo: Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort

From your igloo—that’s right, an igloo—you’re staring at the dark sky. The branches of pine trees droop with heavy snow. Millions of stars twinkle above you. While wispy clouds float out of sight. Suddenly, a faint green glow appears on the horizon. It’s pale at first, but it turns more of an emerald color as it overtakes the darkness. Streaks of yellow, pink, and red follow. Then they start streaming, rippling, and shooting across the sky. Your first viewing of the aurora borealis is pretty spectacular.

You’re in Lapland, the largest and northernmost region of Finland. Urho Kekkonen National Park is to the east. Finland’s largest protected area sits on the Russian border. Saariselkä is a little farther north. The little town became known for its Sami reindeer herders, gold rush along the Lutto river, and impassability during World War II, before tourists seeking winter adventures started arriving in the 1960s. While you’re on a hillside—in an igloo—above the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.

Your igloo isn’t a traditional igloo. It’s not made of blocks of snow, nor do animal hides line the interior. This domed structure has a glass roof, a tiny bathroom, a zebra-print comforter, and red pillows. It may be -40 degrees outside, but you’re snuggled in a down sleeping bag inside. Besides, you’re definitely not thinking about the temperature with the northern lights dancing above you.

Photo: Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
Photo: Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort

The next morning, you sleep late. Between watching the light show overnight and the sun not rising until after 9 am, there was no reason to set an alarm. But there’s plenty to keep you occupied when the daylight finally arrives. Go on a safari. After meeting friendly dogs and learning how to steer, go on a husky safari. Or bundle up in a sled and let reindeer pull you through the wilderness. Or get your adrenaline pumping on a snowmobile ride through the snowy forest. Go ice fishing on Lake Inarijärvi. Your catch will be grilled on an open fire for lunch. Go skiing. There are 200 kilometers of cross-country trails in the area; 30 kilometers of them are illuminated, so you can ski after dark. Or downhill ski at Kaunispää, Finland’s northernmost ski area.

Back in Saariselkä, walk through the center of town. It has a supermarket, a gas station, and a liquor store. Stop at the Saariselkä Inn’s Panimo Pub, a microbrewery that serves beer and schnapps. Return to the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort to sit in the largest smoke sauna in the world. A hole has been cut in the nearby frozen water for those daring enough to jump in afterward. Then check out your accommodations for the night: a cabin. You traded your igloo for a log cabin made of large kelo pines. A fireplace and a private sauna are inside. You’re going to be warm and snuggly tonight. It’s too overcast to see the aurora borealis again anyway.

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