Gällivare, Sweden

Photo: Sápmi Nature

You’re on a mission to find Santa Claus and his reindeer. It is December, with Christmas quickly approaching, after all. So you decide to head to Scandinavia, which is a winter wonderland this time of year. You narrow it down to Sweden since it looks like the North Pole. Rumors about Jultomten (Father Christmas) send you north to Lapland, the country’s northernmost province. Then you zero in on Norrbotten, a county that creeps over the Arctic Circle. That’s where you find Gällivare.

Gällivare is small, remote, and breathtakingly beautiful. The flat countryside is on one side of town. The Scandes (Scandinavian Mountains) are on the other. During the summer, the sun doesn’t set at all thanks to the midnight sun. But that season is very short. Severe winters last from November until May. It’s not as dark as you expect, though.

The sky isn’t completely black thanks to the millions of stars overhead. Without a big city, and its pollution, nearby, it’s usually clear up here. Monthly full moons make it even brighter. The northern lights—the amazing phenomenon, in which colorful streaks dance across the sky—occur frequently, as well. Then there’s the glow of the main cabin and the tents at Sápmi Nature Camp.

Photo: Sápmi Nature

Sápmi Nature Camp, a high-end glamping site, recently opened about 40 minutes from the center of Gällivare. The old homestead was already covered with a boreal forest, grazing land, and a cabin from 1910. They were left largely untouched. There’s no electricity, running water, or WiFi at the camp. Candles light the cabin. A fireplace warms it and cooks the food (marinated grouse and smoked mountain fish are on the menu tonight). Another one heats the sauna. Each of the lavvu tents, which look like tepees, have their own wood-burning stoves, as well. An automatic diesel-fuel heater keeps guests toasty all through the night.

It isn’t just the stove and the heater that make the tents cozy. Each tent features a wooden floor, a double wooden bed, and handmade furniture inspired by Sápmi culture. There are kerosene lamps, plenty of thick blankets, and lots of fur throws, too. While skis and snowshoes are propped against the outside of the tent.

Your first excursion from Sápmi Nature Camp is a visit with mountain reindeer. The camp’s owner grew up in a reindeer-herding family. His brother still cares for the animals. On the ride over, you expect to see a handful of reindeer. Nothing can prepare you for the number and the size of the animals that await your arrival. They have velvet antlers, two layers of fur, crescent-shaped hooves, and eyes that change from gold to blue depending on the season. They’re gorgeous and completely fascinating. They can probably also lead you to Jultomten.

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