Fire & Ice in magic Inari winter wonderland
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
Nordic winter adventures, Northern Lights and some icy landscape.....Lake Inari – never heard about it? Me too, before I made this trip up North. The well-known area of Helsinki I have covered in my previous post – so let´s see what Inari has to offer.
Introduction to the North
Although Inari is a small and not really exciting city in Lapland, it had gained more and more popularity among international tourists, who mainly are coming here for the magic Aurora Borealis or better known as Northern Lights. Lapland is Finland´s most northern region, sparsely populated and with a vast arctic wilderness. Capital and main tourist hub is Rovaniemi (www.rovaniemi.fi), where you have a wide choice of various resorts inclusive of an ice and snow hotel – the Arctic Snow Hotel (www.articsnowhotel.fi) or you can book yourself into a trip with the ice-breaker ship Sampo (check on www.visitfinland.com), which is docked in the nearby town of Kemi.
For my taste above region already became too touristic, so I chose the more laidback Inari region instead. However also here more and more arctic hotels are coming up, so I think it is just a question of time until also this region jumps upwards on the tourist map. Most famous hotel of this region is the Kakslauttanen Hotel (www.kakslauttanen.fi), which was actually among the first to offer unique artic experiences. Here the guests are not sleeping in ice or snow igloos instead they are accommodated in comfortable glass igloos from where they can enjoy the Northern Lights out of the comfort of their beds. I wasn´t able to book myself into this hotel for my trip as it was sold out for more or less the whole season.
Therefore I started to search for other hotel options and I figured out that quite a lot of other hotels have taken over the idea of some sort of glass igloo accommodation as well. Moreover I saw a lot of negative comments and rankings for Kakslauttanen on various platforms and heard also from some of my local friends that the hotel is not a good value for money anymore – maybe they became too popular. However as I haven´t stayed myself there, I will not judge on that now.
What is sure is that accommodation in general in this sort of Arctic Experience hotels doesn’t come cheap, so the usual length of stay would be 2-3 nights and if you like to stay longer in the area maybe some sort of local cottage would be a budget friendly option. I would discourage on the other hand to just book for 1 night as that would not be enough time to enjoy such a unique accommodation properly.
How to reach
If you are choosing a hotel in the Inari region, next airport will be Ivalo Airport. Ivalo, the municipality centre of Inari is 11 km away, 25 km to Saariselkä and 30 km to Inari. It is the northernmost airport in Finland and in the European Union. It is mainly a domestic airport operated by Finnair and Norwegian, but also few international flights are available. There are bus or shuttle taxi connections to the various cities and hotels of the region. However I would recommend to book a transfer already in advance with your hotel.
If you are landing in Inari during the winter season and you are not from the Nordic countries, landing at Ivalo will feel already like landing on the North Pole for you. Vast lands of snow around and you will have to make your way to the terminal building over frozen tarmac.
One tip for your departure…plan in a bit more time as there are two very nice souvenir shops before the check-in area. Especially one shop I really liked as they are selling hand-made local cloth and shawls – all manufactured in a family business in Ivalo.
Where to stay
As I said there is an increasing number of accommodation options in this area. Here I like to introduce the hotel to you where we were staying – the Wilderness Inari Hotel, which is located directly at the shores of the Inari lake. This local hotel group owns various different properties in the area around, each with a different ambiance and focus. You can see them all under www.nellim.fi – whereas the direct link for our hotel is www.nellim.fi/inari
There are basically four different room categories available. Most budget friendly would be the Inari Wilderness Rooms, however these are also the least “exciting” ones. Located in two major buildings it has the feel of a normal hotel room (however a nicely decorated one) plus this category has no lake view and you have the main hotel building between you and the lake. So I would highly recommend to cash out a bit more.
Then you have the rustic Block Houses, the Inari Log Cabin, for a real wilderness feel and also the more stylish Inari Arctic Chalet category. Both these options are nice if you are a family or group of friends. Also not all rooms here have a proper lake view.
Last but not least comes the category where we were staying and of course which I do like the most 😊the Inari Aurora Cabin. These are on one side wooden Mini-Chalets and a glass roof on the other side. Means out of your cosy bed you can observe the stars or even the Northern Lights if you are lucky. It´s really an amazing experience.
The glass roof can be heated so even with heavy snowfall the roof stays clear for you and you will not wake up under a huge snow cover.
While writing this I am actually wondering what they are doing in summer as with the Midnight Sun it would mean you have permanent sunlight even at night, but I am sure there are possibilities to darken the room as well…..but maybe better to check that out when you come during summer. The Aurora Cabins are lined up in three rows, so only from the first row and partially the second you will see the lake in all its beauty.
And as the Inari Wilderness people are always trying to invent something new for their guests, the ultimate experience is the Lake Inari Aurora Hut, which floats on the lake (in sunmer only). Check that option out on their website.
General facilities and restaurant
The reception as well as the activity counter, lobby hall, bar and restaurant are all located in the main building facing the lake.
All meals are served in the main restaurant.
Breakfast buffet was great with lots of different options for every taste. Lunch and dinner you have the choice of either a buffet or a-la-carte. Also here the quality of the food was excellent. Depending on how much you usually like to eat it´s worth to consider the half-board or full-board option at the time of your booking as other restaurant options in the nearby village of Inari are first a 30-minutes’ walk away and anyway very limited.
Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis
Is for sure the main reason why foreigners are coming to this region during winter times. These are natural light displays in the earth´s sky of the Arctic and Antarctic region. Auroras are the result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by solar winds. So no more physics now – the only thing that I can say and that all of you for sure are already aware of is that they are simply beautiful and magic.
However it takes a good portion of luck as well to see them clearly. Theoretically they can be seen in the time from September to April – but that´s the theory only. Beside that you need super clear skies – so no clouds and obviously no rain, snow or fog. We are talking about the Nordics, so good weather is often not guaranteed there. Further it needs to be really dark to see them clearly, so you have to be far away from the city or any other light source – best out in the wilderness. And when you have managed all of that, you need a damn good camera to capture them or maybe better you don´t bother about the best shot, but just enjoy them and capture them in your mind.
So now you want to know how lucky we were…..well, I would say partly lucky. We were staying a total of 3 nights in Inari. At the night of our arrival we took a small walk on the frozen Inari lake – and here they were, however as the light of the hotel and village was still too close by, they were unfortunately not very clear – but at least we still saw them lightly afterwards from our bed through the glass roof.
Ironically the next day when we booked the Aurora hunting trip through the hotel, fully equipped with my proper camera, it was snowing like crazy. So no chance to see anything at all. Same thing in the last night – heavy snowfall, so heavy that we hardly reached the airport the next morning.
Just a further note on the Northern Lights, basically there is a chance to see them during the winter month in all the Arctic and Antarctic region, but there are definitely a few hotspots, where it is more likely and where you can also enjoy good touristic facilities, one area that I could recommend in that aspect would be Tromso in Norway (www.visittromso.no) – also watch out for further news on this website as I am planning in the near future to organize trips to the Nordic region – so maybe I see you there 😊
Activities that you can do on your own
Would be first of all a walk over the frozen Inari lake, that´s really a great experience if the weather is fine. The Inari lake is the third largest lake in Finland and has around 3318 islands.
Other than that you can take a walk to Inari village, which is the centre of the Sami culture. There is not too much to do and see there, except a few restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops.
The only touristic site would be the Sami Culture Museum (www.siida.fi) – it has real good displays and you can learn a lot about the local fauna and flora and most important about the Sami culture, indigenous Finno-Ugric people. Sami ancestral lands are not well-defined so they span over an area of all Nordic countries nowadays. There is also a nice souvenir shop, Cafe and an open-air museum area.
Activities that you can book in the hotel
And well here I need to mention the negative point of the hotel – the excursions are heavily over-priced. However I don´t think that this is a specific problem of this hotel, I guess it is the same case in the other hotels and tour agencies around. They count on wealthy tourists, who are staying a few nights only and want to have the maximum of Arctic experiences. Ok, for excursions like a Husky Tour or a Snow scooter ride, prices might be a bit more justified – but also not totally. I did all these experiences already in Norway locally organized through friends and paid half of it plus there a Husky Tour was for hours and not that ridiculous 30-minutes that they offered here. So as I am from the tourism industry myself, I must say that these prices are very questionable, especially for example to charge guests around 120 USD to visit a reindeer farm (reindeers are common as cows over there) or a whopping 75 USD for a visit to the above mentioned Sami Culture Museum and a city drive – guys, just take a 30 minutes’ walk to there and pay the entrance fee of 10 EUR by yourself.
Sorry, if somebody of the hotel is reading this, but this is really a point that made me very upset. When I am on a holiday I always like to spend money on good quality tours for a justified price. But the activity prices of this hotel (at least some of them) feel more as a rip off.
Activities can be booked in advance through the hotel website - which is recommended especially for the peak season as all tours have a limited number of participants and might be already fully booked at the time of your arrival. So to avoid any disappointment it is better to book in advance otherwise you can try your luck directly at the activity desk. The tours will be displayed daily with the participant list on the activity screens.
Note: for all tours the hotel is providing you with boots, gloves, snow trousers and jackets, which are all made for arctic temperatures and which you can keep throughout your stay. Nevertheless of course bring your own winter clothing with you, which you can fit under the hotel winter gear. Long underwear is recommended, not very sexy, but very useful in these temperatures :-) If you are not planning to book any tour, the winter clothing can be booked seperately with your hotel package as well.
We did the Northern Light Hunting Tour, which was the only tour I would pay the price again (115 EUR/adult). There are various options how you can do this tour, we did it by sleigh, but there are also other options with different prices by heated sleigh, snowmobile, car or on foot. As mentioned we didn´t see any Northern Lights, but that´s in the end of course not the fault of the hotel. However when you book be aware that the risk is totally on you, they will go anyway. We had a nice sleigh ride through a nightly winter wonderland and saw some white reindeers along the way. They have a sort of small camp in the forest, where they stop and from where you will see the Aurora on clear days. As for us it was snowing heavenly, so we just did a small walk to a local church and did a spooky exploration through the dark inner church with our head lights on. Later our super nice guides showed us some arctic survival tricks how to light up a bonfire in the middle of the snow and we got some hot chocolate to warm us up. As I said we didn’t experience the highlight of this tour, but still it was a special feeling and deserves thumbs up.
Second booking was the Husky Tour and although the Huskies were amazing, the whole tour itself for a price of 190 USD per person (!) was disappointing as it was too short. Clothing up, driving there and having a walk round the Husky farm takes most of the time. The actual sleigh ride is hardly 30-minutes on a pre-build slope. As I did a much longer Husky Tour already before, I was familiar with all the procedures. But even if you have never done this, it´s quite easy to handle – you just need to follow the instructions of the guide, know how to brake and most important never ever leave your hands off the sleigh or otherwise the sleigh, the dogs plus your fellow rider will disappear into the wilderness!!! You will do the ride in couples – one is controlling the sleigh, whereas the other is seated and after just around 15 minutes into the slope you will change positions. Usually you will have to master a sleigh of 6 friendly, however also very excited dogs ready for a wild run. Needs some co-ordination and braveness during the first minutes, but after a while you will feel very comfortable and believe me you will enjoy the ride through the peaceful winter landscape to the maximum.
Afterwards is cuddling time as they really enjoy a big hug – surprisingly these creatures that resemble more some wild wolf rather than a pet dog, are super friendly and do enjoy a portion of love a lot.
Last you get a walk over the Husky farm to meet the fellow dogs plus some cute and playful puppies.
Our plans to join the snowmobile excursion we dropped at the end due to above mentioned reason.
However all in all we really enjoyed our stay at the Wilderness Inari Hotel. It has been 3 magical days up north, which we for sure won´t forget and very often we imagine ourselves back in our cosy Aurora Cabin.
So book your next winter trip to the Lake Inari region – very recommended with a frosty goodbye.
Also if you have any further questions about vacation options in Lapland, please feel free to reach out to me at any time - and once again watch this space for my up-coming scheduled group tours to the Northern region.
Other Arctic winter regions in Finland with a touristic infrastructure worth to check them out would be Ruka (www.ruka.fi) or Levi (www.levi.fi).