Arctic sunny delights

First published in What's On

OUR hosts are a Sami couple, members of Europe’s only aboriginal people and part of the tiny population of Ovre Soppero in northern Sweden.

A reindeer herder by trade, hostess Britt-Marie offers visitors a glimpse of the traditional Sami lifestyle, opening the flaps of her tepee to them and ushering them into its primitive interior.

What I have learnt so far is that the Sami use reindeer for just about everything.

We are sitting on thick reindeer furs that carpet the ground, about to tuck into smoked reindeer meat with vegetables. And when we have finished Britt-Marie’s partner boils water over the open fire to make coffee, which he keeps in a reindeer skin pouch.

In Lapland these animals do far more here than pull Santa’s sleigh.

In any case, there is no soft blanket of the white stuff covering the ground for them to pull it over.

While the word Lapland may evoke Christmas, short days and sleighbells in the snow, there is, in fact, another side to it, glimpsed only when the snow melts away and the midnight sun spreads across the countryside.

I am here at the end of the summer, when the temperature is mild and the sparsely populated landscape is a palette of reds, browns and yellows.

When the summer months are upon the Arctic, the temperature can rise to 30C. It more commonly remains around the 20C mark, but the climate is generally dry and pleasant — perfect for outdoor pursuits. So we take a drive through the unspoilt Arctic wilderness to Hetta Huskies, a husky farm in the north-west Finnish village of the same name.

The dogs bark dementedly as we wander between their cages, eager to be let out to join in the fun. But only a few are chosen to accompany us on a husky walk.

Many people have taken a dog for a walk, but fewer have experienced being taken for a walk by a dog.

With harnesses around our waists and dogs at the end of long leads, we set off through the woodland, our steps buoyed by the exuberance of the animals tugging us along through the trees.

It is a novel experience and one worth repeating on a longer hike across this desolate countryside.

For anyone eager to put civilisation behind them and commune with nature, this is the real thing. But there are comforts to be had here too.

The fresh air and exercise has made us hungry, so we head to Lake Ounasjarvi for a spot of lunch in a waterside wooden kota, or Sami wigwam.

The venue, Vuollikka, is set in picturesque surroundings, looking out across a calm and deserted expanse of water. We feast on tender beef cooked over an open fire in the middle of the kota, while we sit on benches around the side.

After lunch, we cross the lake in a motor boat, carving through the serene water bordered by dense forest.

There are few signs of civilisation, apart from the Hetta Hotel perched on the opposite shore.

In the distance we can spot four pink forms splashing about in the water — hardy hotel guests taking a dip in the bracingly cold lake.

The crystal waters may provide a tonic for body and soul, but it is not something I am willing to try on a day when wrapping up in a warm jacket and gloves is necessary. Inside the hotel it is different, and a sauna and Finnish massage leave us feeling pampered as we head to the Davvi Arctic Lodge for the night.

The lodge is a simple retreat on a secluded hillside, just over the Finnish border and a stone’s throw from Sweden where the nearest village, Karesuando, lies.

The bedrooms are comfortable but not luxurious, in keeping with the refreshing back-to-nature aesthetic of the destination.

For those seeking something a little cosier, the lodge’s timber cabins dotted around its wooded grounds are a good family option.

But it is Davvi’s lofty dining room that is the jewel in its crown, offering a breathtaking vista across an unspoilt patchwork of forests and lakes — an excellent spot in which to settle down for a seriously large Lappish dinner.

Pea soup is followed by reindeer stew (of course) and potato gratin, and we finish with chocolate tart and a delicious cloudberry liqueur.

It is the kind of heavy, hearty cuisine one might expect to find in such cold climes, and it does the job after a day in the fresh, pure Arctic air.

Such is the remote feel of the region, with its bare, unpeopled landscape, that returning to the relative civilisation of the Norwegian city of Tromso is like waking from a dream.

The so-called capital of the Arctic serves as a gateway to the mountains, fjords and islands, and exudes a fitting serenity, as if to remain in respectful harmony with its surroundings.

We take the cable car to the top of Mount Storsteinen, giving a panorama of matchbox houses, a deep blue sleeve of Norwegian Sea and the rugged red-grey mountains beyond. Perched 420m above sea level, it can be an excellent spot for spotting those elusive Northern Lights.

But they are not the only reason to come here. The impulse to simply get away from it all and discover what often feels like an untouched land, the mythical Arctic laid out in all its many-shaded splendour — that is reason enough.

FACTFILE

■ Rosa Silverman was a guest of Transun, which offers three, four and seven-night tours to Arctic Lapland between May and October from £749, incl return flights ex-Heathrow into Kittila, transfers, activities and full board accommodation.

On four and seven-night stays, Transun offers a one-night city break supplement in Tromso for £200, including transport, accommodation and walking tour of city (min two persons).

Transun does not offer connecting flights ex- Manchester and Glasgow.

To book, call 01865 265 200 or visittransun.co.uk

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