I arrive into Kiruna, gateway to Swedish Lapland (Sapmi in local language), around the lunch hour on an overcast Wednesday. It’s January, and the sun is about to set. I’ve come in from Stockholm, confident that I had adjusted well to the short days of Winter in Northern Europe. But up here past the Arctic Circle it’s a different story altogether. Excitedly, the locals tell me that the sun had made its first appearance in weeks that day.
My host Kenth of Fjellborg Arctic Lodge is waiting for me, and together we leave the airport, past the dogsled parking, and into the wilderness. Immediately a sense of space hits me. This really is a Northern outpost. We make a beeline for Jukkasjärvi, home to the famous Icehotel, where I enjoy a generous helping of meatballs (it’s Sweden after all), before touring the grounds and the new Deluxe Suites at Icehotel 365, a brand new addition which will remain open year round run on solar power. I marvel at the genius and idiocy of the idea.
To my delight, I find the sauna at my sleeping quarters stoked, so I settle into the soothing comfort of the complete darkness that surrounds me now – and enjoy a glass of wine in the sweatbox overlooking the frozen lake. Having worked up an appetite, I eagerly await the arrival of my snowmobile ride to take me to the Old Homestead across the way for dinner. Out on the frozen lake we stop and I notice them for the first time since my arrival – the Northern Lights. Like a rainbow on steroids they colour the endless Northern sky overhead. It is one of the most breathtaking experiences of my life.
Eventually, the cold and my increasing hunger persuade me away and I enter the restaurant, where I promptly order a platter of The North’s finest charcuterie: reindeer, moose, bison; and a giant Gurpi burger made the Sami way from reindeer mince meat packed in fat from reindeer stomach. Halfway through dinner there’s an announcement and the restaurant empties out immediately: “Let’s go people, the sky magic is happening!” The Northern Lights are even more magnificent this time around, illuminating the sky in dancing shades of green. I fiddle with my camera to capture the display, but accept defeat. I’ve reached the limit of my photography skills so I take mental pictures only and seize this moment of utter natural beauty.
The next morning I am greeted by an endless sky doused in a mesmerizing shade of blue that signals the start of a new day. Kenth has promised to take me dogsledding and it seems like his canine comrades can hardly contain their excitement as they vie for their owner’s attention. With every bark they exclaim “Choose me, choose me.” From the 140 dogs in his kennels, he assembles a 16-pawed team for me. In glorious silence we ride our dogsleds marvelling at the natural beauty and catching a few rare rays of sunshine en route to his remote lodge.
After a hearty lunch of salmon soup with copious amounts of dill, we relax by the crackling fire until it is time to head back. This time leaving the dogs behind and saddling a different type of vehicle: a snowmobile. As happens frequently up here, the weather has now done a 180º turn, and we find ourselves riding our machines through a proper snowstorm, the blowing snow forcing me to slow down and even stop altogether as we cross the frozen lakes in zero visibility. It’s exhilarating and slightly terrifying at the same time. Before we return home, we stop to meet an indigenous Sami reindeer herder who happily shares his stories of Northern life. That night, by the time we head out for a meal of Arctic char at the Icehotel restaurant across the lake, the weather has once again changed and the starry sky is yet again offering up a fine display of Northern lights. No obstructions – just sky that goes on forever.
As my stay with Kenth and his family comes to an end, we do a drive-by of the mining town of Kiruna, and I am told that due to the expansion of the iron ore mine – the region’s major employer and reason for Kiruna’s existence in the first place – plans for the town’s relocation are already under way. The makeshift train station is one of the first outward signs of this development. I board the surprisingly modern train South towards Luleå (complete with free wifi!) and once again marvel at the ease of travel this far up in the Arctic circle.
Claudia may have travelled the world twice, but her enthusiasm for adventure seems only to have grown, and that’s why we love her. Email her here to enquire about a Scandinavian escape.