Go on a Reindeer-Drawn Sleigh Ride Safari, Lapland, Finland
For centuries, the indigenous Sami people have traveled with their herds of reindeer across the Sápmi region (commonly referred to as Lapland), which comprises the northernmost regions of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Russian Kola Peninsula. Here, above the Arctic Circle, snow can last for 200 days, making reindeer sled, snowmobile, and skis the preferred modes of transportation. Experience the frosty thrill of gliding through the snow-covered forest in a reindeer-drawn sleigh at northern Finland’s Jaakkola Reindeer Farm. Located near Luosto in the Finnish province of Lapland, the family-owned farm offers a variety of reindeer safaris and tours led by English-speaking guides. Many tours include opportunities to feed the reindeer, learn about reindeer husbandry, and warm up with coffee and pastries (or cook sausage over an open fire) in a kota, or herder’s hut. November to February, the farm’s four-hour evening sleigh-ride excursion for two (adults only) includes the possibility of an enchanting bonus: the watercolor glow of the northern lights illuminating the sky, ice, and snow.
How to Get Around: Luosto is a ski resort village in the greater Pyhä-Luosto recreation area. The closest airport is in Rovaniemi, an hour-and-15-minute direct flight from Helsinki. At the Rovaniemi airport, take the Pyhä-Luosto SkiBus for the 90-minute trip northeast to Luosto. Jaakkola Reindeer Farm is about seven miles northwest of Luosto. Take a taxi from your hotel to the farm.
Where to Stay: The Wintry Week package (January 5-April 19) at Santa’s Hotel Aurora in Luosto includes seven nights’ lodging in a double room with private sauna, daily breakfast and dinner, and an Aurora Alarm to alert you to when the northern lights are visible. The main lodge has 30 mainly north-facing rooms (request one with a fireplace). New for 2015: a separate wing with ten glass-roofed Arctic View rooms (available beginning February 15) offering panoramic views of the northern lights. The hotel is on the SkiBus route to and from the airport.
What to Eat: Ravintola Kerttuli in Luosto looks like a traditional timber Lapp house (octagonal shape and vaulted ceilings) and serves several Lappish dishes. The menu changes seasonally, but you’re guaranteed to have a reindeer option, such as sautéed reindeer with mashed potatoes or reindeer pepper steak. Start with a cup of creamy porcini mushroom soup served with flat bread. Reservations suggested.
What to Buy: Light purple to dark violet amethyst extracted from the nearby Lampivaara Amethyst Mine (in Pyhä-Luosto National Park) are sold as gemstones and jewelry at Luosto’s Little Mine Shop. Buy tickets there for mine tours, including transportation via the Amethyst Pendolino snow train.
What to Read Before You Go: A Reindeer Police officer in Norwegian Lapland is the protagonist of Forty Days Without Shadow: An Arctic Thriller (Grand Central Publishing, English edition, 2014, translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie), the debut novel by Stockholm-based journalist Olivier Truc, who directed the 2009 documentary Reindeer Police.
Practical Tip: Winter in northern Finland is intensely cold, yet dry. Pack and dress accordingly. The mean monthly temperatures in Luosto can range from about 7°F in January to about 19°F in November and March.
Fun Fact: Only Sami can legally own reindeer in Norway and Sweden. In Finland, reindeer ownership is open to any European Union citizen who meets specific criteria, such as living within a designated Finnish Herding Area and being a member of the local reindeer herding district, the organizational body charged with protecting the reindeer, promoting reindeer husbandry, and preventing reindeer from causing damage or trespassing into other districts.