It is that time of the year again when the winters are in the forefront and it is also when you can make the most of your winter holiday. Imagine yourself sitting in a warm and cosy glass igloo with nature’s light show in the middle of the night. “Picture hues of pink, blue, green, purple streak across the sky creating a magical experience as you lie in a warm bed, staring up at the magnificent sky. Imagine waking up the next morning to snow mobile over a frozen river, or to take a dip in bitter cold waters, just for the adrenaline rush. Each and every frozen planet experience is like any other you will ever come across,” says Yogi Shah, Founder at The Villa Escape. A visit to any frozen planet is winter wonderland at its best that offer a surreal experience of a lifetime, filled with adventure, snow, magic and much more!
The charm of Lapland is unmissable, well where else can you see 24-hours sunlight in the summer and the exact opposite in the winters? While you might think of visiting Santa Claus’s official home town or staying in a Glass Igloo, the charm of this place is in the fact that this is where you can see the Aurora Borealis. The Northern lights as they are better known are a unique natural phenomena that can be easily categorized as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Finland is one of the best places on Earth where you can see them as they can be seen for 200 nights a year! This apart, this is where you can indulge in snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice climbing, ice fishing, snowmobile safaris and sled dog touring. As far as accommodation options are concerned, check into a log cabin with your own sauna (Finnish sauna, smoke sauna, ice sauna, sauna on wheels) or a glass igloo and gaze at the starry sky. There are several interesting options available in the Inari-Saariselkä region ranging from a lakeside cabin, ski resort and even a wilderness retreat. While the place is covered in a sheath of white, this is where the Arctic Design Week happens every February with the theme of ‘Arcticness’ and allows you to experience Arctic culture and design. If you are in the Ylläs region you can visit on a reindeer farm to learn about reindeer herding and get up close with these animals. And wellness programs like Sauna Yoga are great fun too.
If you love the outdoors and like extreme experiences, Iceland is for you. Blessed with rough terrains, the topography includes mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, rivers, lakes and caves. Hiking is a key activity and you can stumble upon many stunning trails in Iceland. However the 53 km long, Laugavegur trail that takes you past Eyjafjallajökull volcano, into the interior of Iceland is the most spectacular hiking trails in the world. Skiing and snowboarding on the hillside, guided snow mobile trips around the glaciers and jeep safaris across the highlands are other invigorating experiences. In fact this is where you can see some rare wildlife as well. Hop on to a whale-watching boat and also soak in the amazing avian life and trek around on an Icelandic horse, the beauty of the landscape is something that is impossible to miss. The NLFÍ Rehabilitation and Health Clinic in Hveragerði, South Iceland is popular among health seekers for their interesting and organic approach to wellness and something you must check out while you are here. And yes if you would like to party in sub zero temperatures head to the capital Reykjavik. Post partying head to the Blue Lagoon to soak off the hangover in a lovely thermal pool. Go scuba diving between the tectonic plates of North America and Europe. Enjoy riding the unique Icelandic horses and whilst at it try and find one of the mischievous elves, this is where you can have a fantastically fanatic holiday!
There cannot be a better place to start your Arctic adventure than when experience the -15 degrees temperature at Tromso in Northern Norway. This modern city blends nature and culture seamlessly and apart from an aquarium, there are museums to explore and the world’s northernmost botanical garden to visit. While you are here do not miss paying obeisance at the Arctic Cathedral whose architecture is inspired by Arctic nature and has stunning glass mosaics. Special mention must be made of the ‘Return of Christ’ glass mosaic on the interior that has a striking design. If you love nature, check out Risøy. You can sail to Sørfugløya and see the breathtaking landscape on the coastline between the North Atlantic sea and the city of Tromsø. A 2 day boat trip will give you a lovely experience of ocean waves and get you in close contact with the narrow straits between 99 beautiful islands and reefs. Also check out POLARIA, an Arctic-themed experience centre that shows films like ‘In the Land of the Northern Lights’ and ‘Spitsbergen – Arctic Wildeness’ and also has an Arctic walkway, fish aquariums and bearded seals from Spitsbergen. You can also feed the seals while you are here. Of course this is also a great place to catch the majestic phenomenon of the Northern Lights too. The atmosphere is almost surreal and you can take a ride on the husky dogs and see it for yourself. Go whale watching and who and also if lucky you can see a viking or two and listen to stories of viking history.
Sweden is one of Europe’s least populated countries and the Swedish Lapland is the last remaining wilderness in Europe. With a coastline comprising, thousands of islands, the country has a large number of national parks and trails that are waiting to be discovered. If you want to get a real winter experience stay in an Ice Hotel where everything from the bed to the side table to the bar are all made from ice! The hotel is so beautifully sculpted that each corner and room have a different theme and the hotel reincarnates every year in a new avatar! Outside the hotel there is much to do including a wilderness safari on dog sleds and snowmobiles. Tuck into some yummy food as this area offers venison, ptarmigan and wood grouse, salmon and grayling. Try your hand at ice fishing in -10 degrees and you may just get lucky with catching your own dinner. To make the most of a Sweden winter season, you can enjoy skiing, ice-skating, dog-sledding and other winter sports. Did you know that there are more dogs than people living in Jukkasjärvi? Well if you did not this still is the best place to do a spot of husky sledding on Torne River. You can opt for a variety of safaris including the 5-day Arctic Circle safari, rough terrain mountain safaris and family friendly safari outings on Caterpillar. The snowmobile safari can be customised to include wilderness lunches, dinner in Sami teepees, saunas, hot tubs, mountain lodges, campfires, ice fishing, rally car, quad and cross bike on ice.
Well to start with Greenland is not green and simply put that means that there is a whole new world waiting to be discovered here. The world’s largest non-continental island is a delight in the winter. Ski Touring is when you actually walk – no snowmobiles or helicopters to take you up the snow clad hills and very often you can set up your own accommodation in the midst of the snow. Greenland has many options depending on the place you are headed and if anything remote turns you on, this is for you. This is also a paradise for hikers and you have ones with all kinds of intensity levels. One of the longest hikes is the Arctic Circle Trail between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut – a whopping 160 km that usually takes 8-9 nights to complete. South Greenland has hiking trails that link towns and villages and link you to Greenland’s Viking history as well. Heliskiing in East Greenland takes you to large mountain expanses, tiny villages along the coast and the icy Denmark Strait where you can see seals, whales, and polar bears. If you have the nerve and drive for it diving in the Arctic with certified divers will show a new world of underwater life that you probably did not know actually existed. Take a coastal ferry ride that typically lasts 4 nights and stops at small towns and villages. Think icebergs and you think Greenland. The largest collection of icebergs is at the Ilulissat Icefjord that you can see while hiking, sailing or flightseeing.
All images in this post are courtesy The Villa Escape
This story has appeared in the Jan 2017 issue of Hi Blitz here: Frozen Planet