TO THE NORTH Avril Mair swaps Santa for skygaz­ing in a cosy, snowy Arc­tic lair

A se­cret re­treat hid­den away in the snowy for­est above the Arc­tic Cir­cle is a dreamy lair from which to ob­serve na­ture’s won­ders in cos­set­ting com­fort

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By AVRIL MAIR

It­must be said that a Christ­mas theme park is not the sort of lo­ca­tion to which one usu­ally di­rects the dis­cern­ing reader of Harper’s Bazaar, even though it is in the most pic­turesque part of Fin­land, right on the edge of the Arc­tic Cir­cle. Here, the air is icy cold and im­pos­si­bly clear; the snow shim­mers, crys­talline in the pale sun­shine, deeply drifted through tall pine forests. Light glim­mers off frozen lakes and rivers. The si­lence is al­most med­i­ta­tive. At night, the aurora bo­re­alis of­fers up a ce­les­tial spec­ta­cle that’s be­yond any de­scrip­tion; an elu­sive, ethe­real and oth­er­worldly per­for­mance. But still… this is the ‘Of­fi­cial Home­town of Santa Claus’. Also, Elf School. They’re hardly the most com­pelling rea­sons to travel to the cap­i­tal of La­p­land, two hours’ flight north of Helsinki, deep in the mid­dle of nowhere, where wolves still roam wild and traf­fic on the sin­gle-lane high­way is reg­u­larly halted by herds of rein­deer.

But here – hid­den away on a hill in the grounds of Ro­vaniemi’s San­taPark Arc­tic World – is the Arc­tic TreeHouse Ho­tel, which makes the jour­ney more than worth­while. It is sur­pris­ingly chic, in an un­showy, stripped-back Scan­di­na­vian sort of way, as well as in­cred­i­bly pho­to­genic. It is, ba­si­cally, a col­lec­tion of flat-roofed log cab­ins raised high on slen­der struts, clad in wooden shin­gles, with huge walls of glass fac­ing to­wards the north where the nat­u­ral light show likes to re­veal it­self.

De­signed by Helsinki’s sus­tain­able-ar­chi­tec­ture spe­cial­ists Stu­dio Puisto, these cab­ins are a part of the land­scape – built within the woods, one scarcely vis­i­ble from the next, their shin­gles al­most in­dis­tin­guish­able from tree trunks – yet rise to of­fer a panoramic view over the trees to­wards the sky. Red squir­rels, Arc­tic foxes and other shy species of wildlife wan­der be­neath the pic­ture win­dow as you sit in cen­trally heated com­fort, to­tally un­ob­served, high above it all. It’s like a cosy bird’s nest – al­beit one with blond-tim­ber walls, oiled oak floors, sheep-skin chairs, high-thread-count bed­li­nen and su­per-fast Wi-Fi. Who could ask for more out here? There’s even a mini­bar. Though it wouldn’t look out of place in an in­te­ri­ors mag­a­zine, this is not a haven of lux­ury in the ac­cepted sense: it’s unique, re­mote and rus­tic. If you ar­rive at the re­cep­tion build­ing after dark, they’ll give you a torch to help find your room. Ther­mal un­der­wear, heavy boots and Kiehl’s Ul­tra Fa­cial Cream are all re­quired – there are also slightly alarm­ing in­struc­tions about not leav­ing food around in case it at­tracts for­ag­ing bears. For much of win­ter, the sun only shows it­self for a few hours each day and the tem­per­a­ture drops to a bonechilling mi­nus 20 de­grees Cel­cius. But for the ad­ven­tur­ous, it’s a win­ter won­der­land be­yond com­pare.

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal Sami folk­lore, au­ro­ras are cre­ated by a fox run­ning over the fells of La­p­land, whip­ping up snow with its tail and send­ing sparks into the sky. In less ro­man­tic but more sci­en­tific terms, the North­ern Lights are caused by fast-mov­ing elec­tri­cally charged par­ti­cles from the sun that are driven to­wards the poles by the planet’s mag­netic field, re­sult­ing in emis­sions of var­i­ous colours of light. Which­ever you pre­fer, they are why peo­ple come from the ends of the Earth to the Arc­tic Cir­cle (Fa­ther Christ­mas not­with­stand­ing).

To see the aurora here, you can just stay in bed. The Arc­tic TreeHouse Ho­tel was de­signed for this, with ar­ti­fi­cial light pol­lu­tion kept to a min­i­mum around the cab­ins and pur­pose­fully low-level light­ing in­side. How­ever, when days are filled with ac­tion – husky-sled­ding, sleigh rides, Nordic ski­ing on miles of track that rib­bon through the nearby forests or, most thrillingly, rac­ing snow­mo­biles along the deeply frozen Kemi­joki and Ou­nasjoki rivers – then the temp­ta­tion to drift off is too much. In­stead, alerted by an aurora phone app, we climbed to a look-out spot at the top of Sy­vasen hill, on which the re­sort sits, and waited in the cold, cam­eras at the ready. Some­one was burn­ing pine logs in a firepit close by. The val­ley stretched out in front of us, miles of frozen white­ness seem­ingly asleep in the moon­light. Then, sud­denly, the heav­ens were alive and mov­ing, the dark­ness re­treat­ing to re­veal eerie waves of colour, strange and spec­tral. It’s been a long time since I be­lieved in magic at Christ­mas – but, fi­nally, I do again.

Aber­crom­bie & Kent (01242 547703; www.aber­crom­biekent.co.uk) of­fers tai­lor­made hol­i­days; it can recre­ate this trip from £3,545 a per­son in­clud­ing flights, trans­fers and ac­com­mo­da­tion at Arc­tic TreeHouse Ho­tel.

Red squir­rels and

Arc­tic foxes wan­der be­low the win­dow. It’s like a cosy bird’s nest – al­beit one with

a mini­bar…

This page and op­po­site: Arc­tic TreeHouse Ho­telin Fin­land

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