17 September 2013 by David Ward
Five great reasons to take a winter holiday in Scandinavia
Spend the night in a hotel made entirely of ice; drive your own team of huskies across the frozen arctic tundra; travel by reindeer through thick, snow-covered forests and gaze in wonderment at the awe-inspiring Northern Lights - a lifetime of experiences, or just another day in wintertime Scandinavia.
Norway's Basecamp Ship in the Ice
Deep inside the Arctic Circle, in the frozen wastes of Spitsbergen on Norway's remote Svalbard Archipelago, the Basecamp Ship in the Ice offers one of Scandinavia's truly unique accommodation experiences. Set in the land of the polar bear, this is a hotel like no other - a 104-year old twin-masted Dutch schooner that's home to the only icebound ship-hotel in the world. The beautiful but desolate icescape of Tempelfjorden, far from the relative civilisation of Longyearbyen - Spitsbergen's main town and administrative centre - is a place straight out of the journals of the great Arctic explorers, resonating with the legends of Shakleton, Nansen and Amundsen.
Unlike the explorers of yesteryear, today's visitors to this remote Norwegian wilderness will be well looked after - the good folk at Basecamp Explorer, the company responsible for making Basecamp Ship in the Ice a reality, are on hand to ensure everything runs smoothly from the first night's accommodation in Longyearbyen to the exciting 70-kilometre husky ride that takes guests across the tundra to the ship, where you'll be treated to your own cosy cabin, breakfasts, lunches, wonderful three-course dinners and a fully licensed bar - but it's the feeling of following in the footsteps of the great Arctic explorers that make this journey a truly exhilarating adventure.
Each and every year, Sweden's iconic ICEHOTEL is built afresh from huge blocks of ice harvested from the Torne River near the small village of Jukkasjärvi, 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Construction begins in October with the hotel opening its doors in December, welcoming guests throughout the winter months until the warmer weather returns in the late spring. Everything here is made from ice, from the hotel's rooms - including the beds - to the world-famous ICEBAR, which serves vodka cocktails in glasses made from, you guessed it, ice. There's even an ice chapel for couples brave enough to tie the knot in these sub-zero temperatures.
Your stay begins with the welcome provision of warm thermal clothing before being shown along the hotel's frozen corridors, which emit an eerie blue hue, to your snow room - a simple accommodation with igloo-style walls and a bed made from ice blocks - or one of the hotel's Art Suites, which boast spectacular hand-carved ice sculptures as a highly. The in-room temperature hovers around -5°C to -8°C but thick reindeer pelts and the warmest of sleeping bags ensure a surprisingly comfortable night's sleep. In the morning you'll wake to a hot cup of lingonberry juice - the morning beverage of choice in these frosty climbs - before heading for a sauna and a sumptuous buffet breakfast and heading out into the frozen wilderness to experience some of the many circulation-boosting excursions available, which include snowmobiling, dog sledding and skiing. There's even the chance to try your hand at making your very own ice sculpture. For guests spending more than the one night at ICEHOTEL - and there's plenty of reasons why you would - warm, comfortable chalets and rooms are located next door.
Iso-Syöte & the Eagles View Suite
Floor to ceiling glass windows offering uninterrupted views across the snow-laden forests of the Syöte National Park, coupled with an ultra-contemporary Finnish design and a wealth of welcoming features, which include a private sauna and toasty log fire in the lounge, make Eagle View Suite - a brand new addition to Hotel Iso-Syöte - one of Finland's most exciting and romantic winter retreats.
Visitors to this beautiful part of Finland, just 90 miles from the Arctic Circle can combine a stay at Eagles View Suite with a few nights in one of the cozy log cabins that make up the main resort, while indulging in an array of exciting wintertime activities, including nighttime snowmobiling in search of the Northern Lights, guided snowshoe hikes, reindeer and husky safaris and cross-country and alpine skiing at two of the country's best ski resorts.
Viewing the Northern Lights in Iceland
Dark. Desolate. Downright cold. There are many myths surrounding winter in Iceland, most of which are untrue. In fact the truth is that Iceland is a breathtaking destination at any time of the year, with a world's worth of geological wonders spread throughout the country that include active volcanoes, vast glacial lagoons, geothermal pools, towering waterfalls, and spectacular geysers. But when you throw in the drama, romance and beauty that only winter can provide, coupled with the lure of the ethereal Northern Lights, its easy to see why this small island nation in the remote North Atlantic is such a popular choice for a winter break.
A weeklong tour takes in many of the country's highlights including the 300-kilometre loop known as the Golden Circle, which takes in Thingvellir National Park, the 34 metre-high Gullfoss Waterfall and the world's first recognised geyser. From there its off to the black-lava beaches and picturesque towns of the southern coast and the beautiful landscapes of the Vatnajokull National Park - the largest national park in Europe, leaving you just enough time to take a swim in the geothermal pools of the spectacular Snaefellsnes Peninsula, join a guided ascent of one of the island's many volcanic craters and come face to face with some of the many adorable Icelandic horses that roam the countryside.
Iceland is also a superb place for viewing the Northern Lights, a phenomenon that attracts thousands of visitors each year, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious Aurora Borealis. There are in fact several escorted tours based specifically around the Northern Lights, many of which offer presentations, lectures and guided excursions, with some even giving tips and hints on the techniques required to successfully photograph the elusive aurora, ensuring you'll go home with concrete evidence of your celestial encounter.
Icebergs and Inuits of Ilulissat
Greenland offers a scale and remoteness seldom found anywhere else on earth. Home to the world's second largest ice cap, which covers a staggering 80 percent of the island and comes second only to Antarctica in the great "my ice cap's bigger than yours" debate, Greenland's frozen wilderness is a dramatic landscape characterised by rugged mountains, deep coastal fjords and vast, sweeping glaciers.
To the west of the ice cap, on the country's iceberg-strewn west coast sits the small town of Ilulissat. A remote outpost with a population of just 4,500 people, the town sits perched on the edge of the Ilulissat Ice Fjord - the most active glacier in the northern hemisphere, which deposits an incredible 20 billion tons of ice into neighbouring Disko Bay each year.
Despite its small size and remote location, Ilulissat is a well-connected town, with flights from Canada, Iceland and Denmark arriving and departing with surprising regularity. When winter descends and the fjords freeze over, tourists arrive to sail among the icebergs of Disko Bay, discover the region's rich Inuit heritage and catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.