In a world that is measured in digital speed, it’s wonderful to enjoy a place with the magic of an analog Christmas. I’m talking about Norway, a country where Santa and real reindeer prance around, with no worries about time or Facebook accounts.
Just before the holiday madness began, I went on an incredible journey to the Arctic paradise of Finnish Lapland, and to Kirkenes, a Norwegian town famed for its snow hotel and king crab experiences – just next to the Russian border.
Sabina Pe of Bridges Travel (tel. 0917-8454942 or www.bridgestravel.com) arranged for our small group of Philippine media and we were welcomed by Ruka Kuusamo Tourism Association and Partners. Helga Himber, HookedByNorth founder and CEO, together with her vice-director Vivian Maar, traveled with us to make sure we got personalized attention throughout our journey to the Kirkenes Snow hotel and Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.
We arrived at Santa’s official home airport, Rovaniemi Airport, and stopped long enough to switch to winter gear before heading to the Ruka Ski Resort. A visit to Ruka and Kuusamo is the beginning of an Arctic Circle holiday, with wilderness adventures and unique experiences that vary depending on the changing seasons.
Before we checked-in at the Hotel Rantasipi Rukahovi, we had a wild food dinner and interview with chef Jarmo Pitkänen at the Restaurant Tundra. Wild food means plenty of different tastes from the area, in terms of new meats and dishes to try.
After breakfast, we had our first full day of Nordic adventures. Collecting our overalls from Ruka Safari Company, we headed to Erä-Susi Husky, to experience the Husky Safari and the real Lappish means of transport. It was so thrilling to ride a six-husky dog sleigh ride that went quite fast.
After that bit of exercise, we enjoyed The Sauna Tour – Wellbeing in Wilderness, which included three sauna places, the Pohjolan Pirtti – Sauna Of Old Time Stories, Iisakki’s Lakeside Sauna & Saunayoga and Sauna Pyhäpiilo – Sacred Hide Sauna Spa.
Between the sauna sessions, the braver visitors jumped into the ice hole to dip into the frozen lake for a few seconds. To tick it off my bucket list, I dipped into the freezing water for just a few seconds.
At the second sauna place, we tried Saunayoga for the first time with Sauna yoga instructor Hanna Karjalainen. Quite different from the other yoga that I practice, Sauna yoga was extremely relaxing and a relief from the super cold weather outside.
Over dinner, we talked about the Sauna Tour and what a thrill it was to experience dipping in the ice hole. We interviewed Mats Lindfors, CEO of Ruka-Kuusamo Tourist Association, who joined us for dinner. Our delicious menu had smoked celery soup, cold smoked salmon tartar, reindeer heart jerky, elk rillette, smoked onion mousse and lichen Vendace, smoked salmon, whitefish, risotto and dessert.
The adventure continued with a morning of snow skiing at the slopes of the resort before we headed out to the world famous Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort with its glass igloos. We also visited the Reindeer Farm to hear about the culture of reindeer herding. Reindeer are also used as one of the Lappish means of transport, and we were able to try an actual sleigh ride.
In a Lappish hut in Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, we had a coffee break with Jussi Eiramo, founder and owner of the resort, who shared his humble beginnings and his recent expansion of the new log cabins with integrated glass igloo rooms.
One of the highlights of the trip was the visit to the Christmas house with Santa and his elves. Santa toured us around his log cabin where he answers all the children’s mail and sends out gifts.
Another was the frozen fjords of Kirkenes where a totally unforgettable experience awaited us. It was our chance to catch, learn how to cook, and most importantly eat the mysterious Arctic King Crab!
King Crab is served at the best restaurants around the world, and it was delightful to try it freshly caught from the fjord itself. We even rode a speedy rubber boat to get to the fishing hole. The superb, white, leg meat and claws of the King Crab were particularly juicy and the naturally sweet taste put this meal in a league of its own.
Our last day was at Thon Hotel, Kirkenes. Before heading to the airport, we passed by the Hurtigruten Cruise Liner for some last minute shopping. Our wonderful Turkish Airlines flight was great with its Chef onboard and full bed seats.
Although we didn’t see the brilliance of the Northern Lights, we were happy to experience everything else. Watch the GMA Kapuso Show of Jessica Soho tonight for all the beautiful adventures. Big thank you to Merrell shoes and Bridges Travel.
I was reunited with Santa again at the Christmas tree lighting of S Maison Mall in the Conrad Hotel complex. The wonderful affair had a Ballet Philippines performance and music by Manila Philharmonic Quartet. Cocktails and well-curated drinks from Rossini Ristorante Italiano, Uma Uma and Horse’s Mouth were served.
S Maison Mall is a well-curated mix of unique concept stores and restaurants and is home to some of the country’s best stores. The festivities were opened with welcome remarks from Perkins So, AVP for Operations of Premiere 3 of the SM Group. Check out the S Maison Mall for your holiday shopping.
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