Sometimes things are not as they seem. How about Lapland once Santa has packed up and gone? Rachel from our Design Team had the chance to assess first-hand what northern Finland can offer incentive travel groups and what effect any stereotype - Santa, sleighs (even motorised ones), reindeer and snow – has on its attraction?
“Before I left I was a little apprehensive, but in an open-minded way if that makes sense? I knew it was cold, but I was not sure how this would play out, it is inside the Arctic Circle and -18 in April, and the prospect of a stay in a glass igloo added to the intrigue. Food and cuisine was a big unknown, given how often reindeer was mentioned, as was the question of what variety a programme could offer given there is snow everywhere and the area is very sparsely inhabited?
“The visit was for four days, departing from Heathrow. The flights to Ivalo are via Helsinki and time in the air is around four hours, so there is a fair amount of travelling before you reach the destination. On arrival it was immediately noticeable that you are somewhere very different. The light, the air, the landscape, were all totally different to what I expected and had previously experienced.
Lapland - Requires an Open Mind
“As the trip got underway I realised this difference, and the need to challenge your perceptions, started to become more apparent in some very obvious ways, and others less so. For example, following a visit to a reindeer farm at the Holiday Club Saariselkä Hotel we experienced the Angry Birds Park, an experience not unlike a version of Wacky Warehouse for grown-ups. Or how about a sauna, not as we know it but sitting in a dry smoke one, beer in hand!
“Accommodation was very good. A night in a glass igloo at Hotel Kakslauttanen in the Saariselkä area was, guess what, very different to what I imagined beforehand. The layout took a little getting used to, and with no shower they would only appeal to certain group types. However, the novelty (wooden sledge luggage transfer and motorised beds to allow you so sit up and star gaze) and experience is something very different, and with 32 igloos,exclusive use is an option for a winter incentive travel event.
“In terms of variety on the programme, an unexpected highlight was the cultural element, finding out about the indigenous Sami people (as an aside Lapland means “land of the Sami”). It is a big part of life in the region, not just a tourist thing. Culture, language, crafts and folk stories are taught in schools and the reindeer experiences were with people who owned the herd. One incredible difference to what you imagine was the amount of colour. Bright vibrant colours characterised clothing, homes, even trees where ribbons are tied to bring some cheer.
“And the cuisine? Well, warm and hearty it is, and inevitably reindeer features heavily – steaks, soups, meatballs, stews – as do gherkins. However, there was enough variety, including Lappish king crab and beef, plenty of vegetables, and some very fine dining options. Breakfasts were as you’d get in most destinations, with the obligatory rye bread, and the most interesting edible item had to be moose pizza.
Lapland – an Incentive Programme Summary
Rachel’s short programme covered
- Flights with Finnair. Heathrow -> Helsinki -> Ivalo
- Stays at Lapland Hotel Riekonlinna, Igloo Village Kakslauttanen, Santa’s Hotel Tunturi’s Gielas-building
And her Lapland itinerary included:
- Midnight tobogganing
- Working reindeer farm
- Holiday Club Saariselkä Hotel and the Angry Birds Park
- Husky safari
- Traditional smoke sauna
- Siida Sámi Museum & Nature Centre and Sajos Sámi Cultural Centre
- Snowmobile safari to Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church
- Ice fishing on Lake Inari
- Design House Idoli
Recommendations for winter incentive travel groups?
Rachel’s summary – “I LOVED Finland, although it is not the place for people looking for luxury and R&R, more those who want action, adrenaline fuelled activities, good food (not just reindeer), fresh air and stunning scenery. It exceeded my expectations and for a lively and fun group of 20 to 30 with open minds and a 'will do' attitude it is an ideal incentive destination. It has that special ingredient for memorable incentive experiences - uniqueness. Also twinning Helsinki and Ivalo makes a lot of sense, it provides that element of ‘difference’ and would showcase the best of Finland.”
See some of Rachel's pics on our Lapland Pinterest board
The Lapland area is tucked between Russia, Sweden and Northern Norway - here's a map to get a closer look