The magic of Sweden: in pursuit of the Northern Lights, sleeping in the Ice Hotel and other winter adventures

Husky dog

Four-legged friend

The guide in front of us quietly pointed towards the woods.

With my hands tightly grappled around the handle I turned my head and between the trees I could clearly see the front of a reindeer bull, its thick neck fur shining under the glorious sun beaming through the branches. He was watching us totally still, as if in a frozen pose, a stark contrast to our fast moving pace and the rhythmic running of the dogs.

The guide later told us that had we stopped, the wild animals would have run away and the dogs would have started barking, breaking all the magic, so a glimpse was all we were able to afford; yet that fleeting sight filled me with such joy; the feeling of being at one with nature made me feel so alive.

We left the Middle Eastern sun where we currently live to travel thousands of miles to a frozen landscape that could not be any more different than the sights that we get back home: we were dog-sledding near Jukkasjärvi, in Lapland, 200km north of the Arctic Circle as part of our winter trip to Sweden, on the pursuit of the Northern Lights, to experience the famous Ice Hotel and to dust-up some long neglected skiing skills. A truly unforgettable holiday!

Standing on the back of our own personal sleds each pack of dogs was pulling us fast over frozen lakes and through the woods to our final destination for the day: a group of remote log cabins tucked in a corner of forest where René, our guide, a skilled dog musher, personal cook and butler prepared our meals, lit our log fires and generally helped us make the most of a truly unforgettable experience. We were lucky enough to be the only couple on the tour which meant that our candle lit dinner and sauna as well as the whole experience in these remote cabins with no electricity or running water was a truly romantic one.

The weather was with us too, so as our dinner was being prepared we were able to gaze at the sun slowly disappear behind a line of trees into a deep orange glow before retreating into a hot sauna lit by the warm light of the burning logs. Once the night enveloped us we sat in awe watching the Northern Lights dance in the sky in the quietness of the beautiful snowy and still landscape.

There is nothing more exhilarating to me than waking up in the morning surrounded by nature. My most unforgettable trips are the ones spent in the wild and in the most uncomplicated environments.When all the unnecessary burden of my earthly possessions becomes clear by the simple fact that I am not missing them. That’s when I feel I can stand still in silence and reach out and inside myself. When I feel so small and yet vast in being part of such a mesmerising ecosystem.
But of course that’s easily said when you know that all your creature comforts are just an arm stretch away, so I won’t pretend. I am extremely grateful for what life keeps throwing at me and treasure every single moment.

I digress.

Back at the Ice Hotel it was time to check into our Art Suite. Finally we knew which of the amazing ice sculpted rooms we were going to spend the night in at -5c: Art Suite 302 – Frozen Love.

Suite name carved in ice

Frozen Love

As the night descended and tiredness arrived, I reluctantly slipped into my thermals and layered myself with an unattractive fleece pyjama, socks and hat before collecting my sleeping bag from the warm reception. I had lost any interest in looking even remotely glamorous; for me this was a challenge. I was not going to duck out, yet I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sleep. A sleepless camping trip in the desert during a cold December night was all that kept coming to mind: if I had been so cold in the desert surely this was not going to be warmer, was it?

I followed the tips given to us during the afternoon tour religiously: don’t get wet (dampness is your enemy in the cold), get the sleeping bag just when you are ready to go to bed, don’t drink prior to bed (I know some may not agree but knocking yourself out with a few vodka drinks is expensive anyway!), keep warm before hand.

 I followed all the tips with devotion: I was like a Magdalene of the ice as I stepped outside with the sleeping bag wrapped around my head and body, got into the icy building, through fairy tale-like corridors of crystallised pure water, reached our room and climbed onto our bed. Once inside the sleeping bag I realised that after all it was as toasty as under the midday sun at the beach. Almost too warm: I had to take my unsightly fleece pyjama off and stay in my thermals. That’s how warm it gets.

Inside the art suite

We sat on our bed of reindeer skins like two pupae in awe for a while

We sat on our bed of Reindeer skins like two pupae in awe for a while. Then lights off. Some art still glowing in the dark, I fell asleep in my own cocoon with a smile on my face. I woke up to the crisp morning air; the daylight beaming softly through the icy walls.

It was truly like a winter wonderland dream.

I made it and I’ll never forget this.

****** practical info ****
A trip to the Ice Hotel like this will set you back a few thousand British Pounds for just a few days.
If budget is an issue it is possible to visit the hotel for the day and stay in a nearby hotel in Kiruna but if you can afford to stay, it is well worth the experience.  It is truly unique.
The overnight dog sledding tour was particularly expensive but for us it was the first time and it was a truly unforgettable experience.
We arranged everything ourselves (read: myself): from the international to the internal flights to accommodation & transfers.
Internal flights are expensive, especially if you manage to book a wrong non-refundable connection and have to rebook like I managed to do!

Return flights to Kiruna from Stockholm for our dates were about £259 per person (1hr 20 min-long domestic flight). That’s without the rebooking fee.

Kiruna is the closest airport to the Ice Hotel: about 15 minutes’ drive.

We combined our Ice Hotel adventure with a 3-nights ski break in Are (return flights from Stockholm to Ostersund, and Ski bus pre-arranged with which gave us two full days skiing. Are is one of the largest ski resorts in Sweden and supposedly one that most resembles a typical alpine ski resort. It is way smaller than any ski resort I have been to in the Alps however it was very nice for two days skiing. The runs were varied and there is an amazing array of well equipped snow parks dotted around. Consider that we were not able to ski the higher part of the resort since the cable car was closed both days due to strong winds.  It was still fun and beautiful.
Sweden is an expensive country. This was probably the most we have ever spent for a one week long getaway!
We ate lots of Reindeer (it seems to be as common as beef there) and I have to say that strict vegetarians may have a hard time on a Swedish diet.
That’s it for now. It was an amazing holiday!
If you are thinking of doing a similar holiday and would like more detailed info feel free to add a comment or send me a private message.

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