This is a weird post to write. Looking back at my photos it looks like Finnish Lapland is as magical a place to visit as any other I post about, but my experience was overall a negative one. I wouldn’t dream of writing a post slating a country or area, or even type of holiday as it’s very subjective and I can’t stress enough that as expected, Finland and more specifically Lapland are absolutely beautiful places. However, the hotels we stayed in -which are World renowned, just this morning I saw it featured on Forbes- completely ruined it and a quick glance at TripAdvisor shows that I’m far from on my own in feeling that way.
Lapland is truly wilderness. Nothing but Arctic forests span for miles, with Russia just an hour to the left and Sweden and Norway to the right. Above, Finnmark in Northern Norway is all that sits above Lapland. In terms of latitude, you can’t go a lot further North on mainland Europe. I love Arctic scenery, but it’s fair to say there’s not much to do in Lapland (unless you ski, then in fairness you could do that). A few roads and trails are carved out but the snow outside of that is so deep you can’t wander off into the forest. None of this is a complaint, I went there expecting exactly that, however my reason for explaining this in detail is to explain why the hotels played such a critical part in the trip.
With nothing but forestry near by, you need to rely more on your hotel. We tend to skimp a lot on accommodation when away as we know it’s just a place to lay our heads and we’ll be out exploring all the time. I usually grab sandwiches and fast food as vegetarian options are often limited and generally the food and hotel play a background role in our time away.
Knowing there wouldn’t be anything around, we decided this time to go for far more expensive hotels, which had for a long time been on my travel ‘bucketlist’. The infamous glass igloo hotels you’ve probably seen photos of: Kakslauttanen and Muotka.
I won’t go into the full rant of my issues with both these hotels, but will summarise by saying that a lack of competition in the area (you’re quite literally in the middle of nowhere) has made them insanely greedy. Costs are cut at every possible step, to the point where I was longing for the comfort of the airport hotel we stayed in a few nights before in Helsinki. The food was horrendous (think prison slop) and this is coming from someone who ate at service stations for 11 days whilst doing our Iceland road trip.
Nothing was included in our eye wateringly expensive room rate and everything was an opportunity to try and up-sell. Trapped away from many other options, especially on the first day before we had been able to get out and find alternatives, you really did feel as if you had no other choice. I overheard the mumblings of many other disappointed guests who had come as a package and I really did sympathise, as at least we had our car.
Anywhere else Arctic we’ve been, they regularly have to call trips off for weather. Our hotels were more than happy to take people Northern lights hunting for 2 hours at €150+, despite there being a poor forecast for the Aurora and heavy cloud. A quick look at the forecasts and a chat with the independent tour operators (who weren’t running their trips) showed how futile that would be, yet they went out each night. We didn’t do any activities but were gobsmacked to see that to visit Santa in Kakslauttanen would cost hundreds of Euros and for a private visit, they wanted €500. That just sums up the hotels we stayed in to a tee.
On our last night we changed our accommodation at Kakslauttanen to sleep in a log cabin as we wanted a decent night’s sleep and it was very cold (-20°C at points!). The bed felt like sleeping on concrete and whilst there was a huge fireplace, they wanted €50 for wood for it. €50 … For wood … In the middle of quite literally nothing but forest. Had I known it was so valuable I would have bought some of ours from home to flog.
So, in a nutshell, whilst Lapland was very scenic and I loved the snow, with only 4 hours of daylight during the Polar night period we were forced to be trapped in our extremely over-priced, basic hotel rooms (yes, the glass windows are nice. No, they unfortunately didn’t make up for everything else or justify the cost) with no wifi and food so bad I skipped some meals and somehow managed to lose weight whilst there.
My reason for posting about how much of a let down the hotels are, is because I feel they get so much credit for the pretty photos, people overlook a lot. We go away regularly and I always do my research before booking a hotel, but on this occassion as it’s so renowned somehow I just didn’t and we really paid the price for it. Never again!
If you’re thinking of taking your kids, I would seriously read the bad reviews on Trip Advisor. It’s a huge money making thing and very inauthentic for want of a better word. As far as I was concerned growing up, Santa lived at the North pole anyway!
To prove that I’m not just in a miserable mood and being pedantic, you can read about my recent trip to Svalbard where there was NO light at all for the entire visit and we couldn’t leave the settlement because we don’t own a gun and there are literally polar bears. Hiring a car would be a waste of time as there are only 3 main roads in the settlement and then you would need a snowmobile. If that’s not isolation, then I don’t know what is, yet we had the most amazing time. Our hotel -The Raddison Blu Polar Hotel- was a fraction of the cost of this, did amazing hearty food you could fill up on casually (but also offered fine dining if you’re into that) and acted as the perfect base.
Helsinki was awesome and somewhere I would like to return, but sadly Lapland was way too commercial for me and not somewhere I would visit again.
In the interest of balance however, some points about the holiday I did enjoy:
1. The Arctic Wilderness Vibes
2. Being so far North
3. Driving to Norway (it was 3 hours away so we figured we would go for a mini road trip).
4.The snow & ice
5. Sleeping under the stars (well clouds).
6. Intermittent reindeer trying to kill us (you never know when one will decide to run across the road).
I’ve learned that I will never trust a reputation of a perceived ‘bucket list’ thing to do and instead will always do lots of research and DIY it where possible. Lapland was very beautiful, but sadly our time there was marred by the hotels.