This post is a summary of my recent trip to Levi, Finland. Our friends from Minnesota had this trip planned before we told them we were moving to London, so they invited us to join them!
Levi is in Lapland, which is in northern Finland, above the Arctic Circle!
Friday, December 23:
We flew from London to Kittila via Helsinki on Finnish Air. Our first leg on Finnish Air was great and I was impressed by the airline, until we checked our Apple bag tags on Dustin’s phone to discover that our snowboard bag (with our boots too) was still at Heathrow! Dustin reported it right away in Helsinki, but the response to this missing bag was not great; to be fair, Heathrow baggage workers are on strike and the army has taken over. I’m sure it’s a stressful time at the airport on top of the normal holiday challenges. I don’t want to focus on the negative as this was just a tiny hiccup in an amazing trip!
The bag never did arrive at our final destination, but fortunately our other suitcase did, which had all of our clothes. We were able to rent snowboards and boots. (Our bag that did arrive had our winter gear and snowboarding helmets, so it was just the boards and boots that were missing.)
We arrived quite late on Friday in Kittila, so we went straight to our Air BnB, which was in Levi, close to the Kittlia airport and walking distance to the slopes.
On Saturday, December 24, Christmas Eve, we were up early to go to the super market across from our Air bnb for groceries and wine/beer. I had read that the grocery stores were only open on Christmas Eve until noon, and then closed again until the following Tuesday. We knew we’d be eating at least most breakfasts at the apartment, so we needed to do some shopping!
It worked out well, as the lifts at Levi didn’t open on Christmas Eve until 9:30 and closed at 3 pm. After we got sorted with our rental boards and boots (since our bag was still at Heathrow), we didn’t have a ton of time to snowboard, but we made the most of it! The first day was quite cold (below 0 Fahrenheit) and the slopes were totally empty.
We never had any lines and often felt like the only ones there. Apparently, this is because the Finnish celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, so most people were not skiing that day.
The skies weren’t very clear, but the little sunlight there was was beautiful. Levi is above the arctic circle, which means there is very limited daylight in the winter. The sun came up around 10:30-11 and was down by 2 pm.
Christmas Eve, we met up with our Minnesota friends for dinner together. These are the friends we played bocce ball with back in Minneapolis; they had already planned this trip before we moved to London, and invited us to join them. I’m so glad they did, as it was such a cool trip!
We grabbed pizzas from one of the only restaurants that was open and had space, with was Ristorante Renna. One of the pizzas had reindeer sausage on it! There was actually a LOT of reindeer on every menu in Levi. Reindeer outnumber people in this part of Finland!
On Christmas Day, Dustin and I went for a run- it’s kind of our tradition to start Christmas Day together with some sort of run, but usually its around the chain of lakes in Minneapolis. Running in Levi under that stunning blue sky was definitely unique.
I can’t even describe the color of the sky; the sun was somewhere on the horizon, and the sky was so vividly blue. I loved it. And the run wasn’t even early, it was around 8:45 am!
We covered 5 miles together before joining our friends for their Christmas morning brunch. Their 5-year-old was a bit jet-lagged so she wasn’t even awake by the time we made it over, so we got to watch her open her presents from Santa. So cute.
After brunch, Dustin and I were anxious to snowboard again as there were clear skies and the “sun” (if you can even really call it that) was so incredibly pretty. This was my favorite day of snowboarding in Levi. I couldn’t get over just how beautiful it was. The skiing itself in Levi wasn’t all that amazing, it’s not a very big mountain, but there was plenty to keep us entertained and the scenery was where it was at!
Our friend’s daughter had a ski lesson that afternoon, so eventually we all met up at a cute little coffee hut for hot chocolate, chai lattes, and lingonberry marshmallows to roast over the fire.
The evening’s plans included 3 hours at Tonttula Elves Village a bit outside of Levi. We had a cozy cabin to ourselves for dinner and then a private (huge) sauna, hot tub, and access to an “ice hole” cut into the frozen river.
The red wool socks in the above picture are for running down to the ice hole.
Everyone else dunked themselves into the frigid ice before dinner, but I had to work up the nerve (and get extra hot in the sauna first) but I did eventually brave the cold and hop into the water. It was a thrill!
We had a great time at Tonttula. Awesome find, Julie!
Speaking of saunas, they are very popular in Finland. In fact, even our small Air BnB had one! Almost all residences have a sauna.
Technically, the Finnish way to sauna is completely naked, but we wore swimsuits with our friends.
Another popular activity in Lapland is of course chasing the Northern Lights, which we did, but we didn’t have much luck seeing them. I’m in a Facebook group for travel to Levi and everyone else had incredible photos, but this was the best we saw and we ever brought our DSLR and read up on how to take good pictures of the northern lights! We were just unlucky in that regard, but that’s okay. Maybe another trip!
Monday, December 26- Boxing Day!
Another day of snowboarding, though the conditions weren’t quite as fabulous this morning. There were some extreme winds, so the gondolas and several lifts were closed and some parts of the mountain were only accessible with T-bars, which are not fun on a snowboard, or fun on skis either really, when its that windy.
So we made the most of it, but were ready to call it quits a little early, with plenty of time for a hot chocolate and a delicious Finnish donut!
Later that evening, we had quite an adventure planned!
We were staying overnight at the Lapland SnowVillage Hotel! We were basically going to be sleeping in an igloo, where the temperature was around 0 degrees Celsius, getting down to -5 degrees Celsius. Very cold!
When we arrived, we were instructed to put our luggage/overnight bags in a luggage room, as you didn’t really check into your “room” until the SnowVillage was closed to the public at 10 pm. Day-visitors could wander into your room at any time before then.
We were given a full tour by a guide, who explained a lot about how the hotel was built and how it’s maintained.
She also explained how we would stay warm throughout the night, which I will get to shortly.
After the tour and instructions, we had dinner in the Ice Restaurant. Dinner was at 8 pm and they told us it would move quickly as otherwise the food would get cold (the restaurant was just as cold as the rooms we would sleep in.)
For dinner, I had reindeer with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. Very traditional Lappish food!
After dinner, we wandered around the SnowVillage a bit more to see all the sculptures before warming up in a teepee outside that had a fire.
Around 10:30 pm, we decided it was time to get ready for “bed.”
Remember how I said the tour guide had explained what we needed to do? Essentially there was a building outside with showers and bathrooms and heat. There, we could all grab an arctic sleeping bag with a fleece liner and a pillow. She explained how to safely protect yourself in the bag; you had the option to basically zip the bag over your whole face, leaving just your mouth and nose to breath, but most of us ended up wearing a hat instead and keeping our whole heads “out” of the bag.
We were told that once you were zipped into the bag, you wouldn’t need more than 1-2 layers. I started with two layers of thermal underwear, but ended up taking one off in the night in my sleeping bag. I wore thick wool socks and on top I had a Patagonia merino wool base layer and a Tracksmith Brighton base layer- both items that I wear for winter runs! I did have a hat on my head that I kept on the whole night. I felt pretty good inside the sleeping bag with those layers.
The guide had explained that when you took your shoes off, you needed to turn them on their side or upside down, otherwise they would be really wet from all the condensation from our body heat and breathe by morning. (Clearly Dustin didn’t follow instructions on the shoes as his are right-side up in the above picture! I think he fixed them before we fell asleep.)
Eventually we were all tucked into our bags and attempted to sleep. My biggest worry was that I would have to go to the bathroom overnight, which meant getting out of the cozy bag and walking outside to the bathrooms. So I was a little light on the water after dinner to try to avoid having to go! And i was lucky, I actually slept relatively well (not amazing, but okay). The rest of our group did not sleep well and were very tired the next morning!
Breakfast was included in our stay, where we were awarded a “diploma” for surviving all night. Keep in mind, there was a bail-out option if you couldn’t make it; there were couches in the warming building with the bathrooms and when I went there in the morning, there was a women sleeping on one who had bailed on the ice experience!
I’m proud of myself for making it though its not something I would need to repeat. I don’t know how the mountaineering people do it night after night! I like warmth…
I was tired enough when we returned to our Air BnB that I crashed for about 90 minutes. Even Dustin took a nap, and he’s not a big napper.
Our next adventure was a husky sled ride with Tundra Huskies.
I was a little nervous that I would be too sympathetic towards the dogs, but my friend Julie had researched that this was a great place that really cared for the dogs, and she was right! Even though, yes, these are not indoor dogs like Ruth and Matilda, they were still very well cared-for and happy. It was a positive experience, thankfully!
An instructor explained to us how the ride would work; for the first half, I would ride in the sled under a reindeer pelt and a blanket and then at the halfway point, Dustin and I could switch and I could drive if I wanted. At first I was a little nervous about driving, but I realized quickly that there wasn’t really that much too it, other than working the brake on the sled. The dogs knew exactly where to go and didn’t need my instruction really! I’m glad I was brave and drove the sled, it was a fun experience.
After the sled, we could hang out in a heated teepee with a fire for a bit with warm berry juice before feeding the reindeer. Then we got to snuggle with the older huskies who were “retired” from pulling the sleds. They were all so sweet and great with the kids that were there.
After we made our back to Levi, we had our final dinner in Lapland, which was at a restaurant called Nili Poro, another traditional Lappish spot. An amazing last meal, a great way cap off our amazing trip.
Thanks to my friends Julie and Mike for inviting us and for doing most of the planning. It was such a unique and incredible trip. I don’t know that this was on my radar as a place to visit, but I am so glad I had this experience. Truly one of a kind!