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Husky Dog Safari

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From the eager barks of my all-girl husky team to total silence the moment they were free to run, husky dog sledding was an exhilarating yet peaceful activity.

 

Before visiting the Arctic Husky Farm, situated between Pyhä and Luosto in Finnish Lapland, I had a few misgivings regarding the use of huskies as a tourist attraction. Being concerned for animal welfare, I worried that certain tactics used to motivate the dogs would upset me. However, as soon as I removed my foot from the brake their obvious joy at being free to run put my mind completely at ease.

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There is a real feeling of being part of a team when you are with the dogs – pushing on the brake bar to slow the sled down, leaning into the corner turns, all whilst watching for low-hanging snowy branches. My favourite part was giving the huskies a helping hand uphill, by pushing away with one foot.

 

Swapping places with a friend after five kilometres, it was time to take it easy and watch the fairytale landscape of snow-covered fir trees glide by.

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Back at the farm I was given a tour of the spacious, outdoor kennels. The Arctic Husky Farm raises nearly 160 dogs, mostly Alaskan huskies but also some Siberian. Training starts from the age of one and a half to two years old and some huskies work up until the grand age of 14. Always running in a team of six, the huskies are marshalled by a pair of lead dogs.

 

When the winter snows melt, work finishes for the huskies and their holiday season begins. During the hotter months (within the Arctic Circle summer temperatures can still rise to 25°c), the dogs are free to roam outside their cages, play together and rest up.

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I finished my tour with a visit to the puppy kennels. Meeting the pack of adorable, two-month-old huskies was predictably a highlight for me.

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A Long Weekend in Luosto, Finnish Lapland

 

FeatureRecently I was given the opportunity, through Steppes Travel, to take a familiarisation trip to Finnish Lapland – of course, I leapt at the chance! Having never been anywhere colder than England during winter, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, never mind what I should have packed.

Still slightly clueless, last Saturday I boarded a Finnair flight from London to Rovaniemi, with a very short stop in Helsinki. My first views of Finland from the plane were exactly how I had imagined the country to look: vast stretches of fir forests, dotted with traditional, red, wooden houses.

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The trip was hosted by VisitFinland, and upon landing at Rovaniemi Airport I met with Riitta as well as four other representatives from various travel operators.

Rovaniemi is the ‘official home of Santa Claus’, and the airport certainly didn’t disappoint with ample amounts of Christmassy kitsch. You can visit the big fella himself at any time of year; he bases himself at the Santa Claus Village, only two kilometres from the airport.

Unfortunately, we were on a short deadline, so quickly met with our local agents for the weekend and continued our journey to the hotel.

Baggage Reclaim at Rovaniemi Airport (in March!)

Baggage Reclaim at Rovaniemi Airport (in March!)

We were based in a small village called Luosto, roughly two hours’ drive from Rovaniemi. Surrounded by the Pyhä National Park, and located just inside the Arctic Circle, Luosto is quiet, non-touristy and perfect for exploring the many nearby attractions. Our hotel, the Santa’s Hotel Aurora, was stunning – a perfect mixture of boutique, traditional and comfortable. On check in, we were given a mobile phone, as well as our room key. This was so that the hotel could wake us during the night, if the Northern Lights made an appearance.

My first night was spent in one of the hotel’s brand-new glass rooms – the bedroom walls were glass from floor to ceiling, giving the chance of full sky views, should the Northern Lights have appeared (-they didn’t). Although the room was beautiful and the (thankfully, private) bathroom, with its huge rain shower was definitely to my liking, the vulnerability made it feel a little like I was sleeping in a luxury conservatory, and I found myself waking several times throughout the night.

A Glass Room at Santa's Hotel Aurora

A Glass Room at Santa’s Hotel Aurora

My second night was spent in one of the more traditional rooms, which was warm, spacious and dark. One thing I loved about Finnish culture was the saunas (pronounced ‘sour-na’ in Finland). My room for the second night had one, and I believe most hotels used by domestic travellers do so, too. Riitta told me that when she was growing up, it was more common for a house to have a sauna than a bathroom! It is customary for Finns to take at least one or two saunas a week, and these are often followed by a cold shower or a swim in a nearby lake. The stories about Finns jumping into ice holes after a sauna are also true!

On our first evening we were taken to the resident activities organisation, Lapland Safaris, and kitted out with our own snow suit, snow boots and balaclava/helmet combos. Boarding a snowmobile-led sleigh, we travelled in darkness through deserted forests to a traditional kota. The kota is similar to a tipi, but more sturdy, and ours was covered in snow. Inside, we met our personal chef for the evening, who used the huge fire in the centre of the kota to demonstrate and cook a traditional Sami meal for us. This started with a wild mushroom soup, which had to be cooked inside a bread bun to keep it hot. Afterwards, we were served an ice glass full of fish eggs – a delicacy in Finland. The main course was salmon, cooked over the fire using wooden pegs to pin it to a piece of wood and served with root vegetables and potatoes. Desert was simple, but delicious – a mixture of frozen berries, covered with hot caramel sauce.

Inside a Sami Kota

Inside a Sami Kota

The following day was packed with activities, including husky-dog sledging, snowmobiling, digging in an amethyst mine and snow-shoeing through the forests, all of which I will write about in later posts.

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I loved every second of my very short stay in Luosto; the scenery was stunning, the atmosphere was magical and the Finnish people were extremely warm and hospitable.

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Germany – the Fairytale Road

‘How often when we are comfortable, we begin to long for something new’ – Jacob Grimm

Like any young girl, I grew up watching Disney movies and dreaming of being a princess. A few years ago, I learnt that many of these, including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, were based on the work of two brothers from Germany. Inspired by local folklore Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – better known as Brothers Grimm – wrote a succession of bewitching fairy tales that still captivate readers today.

The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm

Desperate for an alternative (and maybe slightly geeky) holiday, my friend, Kate, and I flew over to Germany to explore the Fairytale Road. Known as Die Marchenstrasse in German, this northwestern region was home to the Brothers Grimm and acted as a canvas upon which they painted their most famous stories.

Winding north from Frankfurt to Bremen, the Fairytale Road took us through towns filled with magical castles, across enchanted landscapes and deep into spooky forests. It’s not difficult to see where the Brothers Grimm found their inspiration.

A typical German castle

A typical German castle

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Places we stopped along the way included:

Hanau – the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm

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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Steinau – home to the Fairytale Museum on Bruder Grimm Strasse

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Brother Grimm Museum

Brother Grimm Museum

A stunning fairytale-theme house

A stunning fairytale-theme house

Alsfeld – beautiful timber framed houses, rustic bakeries and an impromptu Red Riding Hood performance

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“All the better to eat you with…”

Alsfeld Town Hall

Alsfeld Town Hall

Real life 'Red Riding Hood'

Real life ‘Red Riding Hood’

Trendelburg – sleeping in Rapunzel’s Castle, deep in the forest

Rapunzel's Tower

Rapunzel’s Tower

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Hameln – traditional beer halls, a quirky pancake restaurant and famous for its eponymous pied piper

"In total, one hundred thirty were lost..."

“In total, one hundred thirty were lost…”

Awesome pancakes

Awesome pancakes

Rats everywhere!

Rats everywhere!

Bremen – cobblestones, a Gothic cathedral and its very own Fab Four

"Come with us to Bremen. After all, you understand night music. You can become a town musician there."

“Come with us to Bremen. After all, you understand night music. You can become a town musician there.”

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Escaping the clutches of big bad wolves, evil queens and wicked witches, we flew back to England and lived happily ever after.

The End.