A guide to Saariselka
Combine the Northern Lights with skiing and strange eats in Finnish Lapland
Seeing the Northern Lights will become easier this winter, as Finnair launches twice-weekly seasonal flights from Gatwick to Ivalo airport on 14 December. Regular buses serve the nearby resort-village of Saariselka, where aurora-focused hotels are complemented by ski slopes and restaurants serving Lappish cuisine. Be warned, though: at around 150 miles into the Arctic Circle, Saariselka will be a little nippy.
What to see
The Northern Lights season lasts from November to March, peaking in January, with displays most nights. Alas, clouds and light pollution often get in the way; to dodge the latter, stay outside of town at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort (see below), and travel with a specialist UK operator like The Aurora Zone. Their veteran guides know all the best spots.
What to do
Saariselka also offers Finland's best skiing, with 15 slopes and two lifts – albeit without any steep downhills. Most of the action centres around the fells of Kaunispaa and Iisakkipaa, just outside town and served by buses. Other possible activities include reindeer sleigh rides, husky-sledding, ice-fishing, snowshoeing and snowmobile jaunts. Families wanting these should book through an operator like Activities Abroad.
Where to eat
Ever tried sauteed reindeer? The cosy Pirkon Pirtti restaurant serves that accompanied by mashed potatoes, lingonberries and spice-pickled cucumbers, along with pan-fried Arctic char and red king crab. Though rather fancier, Petronella throws in ten-pin bowling alleys, illuminated in a Borealis-like green glow.
Where to drink
There's nowhere else like Saariselan Panimo. Also a microbrewery, this wood-heavy pub serves its own dark and light beers along with cloudberry liqueurs, hot toddies and jellona, a homemade tar-based, liquorice-flavored schnapps.
Where to stay
On the village's fringes, Holiday Club Saariselka boasts Europe's northernmost spa, including a swimming pool and jacuzzis, plus cheerful, functional rooms. If you’d prefer more luxury and less kids, or if seeing the Lights is your chief priority, stay a few miles south at the luxurious Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. Set amid towering pine forests, its stylish "igloos" allow for aurora-watching through thermal-glass domes as one lies snugly – and smugly – supine.