It is without a doubt one of the coolest vacations one could ever take. Lying at the northern tip of the Gulf of Bothnia, not far from the Swedish border, is the city of Kemi, the gateway to Finnish Lapland.
Kemi is about 620 km from Helsinki, a little less than 800 km from Stockholm and about 100 km south of the Arctic Circle, accessible year round by road, rail and air.
Warming Up at 5 Below
Kemi comes alive in winter when its main attraction for the past 19 years has been the Kemi Snow Castle and Snow Hotel. The castle is sculpted every year anew, usually taking 5 weeks to construct. This year, due to warm weather in December/January, the castle was up and running in 15 days. Each year there is a new theme and for 2014 it is “the secrets of the sea”.
The castle features all the comfort one would perhaps not expect of a snow structure: a lounge, bar and restaurant. The complex includes a snow hotel with rooms to accommodate up to 48 guests. It may be 30 below zero outside, but inside it’s a cosy -5˚C and the peace and quiet is quite deafening. Toilets are located in the Castle lounge and there are no TV in the room, forcing guests to meet, greet and hang out. Service includes breakfast and a morning sauna.
The Castle complex offers various activities, including a children’s world, snow tubing, cross-country skiing, kick sliding on snow scooters, ice fishing and for extreme sport junkies, ice golf.
This year the Castle offers a new type of accommodation which promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. An “olokolo nest” is a personal pod built for two with a clear roof giving an unobstructed view of the Arctic sky – a light show like no other. Each olokolo is outfitted with sleeping bags and lambskins. It’s a great way to make new friends or reconnect with old ones. There are 14 olokolos located within the castle walls, accommodating up to 28 guests. During the day, they double as snow-mobile limousines, offering luxury safaris into the Nordic wilderness. The hotel and olokolo season is scheduled to melt promptly on April 6.
Breaking the Ice
Kemi’s Port of Ajos is also the starting point for cruises on the Sampo Icebreaker. The 4-hour cruise leaves at high noon and includes a tour on board, lunch and a refreshing, albeit death-defying, dip in the freezing gulf waters. The cruise can be combined with a snowmobile safari from downtown Kemi to the port, about 11 km.
Kemi is about an hour and a half’s drive from Rovaniemi, fabled home of Santa Claus and hub for many arctic safari adventures, including jet ski, dog sled and reindeer-propelled excursions of varying lengths and extremity. There are also ski resorts not far from town. The nearby Ranua Wildlife Park, the northernmost zoo on the planet, provides rare opportunities to come face-to-face with arctic wildlife. Most definitely the coolest vacation ever!