I often think of Finland when I close my eyes in the evening. It’s one of those places that simply cannot be any more beautiful. I just love to share it with anyone who wants to talk about winter and snow and skiing and mountains, it’s somewhere that must be seen (and felt) to be believed. There is lots of choice when it comes to places to visit – personally I have fallen in love with Ruka in the Kuusamo region, and am longing for the day I can go back for another look.
Okay, so I admit that Ruka technically doesn’t have a mountain, and so its place in this feature is somewhat tenuous. The summit is around 490m above sea level, but thanks to the incredible wintery conditions it’s such a good place to experience the hills in winter without the altitude. It’s the kind of place that if you love mountains, if you love snow, if you enjoy getting active outside, then you need to go. I’m so pleased Kate has included it in her Mountain Monday feature, because you absolutely must consider it for your next winter trip.
Located within Finnish Lapland, Ruka is around 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle and 25 miles from the Russian Border. A quiet but well used purpose built resort with a range of hotels, apartments and restaurants, the village centre is right at the bottom of the main (front) slope. It’s small but has just about everything I needed – equipment shops and hire outlets, a mini supermarket, a couple of takeaways, and a good handful of restaurants serving a wide variety of Finnish, European and American food. Most of the village is pedestrianised, and it is all covered in a lot of snow and ice.
I loved that even though we were technically in a resort, it didn’t feel like one. Despite staying in one of the main apartment blocks we experienced no crowds, no noisy neighbours, and it felt like we had the wilderness is right on our doorstep. I’m no party girl, and would usually much rather be a bit of a walk away from the centre than right in the middle of all the bustle, and so this was perfect. People who come here are just like me; they are outdoorsy, active people who want to spend the day (and night) skiing and doing other things. And so there are plenty of organised excursions that allow you to try new things and improve your skills in your favourite hobbies; you can choose from lessons with qualified instructors and working with facilitators who will provide the stuff you need and let you go out on your own.
I can’t write about Lapland without mentioning the cold. It is, and very. Average temperatures are -14 in the middle of the day, and we experienced a whopping -29 at midday on one particularly memorable day we were there.
Wondering what -29 feels like? Well, the hair inside my nostrils turned to ice as I skied downhill, which feels as weird as it sounds! And at night, well, you want to wrap up well to walk to dinner even if you’re just walking across the village; thermals and padded waterproof outerwear is the uniform. It’s the kind of place you have to take wearing layers very seriously, and make sure you have ski glove liners and fantastic socks!
Keeping active helps, of course; as does hot chocolate in front of an open fire.
Finnish Lapland, as anyone who has been will tell you, isn’t all about the skiing. There is that, and in Ruka is it pretty good for beginners and intermediates with some beautiful runs with amazing views of the world around. It’s also a place to enjoy traditional (and more modern) winter activities and excursions that will fulfil any outdoors enthusiast. There are miles and miles of cross country skiing trails and skidoo runs, and a plethora of other winter sports to take part in such a snow shoeing, ice skating, ice karting, dog sledding and reindeer sleigh rides, ice fishing and igloo building. I can absolutely recommend getting out into the backcountry on a snowmobile, both in the daytime and at night, such a fun way to explore (and go hunting for the Northern Lights).
Apart from the outdoorsy stuff, the comfortable apartments and the yummy Finnish food, the biggest pull to Ruka for me is simply being able to take in the beauty of the white alien-like landscape. There is so much snow. So much ice. Everything is absolutely covered. The trees bow under the weight of all the snow piled up on the branches and the strange spikey frost means that the colour of everything changes as the sky does.
Finnish Lapland is different to anywhere else I’ve experienced, and should definitely be on your list. I honestly cannot wait until the next time I can go. But in the meantime I will close my eyes and see those pictures of pinky white deserted landscapes.