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March to April is the best time to visit Lapland because the darkness and freezing temperatures of the deepest winter are over and the sun is often pampering the winter wonderland’s visitors. In April the days are long already – if you are lucky the sun is up on the cloudless sky and shining till late. Easter is the top season when it’s most crowded and expensive but at other times it’s possible to find good deals on accommodation. However, Lapland is huge and very sparsely populated so even at the busiest time outside the biggest resorts you will find plenty of peaceful nature. Downhill skiing slopes may get busy in the weekends but on the cross-country tracks are unlikely to be very crowded.
Last Easter we enjoyed a skiing holiday in Salla “In the middle of nowhere”. This year we headed to an even more remote and secluded location in Lapland: the northern part of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, the 3rd largest and most popular national park in Finland based on number of visitors – over half a million annually – and which just turned 80 years. Other wonderful places to visit in Lapland include Ylläs in the southern end of Pallas-Yllästunturi National park and Saariselkä and Urho Kekkonen National Park. Another great skiing destination in Northern Finland is Ruka south from the Arctic Circle.
Unfortunately public transportation isn’t easily available and the most convenient way to get there is by car. It is possible to take a train to Kolari or fly to Kittilä or Enontekiö (closest airport but Finnair flights only once a week on Saturdays in the winter) and take a taxi to your accommodation.
Pallas Top 5:
- Lots of snow, peacefulness and the cleanest air
- Cross-country skiing in the natural park and on ice
- Breaks at wilderness huts and cafes
- Downhill skiing on natural snow in Pallas
Lots of snow, peacefulness and the cleanest air
If you are looking for snow you can’t go wrong with Lapland where snow covers the ground for at least half of the year from October to May. The snow is at its deepest in March and can even exceed 1 meter depths. It’s claimed that the air in Pallas is in the top 3 of the cleanest air in the world and it really did feel wonderful to breathe. The snow is usually so clean that it’s possible to melt it into drinking water (just watch out where you take it from!) and you might find also a stream or a spring with fresh drinking water straight from the nature – if it’s not frozen.
Cross-country skiing in the national park and on ice
There’s lots of skiing tracks to choose from for all skill levels. We were mainly skiing in the Raattama area where it’s possible to choose hills or flat ground, open fields or forest. In any case you can enjoy beautiful pristine nature. Lakes are frozen with thick ice so you can ski over the ice. The weather can be quite windy and change quickly from sunshine to fog or snowfall so it’s good to be prepared with warm layers (although not too much as little ones get hot easily), sunglasses, sunscreen and a backpack to carry everything.
How to keep the little one motivated to ski all day? This was my main concern before this trip. Kids often enjoy outdoors activities but would need to have variety, fun and lots of breaks with snacks built into the day to keep on going for hours. Here’s our favorites:
Snacks: juice, granola bars, sandwich, fruit, nuts… I always look for healthy snacks but pack along also a bit of chocolate and some sweets in case of most critical moments.
Some games to play:
- I spy: “I spy, with my little eye, something that is…“ Based on something that you see around you. We played it only with colors but you could play it with first letters, shapes, etc.
- Vocabulary games: thinking of different words starting with the same letter (in Finnish “laiva on lastattu”), compound words, finding words that start with the same letter as the previous ended, poems – coming up with rhymes…
- Reindeer names: think of the funniest/cutest/strangest names you could have if you were a reindeer – like “Silver sparkle foot”, “White yawning runner” – let your imagination fly!
- Picking a focus point: “look at that funny looking tree, let’s have the break after we’ve reached it”
- Skiing ball – this was a brilliant idea borrowed from here. We used a floorball instead of a golf ball which was good size but a bit heavier ball of the same size might be the easiest for kids to keep on the trail.
- There’s some more fun ideas here – I like especially the Alphabetical trip and Guess who
Don’t forget lots of encouragement and praise – it usually does miracles!
Snowshoeing in deep snow
We experimented snowshoeing for the first time. The snowshoes really helped walking on deep snow where without them you might fall waist deep in snow! But it’s a pretty heavy exercise if the snow is deep and soft. Actually, it turned out that it was easier for my daughter as she is lighter. Finding the right calm pace is helpful. Note that moving on roads or paths with snowshoes is slower than in winter boots – in the end we ended up taking the snowshoes off to go faster. Anyway, it was a lot of fun and nice variety to the skiing.
Breaks at wilderness huts and cafes
It’s a good idea to get a ski track map of the area where you are going to ski. A good practice is to plan the day’s trip based on breaks (our favorite part of the day!). Select at least one ski hut or café to be your destination and always pack along plenty of snacks, water and hot drinks. We visited Varkhaanjärven kota, Porokotajärven Kotakahvila and Montellin maja (on top of a very steep hill – so proud of my daughter for not giving up despite the long 3km/2miles climb!).
Downhill skiing on natural snow in Pallas
Ski resort Pallas is only open about 10 weeks in a year from mid-February till the end of April. We started our visit from the Pallastunturi visitor center which is open to visit free of charge. We watched a short, about 20 minutes interesting and educational video about the history and special nature of the area.
Ski resort Pallas is focused on offering a genuine experience of skiing on natural snow – which felt very pleasant, softer and less icy than artificial snow. It’s a popular place for off-piste skiing but we were careful to stay on the slopes. There’s 9 slopes with the longest run being 2,4 kilometers (~1,5 miles) but just two anchor ski lifts. At Easter time there were lines to the lifts but I would imagine that other times and especially during the week it there wouldn’t be waiting – even in the busiest time of the year there was plenty of space in the slopes. There was a good variety of slopes for beginners and families as well as more advanced skiers.
There is a very small café in the back-slopes with some tables and benches outside where it’s really nice to take a break and relax for a moment with a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
Summary of the best tips for skiing with kids:
- Take lots of breaks and remember the snacks
- Clothing: Layers, sunscreen and sunglasses
- Variety: different activities to ensure the kids don’t get bored
- It doesn’t need to be so serious – let’s make it fun and play games 🙂
- Lots of encouragement and praise!
Saved for next time…
Arctic Spa Jeris sauna and ice swimming
Hetta-Pallas hiking trail (55 kilometers)
Kite skiing – we saw many people kite skiing and I thought it would be impossibly difficult until I met two ladies in the sauna who were active kite skiers and convinced me that I should go on a course and learn it!
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We arrived in Gran Canaria on the day before New Year’s Eve hoping to relax in warm weather and sunshine. We got lucky and it indeed was sunny and warm every day. However, evenings were cool so it’s best to pack along warm clothes if you’re traveling to the Canary Islands in winter.
Top 5 things to do in Gran Canaria (especially if traveling with school-aged kids):
- Walking and running at the magnificent Maspalomas Dunes
- Having fun at the hotel pool
- Renting bicyles
- Renting a car and visiting Puerto Rico
- Day trip to Puerto Mogan
1. Walking and running at the magnificent Maspalomas Dunes
The highlight of the holiday was the morning outings – the sunrise is just amazing! Close to our hotel, there was a dried-up river or canal down to the Maspalomas Dunes and alongside are good walkways for walking, jogging and bicycling. Close to the seaside, there’s a beautiful natural reserve lagoon La Charca with lots of bird life.
2. Having fun at the hotel pool
Honestly, many kids enjoy most having fun at the pool and our hotel Canary Garden Club in Maspalomas had a great pool area with sunbeds to enjoy. There’s also a kiosk offering snacks and lunch. The breakfast buffet was excellent, lots of options including fresh fruit and vegetables. The bungalows are small and simple but fine when you spend most of the time outside anyway. There’s a small playground for kids and the surroundings make it easy for kids to run around without disturbing others. There’s a mini convenience store next to the reception and not far, within around 10 minutes walking distance, was a small mall Faro 2 with a Hyperdino grocery store.
3. Renting bicyles
We rented bicycles which we found to be lots of fun with just 15 euros in total for kid’s and adult’s basic bicycles for 24 hours and helmets were included. We recommend Elemi & Lino’s Bike located in Faro 2 shopping mall – they have a wide range of bicycles and helpful staff.
We had a wonderful day bicycling to the beach, having lunch at our favorite restaurant Café Colon that’s located at the root of the Meloneras lighthouse “Faro”.
4. Renting a car and visiting Puerto Rico
We rented a car for three days at a very reasonable price (around 150 euros) including full insurance cover from Isla Car. It was easy to drive around but finding a parking place close to popular places can be a challenge. We visited Puerto Rico and spent the day at the Angry Birds park. It’s basically a big playground with different activities like trampolines, climbing wall, slides, mini golf, etc. The 8-year-olds loved it and seemed to find more things to do all day. Other interesting attractions for an active day out with kids would have been Aqualand and Palmitos Park, but had to save those for another time.
We spent half a day in Atlantico shopping center that has a big Carrefour store and lots of popular brand stores like Zara, Mango and Desigual. The capital of the island Las Palmas is the number one shopping place but we skipped it this time.
5. Day trip to Puerto Mogan
On the last day with the car we drove up to Puerto Mogan which is a really beautiful small town by the sea. I would have liked to get there early in the morning to make it to the morning yoga on the beach. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible and I couldn’t find any outdoor yoga classes in Maspalomas. Anyway, we had a very nice lunch in a restaurant on the beach boulevard.
Overall, it was a wonderful holiday and Gran Canaria became one of my all-time favorite family travel destinations and there’s still plenty of things to do for our next visit! Traveling with kids isn’t always a breeze but it helps a lot to plan ahead – here’s for example some good tips to consider in preparing for the next journey with the little ones.
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It was raining in Helsinki after Christmas and I decided to go on a search for winter. I found last minute flight and hotel deals and less than 12 hours later I was on the plane from Helsinki to Kuusamo. Already before noon I was enjoying the perfect winter wonderland experience. If you don’t mind travelling a bit further up north, other excellent skiing destinations in Northern Finland include Saariselkä and Urho Kekkonen National Park,Ylläs-Pallastunturi National Park with Pallas in the north and Ylläs in the south, and Salla – in the Middle of Nowhere in Eastern Lapland.
My top 5 tips to experiencing Ruka in 72 hours:
- Easy access
- Plenty of options for accomodation and restaurants
- Lovely cafes – maybe see some reindeer and huskys too!
- Cross-country skiing
- Ice swimming & sauna
1. Easy access
Why I chose Ruka for this mini break? Traveling from Helsinki to Ruka is super easy: the flight from Helsinki to Kuusamo airport takes just over an hour.
The airport bus is conveniently waiting to take you to the Ruka ski resort (10€ fee one way). Ruka village is really small, so everything – restaurants, shops, slopes, skiing tracks – is nicely within walking distance and you can practically ski almost directly from the hotel door.
Ruka is too south to be considered Lapland but you can get pretty much the same experiences there as well. The benefit in the winter time is that there’s a couple of hours daylight whereas in the very north the sun may not appear at all.
2. Plenty of options for accommodation and restaurants
There’s plenty of options for accommodation. If travelling with friends or family I’d recommend a cabin for the flexibility it offers. You can check out possible options for example from Ruka.fi. However, this time I chose to stay in a hotel including breakfast to make my 3 night stay as convenient as possible. I stayed at Rukahovi which has been renovated after my visit. Even at the time of my visit the rooms weren’t too bad (after one freezing night I figured out to turn on the radiator), the room was even equipped with a convenient drying cabinet. The only thing I missed was a kettle and a fridge would have been nice too. The breakfast at the hotel was superb, one of my all time favorites! The hotel restaurant Kaltiokivi was an easy choice after a long and tiring day of skiing but there are a number of options close by too. If you’re into sushi I would recommend Mura Sushi.
3. Cross-country skiing
Ruka is maybe more famous about the down hill skiing but it’s one of the top destinations in Finland for cross country skiing too. The tracks close to the village are maybe not ideal for very beginners (but you can drive or take the SkiBus to the easier tracks a bit further away from the village such as “Vuosselin reitti”), but for a average skier it’s easy to do day trips of at least 20-25 kilometers.
4. Lovely cafes – maybe see some reindeer and huskys too!
There’s some very nice cafes to stop by for refueling breaks. I would warmly recommend Lammintupa café where I had a very tasty salmon soup and some freshly baked bread. Lammintupa also offers husky and reindeer rides so it’s a perfect place to visit even with kids.
After the energy consuming skiing day there’s nothing better than going to sauna and having a nice dinner. The sauna at Rukahovi hotel was quite basic but very easy access. And it was a great way to meet some other talkative and friendly skiers so the big benefit was in getting some valuable tips and recommendations.
5. Ice swimming & sauna
The absolute highlight of my mini break was the sauna and ice swimming at Rukatonttu. It’s a hidden gem and I would never have found it without a local’s recommendation and guidance. It’s just about half kilometer walk from Ruka village – look for the stairway to the ski jumping tower (or you could even ski there directly).
It’s one of the most luxurious ice swimming experiences I’ve had and a real bargain (just 6€ if you bring your own towel). You can even buy refreshments from the reception. The sauna was huge with views to the lake and even though it’s in the use of the hotel guests and public, I had the place all to myself almost the whole time. The interesting thing is that there’s loudspeakers and music even inside the sauna, not very typical Finnish style! Luckily it wasn’t too disturbing.
I recommend to have good swimming shoes as the pathway to the swimming place is icy (and of course remember to take along your swimming suit). Two rounds of dips in the ice cold water was the ultimate relaxing and refreshing experience.
The added bonus: you can stay for dinner in the restaurant upstairs. The only minus is a big TV screen but if you get lucky like I did it is turned off when the live music starts. I recommend to book a table (ask for a window seat) in advance.
In total, I had less than 72 hours in Ruka but I was amazed how much could be experienced in such a short time in this winter wonderland. And it’s just one hour flight to get back to Helsinki. Finland and it’s capital city can be expensive but I recommend to read this post on Helsinki on a budget for brilliant ideas on how to enjoy your visit without breaking the bank!
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