For me, nothing really beats the beach. Sea, boats, sunshine and all the things that you associate with summer are really what I dream of, especially in the winter months! At least that's what I believed until I visited Swedish Lapland - this magical place changed my mind about all of that. It is completely awesome and everyone should experience it, preferably as soon as possible given global warming and the changing weather patterns are really shaking things up faster in the arctic than we can imagine as we sit typing away in the UK...
First of all Stockholm, which as the stopover for your flight to Lapland, does not get enough credit. I wholeheartedly urge you to leave the airport and see this picture perfect city. The archipelago is beautiful in winter and summer, with boats lit up by fairy lights along the harbour and an abundance of history and culture to keep you busy. Two days here would be ideal to really get your teeth sunk into the city, exploring the galleries and museums, indulging in fantastic seafood, and staying in some absolutely fabulous hotels.
The Grand is a tourist destination in itself, being the oldest five star establishment in the city, and there have been a wealth of famous clients, rockstars, politicians and artists who have all graced its halls. The Swedish Royal family often use the entertaining space for engagements and parties, and the harbour view suites that look over the Royal Palace are quite magnificent. The Lydmar, under the same ownership, is often described as the younger sister of the Grand, and bridges the gap between the traditional and the much cooler Scandi style. Hot on its heels is the Nobis - an incredibly stylish and much more contemporary option for those who prefer modern elegance over traditional splendour. The hotel does have an interesting history though; the building was once a bank and was in fact the site which coined the term 'Stockholm Syndrome'. Of course those after a home from home, need look no further than Ett Hem. Its tasteful interiors make you feel as though you've stepped inside the pages of an OKA magazine. There really is something for everyone in this stylish and sophisticated city.
Swedish Lapland is a world apart; you step through from the hustle and bustle of Stockholm into what appears to be a completely foreign land. The people that live here are incredibly proud of their heritage and the natural beauty of the landscapes. And so they should be - if I try and describe how mesmerising it all is, I will sound as though I'm exaggerating. There just aren't enough superlatives. The sun rises late and low, casting long shadows but creating a brilliant glow over the world. Photographers will be so snap happy - everything becomes photogenic, not to mention the Instagram-worthy activities that are what makes this destination stand out from other winter wonderlands.
Brandon Lodge is a perfect base for those looking for adrenaline fuelled adventures. The lodge has snowmobiles aplenty, dog sledding just around the corner and it is right on the edge of the sea (although in winter this is completely frozen) making ice fishing possible. Being miles from anywhere, if you're going to see the famous Aurora Borealis then there's no better place for it! The lodge also has a hovercraft for whizzing over the frozen sea - need I say more. Cabins work well for families and couples, Goran is a great host and there are even reindeer behind the lodge, meaning you don't really have to go anywhere else! Pine Bay lodge is a sister property just along the coast and you can enjoy all the same activities here, from dinner on ice, saunas after your activities, and absolutely delicious food. This was my first stop and on leaving I really didn't think that any of the other locations would match it.
Sorbyn Lodge, further inland on a stunning lake, has a very similar atmosphere. It was here that I went dog sledding. This was the highlight of the stay for me - it's very hard to describe just how cool but also how magical it is. The dogs are brilliant and the respect they have for their master is very reassuring as you power through the trees and out over frozen lakes. The thing that really stays with you is the silence, and the peaceful tranquillity of dog sledding. Unlike snowmobiling where there is an engine, all you can hear is the panting of the dogs and the soft rush of the wind. Children can sit on the large and comfortable passenger sled and adults, if they're feeling intrepid, can drive their own sled, with their own team of dogs.
Swedish Lapland is not all about the adrenaline and the activities. There are some amazing hotels that tick the interior design box, while still allowing you to enjoy the landscapes and the excursions if you wish. Treehotel has recently built the fantastic 7th Room which sleeps five and offers a perfect family option - but all of the other tree houses are equally unique and comfortable. Clambering up the ladders (some have ramps making it easier for children) you arrive in a hotel room unlike any other. The tree houses have views out over forests and there is a river running through the forest in summer too. The bird's nest and the UFO have to win the most imaginative of the lot, but the cabin is furthest from the path, sleeps two and is very romantic - perfect for honeymooners. The Mirror Cube is the first you see, if you can spot it, and the Dragonfly is also a great family option. Activities here are easily arranged but I would view this hotel as somewhere that combines perfectly with Brandon or Sorbyn - so you can experience both the uber cool design aspect, and also get some more adventurous fun!
The Ice Hotel
The Ice Hotel is spectacular. The clue lies in the name, but until you arrive it is quite hard to imagine a hotel that is built entirely from ice. Each year they rebuild the structure, and the rooms are not only functional, but also are works of art. From 10am-4pm each room is vacated so you can wander around and explore the different designs and sculptures. It's definitely not for everyone; you are staying in a room made of ice, on a bed made of ice, with no heating in mid-winter. The hotel cleverly decided to offer alternative accommodation, in cosy log cabins, so to appeal to a wider audience - I personally don't think I could last longer than one night in the cold rooms! The concept is great and good fun - drinking from ice glasses in the bar - it definitely is something you don't do every day. Activities are all readily available here too so you don't miss a thing.
Altogether I came away from Swedish Lapland with a different perception of winter holidays and what I want from them. There is no denying that escaping to the sun is a lovely idea, but embracing winter and really immersing oneself in the snow and the cold is something that I think should be on everyone's radar at least. It works perfectly for families, friends or couples, and whether you are six or 66, you would be guaranteed a wonderful time.