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Oh wow, I was going on a trip to Swedish Lapland and Norway!! It was the first time I had ever travelled on my own but it was so easy as all the travel arrangements worked like clockwork. Getting up at 4am for my flight to Stockholm wasn’t fun but worth it for the chance to see the Northern Lights. I took a connecting flight from Stockholm to Kiruna and then was taken to the IceHotel. As it was September everywhere was very green and the countryside looked lovely.

The IceHotel 365 was only a year old when I visited but is a lovely structure which I imagine looks magical covered in snow in winter. The reception area is large and the staff were very welcoming. I was taken on a tour of the site which is much larger than I anticipated. There is the large reception block which also houses the restaurant. There’s a gift shop, arctic clothing store and lots and lots of cabins. The Kaamos cabins were stunning, very simple but they had everything you could wish for.  The IceHotel 365 is situated near the bank of the River Torne. It’s an amazing piece of architecture, well thought out and a great substitute for the winter IceHotel. There is an Ice Bar too!

Across the road from the IceHotel complex is the Old Homestead restaurant. A great place to sit and relax and eat the most amazing food.  After a visit to the reindeers and a short walk I went to the Ice Bar and had a fabulous blue cocktail in a glass also made of ice. The Ice Bar has some amazing sculptures and a stunning chandelier, also made of ice! At the entrance to the Ice Bar you are given Arctic Capes and gloves as it is very cold inside. They proved invaluable in keeping me warm whilst holding my ice glass and drinking my amazing cocktail.

After dinner at the Old Homestead is was time to turn in for bed but not before one last look for the Northern Lights! My Deluxe Art Suite was amazing, with subtle lighting to make the most of the intricate ice sculpting. The bed had a lovely comfy mattress covered in reindeer skins so I wouldn’t be sleeping directly on ice. The Suite had an interconnecting dressing room, accessed through a sort of air-lock corridor. This was so the heat from the dressing room didn’t melt the ice in the bedroom. The dressing room had underfloor heating, a sauna, shower, loo and wash basin and a dressing area. The dressing area was very simple with comfy chairs and somewhere to put your clothes and belongings.  There was also a door to the outdoors so that guests could go out at night to catch the Northern Lights (just don’t forget the key to get back in!).

It had been a long exhausting day and I was absolutely shattered. I’d been given instructions on how to dress for bed and a sleeping bag with cotton liner. So, dressed in a nightdress (big mistake)and socks I made my way through to the bedroom and struggled, but managed, to get into the cotton liner and then into the sleeping bag. I think I fell asleep quite quickly but at some point woke with a very cold head. I had forgotten to take my hat in and wear it despite being advised to wear it. The dilemma then was do I get out of bed and get my hat risking the cold on the floor, or tough it out and hope to go back to sleep? I chose to try and get back to sleep, another big mistake.

In the morning I was woken by the staff with a most welcome hot lingonberry juice, just what was needed! Breakfast was taken in the Old Homestead too, a great selection of foods to fuel you for the day ahead.

An amazing stay at the IceHotel and a lesson learned; pyjamas are much more practical for bed and a hat is a definite must! The food in Sweden and Norway is exceptional, and perhaps not what you would necessarily be going for but a fantastic added bonus. It’s not all herrings and reindeer meat! Take a look at our very popular Ice Hotel & Abisko break giving you an excellent chance of seeing the Northern Lights as well as staying at the Ice Hotel

With the uncertainty of Brexit we wanted to make you aware of the government advice re passport requirements, and Driving License Requirements for driving abroad in Europe, if we Brexit with out a deal.

Passport Requirements

The rules for travel to most countries in Europe change if the UK leaves the European Union (EU) with no deal.

  1. You should have at least 6 months left on your passport from your date of arrival. This applies to adult and child passports.
  2. If you renewed a passport before it expired, up to 9 extra months may have been added to your new passport’s expiry date. Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the 6 months that should be remaining for travel to most countries in Europe.

The new rules will apply to passports issued by the UK, Gibraltar, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey.

Please see a link below with further details and also a link for you to check your specific passport.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/passport-rules-for-travel-to-europe-after-brexit#check-a-passport-for-travel-to-europe

 

Driving Licence Requirements

In the event that there is no EU Exit deal, the government will seek to put in place new arrangements for EU and EEA countries to recognise UK driving licences when people are visiting, for example on holiday or business trips. Until such arrangements are in place, UK driving licence holders may need an IDP in addition to their UK driving licence to drive when visiting EU and EEA countries.

Each EU and EEA country will decide if they require a foreign driver to have an IDP, in addition to a driving licence, to legally drive in their country.

There are three different types of IDP (International Driving Permits) covering different countries so if you already have one please check it is the correct one for the country you are travelling to.

For example –

Italy, Norway, Sweden – 1968

Iceland – 1949

It is very easy to get a IDP from a Post Office (There are 2,500 that issue them in the UK). You would need to take with you a passport photo, your plastic photocard driving licence and we would recommend taking a second Photo ID such as your passport as well. It costs £5.50 and it is issued there and then over the counter. We would strongly recommend if driving in Europe (including Norway and Iceland) you get one as the local suppliers are also not clear if they will need them or not. For example in Iceland one car hire company think they may not need them, another one says they will need them. For the sake of £5.50 it seems an easy decision for peace of mind for your trip, and as we would not be able to help overrule this requirement if on arrival it is required we do recommend you get one.

Please see the link below with further details, as well as the ability to search for you nearest issuing Post Office.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/international-driving-permits-for-uk-drivers-from-28-march-2019

What an absolute joy our trip to Swedish Lapland was – you know that feeling of worry that the transfer is not going to be there and you won’t like the food and the hotel? Well I have to say that lasted about half an hour and then I relaxed and enjoyed every minute. Máttaráhkká Lodge was wonderful, the first impressions were of the stillness, the absolute peace and quiet, with all this beautiful fluffy snow and the sun beaming at us in an utterly perfect blue sky. We sat on a little decked area and just breathed in all the fresh air looking to the distant snow covered mountains and then just couldn’t sit any longer and had a walk (plough) through the snow, spotting animal tracks everywhere – ptarmigan and artic hare – no moose or deer though, we wouldn’t see those until the next day when we ventured off on our snowmobile trip. First however was the stunning meal cooked by Roger and a wonderful hot tub experience whilst looking at the stars until it clouded over, then, once cooked and wrinkly all at the same time,  we made our way to bed.

After a marvellous buffet breakfast (I ate far too much) it was time for our snowmobile trip, I was excited and nervous all at the same time. There had been a fresh fall of snow in the night and the guide, Roger, who was following a GPS was a little uncertain of the route – we laughed as in the snowy wilderness how would you find your way? Thoughts of the Sami deer herders went through my mind but we zipped off into the unknown and within 20 minutes were lying deep in the snow unable to get up, floundering around like stranded fish! We had missed the track with one edge of the snowmobile with the result that it tipped over in the soft snow – it all seemed to happen in slow motion- and getting out of the snow again was hard work as we couldn’t stop laughing. After the guide had rescued us we journeyed for quite a while, the artic clothing keeping us snug and warm until Roger halted and said, sweeping his arm around “welcome to my office”. I looked around at the mountains covered in snow – there was no evidence of human habitation from our vantage point, it was pure unspoilt wilderness and realised that we had in fact being travelling on snow that was right up to the tops of the trees– what an amazing job to have! We shared a flask of lingonberry juice and then journeyed back, coming off the snowmobile another twice- the last time we were told it was a good spot to stop anyway as the guide had spotted some Moose tracks – we ploughed through the snow on foot to investigate and could see where the Moose had been eating the moss from the trees but the wise Moose had moved on elsewhere.

After lunch we visited the Icehotel, exploring all the rooms and chatting with other visitors discussing what we liked and what we loved about them – a visit to the ice bar was a must and amazing ice cups with wonderful coloured liquids, which was perhaps not wise, as we stood outside watching the harvest of the ice from the river below the hotel. Although we had missed the ice cutting demonstration we wandered around and admired the results – the swan was the most beautiful object with the sun shining through it and was the most photographed, from every different angle.

Then it was on to the Sami evening and what an entertaining time! First we met the guide and collected the snowmobile and the sled in which we sat to go and visit the reindeer sheltering in a little copse and fed them dried branches (there was a little competition amongst them as they were all the young males from the spring) then we were asked to look at the sky with the many brilliant stars and as we couldn’t see any indication that the aurora was going to visit we were asked to lay on the snow and make snow angels as that might appease the spirits (he was grinning from ear to ear) but my husband obliged, so then we could carry on to the lavuu and supper which was wonderful. He spoke of the beliefs that his people have in regards to the spirits of the ancestors and the influence that has on the generations as they come along, although nowadays they all have access to the ever increasing technology. As he warmed the food he spoke of the difficulties his people had experienced and how at one time they were not even allowed to build permanent houses. It is a plight comparable to the Indians of America – resident peoples being moved on and denied access to their own lands. He offered us a secret Sami desert (After Eight mints) which I have never eaten frozen but they lasted a long time! We watched the skies and had a brief glimpse of the lights before the clouds covered it over and we went back to the hotel with humbled hearts. A great guy, with a real sense of humour and natural entertaining abilities, who managed to educate us at the same time.

A very full day and I slept extremely well.

More excitement and trepidation – dog sledding. After greeting and harnessing the dogs we were shown how the brake was supposed to work (most important tool!) and how to move when cornering and told that we had to run when going uphill as the dogs would get too exhausted – I wondered about myself? However it was just the most incredible experience the sled travelling almost silently across the snow in picture perfect wilderness, a stop for lunch in a lavuu and a chat about the dogs, the guide Mia was heartfelt in her adoration of them, and onwards again – my turn in the sled in this time! Such fun and another fantastic experience that I will never forget.

Then we transferred to Abisko Mountain Lodge, another great place but in a different way. It was constantly busy with the guys from the heli-skiing trip (totally mad) and other guests sharing their experiences. We settled in immediately but then had to go to the Sky station for a meal and, we hoped, a good view of the Northern Lights. Sadly though the wind was blowing a gale and the skies clouded over fairly quickly allowing only a short viewing but we did see the awesome lights although it was disappointingly brief. It was such a shame that it clouded over.

The following night was amazing – we had booked up for a photographic training session aimed at teaching people how to successfully photograph the lights and we had picked the right night – the lights put on a wonderful display for us and we got some memories to keep forever on the memory disc. The time just flew by and at midnight the display seemed to be at an end – there was some high cloud coming in- but just as soon as all the cameras were packed away there was one last burst of stunning colour and clarity right above us – we had been blessed!

 

What an absolute joy our trip to Swedish Lapland was – you know that feeling of worry that the transfer is not going to be there and you won’t like the food and the hotel? Well I have to say that lasted about half an hour and then I relaxed and enjoyed every minute. Máttaráhkká Lodge was wonderful; the first impressions were of the stillness, the absolute peace and quiet, with all this beautiful fluffy snow and the sun beaming at us in an utterly perfect blue sky. We sat on a little decked area and just breathed in all the fresh air looking to the distant snow covered mountains and then just couldn’t sit any longer and had a walk (plough) through the snow, spotting animal tracks everywhere – ptarmigan and artic hare – no moose or deer though, we wouldn’t see those until the next day when we ventured off on our snowmobile trip. First however was the stunning meal cooked by Roger and a wonderful hot tub experience whilst looking at the stars until it clouded over, then, once cooked and wrinkly all at the same time; we made our way to bed.

After a marvellous buffet breakfast (I ate far too much) it was time for our snowmobile trip, I was excited and nervous all at the same time. There had been a fresh fall of snow in the night and the guide, Roger, who was following a GPS was a little uncertain of the route – we laughed as in the snowy wilderness how would you find your way? Thoughts of the Sami deer herders went through my mind but we zipped off into the unknown and within 20 minutes were lying deep in the snow unable to get up, floundering around like stranded fish! We had missed the track with one edge of the snowmobile with the result that it tipped over in the soft snow – it all seemed to happen in slow motion- and getting out of the snow again was hard work as we couldn’t stop laughing. After the guide had rescued us we journeyed for quite a while, the artic clothing keeping us snug and warm until Roger halted and said, sweeping his arm around “welcome to my office”. I looked around at the mountains covered in snow – there was no evidence of human habitation from our vantage point, it was pure unspoilt wilderness and realised that we had in fact being travelling on snow that was right up to the tops of the trees– what an amazing job to have! We shared a flask of lingonberry juice and then journeyed back, coming off the snowmobile another twice – the last time we were told it was a good spot to stop anyway as the guide had spotted some Moose tracks – we ploughed through the snow on foot to investigate and could see where the Moose had been eating the moss from the trees but the wise Moose had moved on elsewhere.

After lunch we visited the IceHotel, exploring all the rooms and chatting with other visitors discussing what we liked and what we loved about them – a visit to the ice bar was a must and amazing ice cups with wonderful coloured liquids, which was perhaps not wise, as we stood outside watching the harvest of the ice from the river below the hotel. Although we had missed the ice cutting demonstration we wandered around and admired the results – the swan was the most beautiful object with the sun shining through it and was the most photographed, from every different angle.

Then it was on to the Sami evening and what an entertaining time! First we met the guide and collected the snowmobile and the sled in which we sat to go and visit the reindeer sheltering in a little copse and fed them dried branches (there was a little competition amongst them as they were all the young males from the spring) then we were asked to look at the sky with the many brilliant stars and as we couldn’t see any indication that the aurora was going to visit we were asked to lay on the snow and make snow angels as that might appease the spirits (he was grinning from ear to ear) but my husband obliged, so then we could carry on to the lavvu and supper which was wonderful. He spoke of the beliefs that his people have in regards to the spirits of the ancestors and the influence that has on the generations as they come along, although nowadays they all have access to the ever increasing technology. As he warmed the food he spoke of the difficulties his people had experienced and how at one time they were not even allowed to build permanent houses. It is a plight comparable to the Indians of America – resident peoples being moved on and denied access to their own lands. He offered us a secret Sami desert (After Eight mints) which I have never eaten frozen but they lasted a long time! We watched the skies and had a brief glimpse of the lights before the clouds covered it over and we went back to the hotel with humbled hearts. A great guy, with a real sense of humour and natural entertaining abilities, who managed to educate us at the same time.

A very full day and I slept extremely well.

More excitement and trepidation – dog sledding. After greeting and harnessing the dogs we were shown how the brake was supposed to work (most important tool!) and how to move when cornering and told that we had to run when going uphill as the dogs would get too exhausted – I wondered about myself? However it was just the most incredible experience the sled travelling almost silently across the snow in picture perfect wilderness, a stop for lunch in a lavvu and a chat about the dogs, the guide Mia was heartfelt in her adoration of them, and onwards again – my turn in the sled in this time! Such fun and another fantastic experience that I will never forget.

Then we transferred to Abisko Mountain Lodge, another great place but in a different way. It was constantly busy with the guys from the heli-skiing trip (totally mad) and other guests sharing their experiences. We settled in immediately but then had to go to the Sky Station for a meal and, we hoped, a good view of the Northern Lights. Sadly though the wind was blowing a gale and the skies clouded over fairly quickly allowing only a short viewing but we did see the awesome lights although it was disappointingly brief. It was such a shame that it clouded over.

The following night was amazing – we had booked up for a photographic training session aimed at teaching people how to successfully photograph the lights and we had picked the right night – the lights put on a wonderful display for us and we got some memories to keep forever on the memory disc. The time just flew by and at midnight the display seemed to be at an end – there was some high cloud coming in – but just as soon as all the cameras were packed away there was one last burst of stunning colour and clarity right above us – we had been blessed!

Click here for breaks to Lapland Northern Lights.

The new Lapland and Iceland season is now upon us and as such we have quite a few excited people who can’t wait to see the Northern Lights. To help plan for your experience, Apple have created an Aurora forecast app . This clever little app lets you see 8 days of Northern Lights viewing for both Iceland and Lapland in the north, (along with the southern hemisphere as well). To access this app all you need is either an iPad, iPhone or iPod with either Wi-Fi and/or 3G signal.

For iPhone and iPod users, go into your App Store and on the search option type in “Aurora Forecast”. Click on the app (looks the same as the photo below) and press the “Install” button.

Both of these devices will then show you a date screen: Click on the date you are interested in and scroll down to the Iceland and Lapland bar. This way you will be fully up to date with the aurora!

Following on from this original Northern Lights Apps blog posted in December 2011 in relation to an app that forecasts the Northern Lights, the designer has now incorporated more updates into this app, one of which is compatibility with iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod.

Other exciting updates include an easier way of viewing the Northern Light forecast for both the Northern and Southern hemisphere at the push of a button, quarterly hour updates, and push notifications informing you when the Lights peak above a set level. For more information on this please click on the two links below. Happy viewing!

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/aurora-forecast./id539875792?mt=8

http://tinacinc.com/AuroraForecast/

There is no denying that our Northern Lights trips are popular, but as many of our Weekend a La Carte clients know, the journey up to Lapland can be just as rewarding. Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is well worth a city break either on the way to or from the arctic climes. Stockholm boasts a beautiful setting, mixed with wonderful cuisine, and if you are travelling through in December; some great Christmas markets.

However, as well as the superb Vasa Museum and being the location for Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy books, the latest addition is the ABBA museum. This museum will give fans the chance to wander through the various ABBA memorabilia, sit in the helicopter that was used as the album cover for their “Arrival” album, and even take to the stage as a Dancing Queen to be the fifth member of ABBA! The other four members will be dancing behind you in holographic form. After the worldwide success of Mamma Mia! in 2008, how could anyone resist such a tempting offer!

To make your stay feel even more like you are treading into ABBA’s footsteps, our breaks offer a stay overnight at the Hotel Rival, which along with being centrally located close to the shops and markets, is also owned by Benny!  All the rooms come with a CD of one of ABBA’s best-selling albums, and we have always had great feedback on this hotel. Our clients have told us that this feels like they have had a holiday before they even reach the arctic! So why not make your break that much more fulfilling.

 

For more information click here

Weekend a la Carte have worked with both the Hotel Arctic Eden and Abisko Mountain Lodge for a number of years and both hotels played a major role during the visits.

The Arctic Council ministry lunch for almost 500 people, including US foreign Secretary John Kerry was prepared by the chefs of the Arctic Gastro, the restaurant attached to the Arctic Eden hotel.

Not long after this Barbro Haggkvist, the manager of the Arctic Eden received a call from the royal palace in Stockholm saying that H.M. Konung Carl XVI Gustaf would like to come and have dinner in the restaurant. Using the freshest home grown produce including ptarmigan, moose, Arctic Char, blueberries and the unique Shitake mushrooms grown in the landmark iron ore mine an exquisite banquet was produced. He liked dinner so much that he asked the chefs if they would produce lunch for his party the following day in LKAB mine in Kiruna.

His Royal Majesty then proceeded for a trip to Abisko where Mina and Dick Johansson, owner managers of Abisko Mountain Lodge hosted the King who dined on 3 occasions in their restaurant.

I called Mina to get her reactions to this honour and to quote she said “This would probably not have happened 2 years ago but the northern lights fever that has spread throughout the world has so increased the profile of Abisko that not only are keen aurora hunters arriving en masse to see the northern lights, but member of the Royal family too!”

Being the first company in the UK to offer the Abisko Sky Station for aurora holidays this is hugely satisfying. For those looking for a great chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis we would strongly recommend that you follow in the footsteps of royalty and head for Abisko.

 

For more information on our Lapland Northern Lights breaks please click here

Northern Lights – The Age of the Aurora

Solar activities, also known as sunspots, are what regulate the intensity of the solar wind which in turn creates the aurora borealis. The sun has an 11 year cycle – or “pulse” – which regulate the intensity of the sunspots/northern lights and thereby also their consistency. Scientists have been monitoring this for hundreds of years and also know when to expect increases in activity.

As we now head into a period with very high sunspot activity – one could say we are in The Age of Aurora – which should therefore bring about some fantastic displays of aurora.

The next time this high sunspot occurs again will be first around 2022 – so if you want to view this nature’s splendour in the foreseeable future – now is the time to book a trip to the northern latitudes where this is viewable.

To see the Northern Lights Holidays we offer click here

Just come back from an incredible visit to Stockholm in Sweden. I found it be a city with a super mix of historical culture and learning with some outstanding museums, lots of relaxing on boat trips, quirky hotels and fun locations…and all with some delicious meals thrown in as well.

The Highlight was the Vasa Museum which houses a 17th Century Warship which sank 20 minutes into her Maiden Voyage in 1628. Having lain on the bottom for 333 years it was raised in 1961 and is virtually as sound and in as good condition as when she sank – the reason being she sank in mainly fresh water so was not subject to the usual rotting agents of salt. However it is still mind boggling to view the boat complete (she floated by herself when raised), the immaculate hat in the chest that lay in water for 333 years, the details of the myriad of carvings of sea serpents and mermaids on her hull, and even some of the remains of her sails! There is a great fun computer simulation where you can change the sail settings, ballast load and number of cannons to see how she should have been balanced to avoid sinking – a favourite with my 5 year old!

A trip to Stockholm cannot be complete without a trip on a boat around the city which we used as a hop on/hop off service to visit the main highlights and is a lovely way to take some scenic photos of the old city….and to rest the feet! Whilst we didn’t make it there are boat trips further afield to visit the Archipelago.

The Skansen Museum Stockholm offers an insight to houses throughout Sweden from the 17th Century as they have transplanted houses, farmsteads and windmills from throughout the country to this one location right behind the Vasa Museum. It even offers Reindeers, Moose and Seals to entertain the children and get the holiday balance right for the whole family.

For those interested in something a bit more highbrow the Nobel Museum stimulates thoughts on lifetime achievers and discoveries. I learnt all sorts of technical details – some of which I understood! However I did learn that there is a new Nobel Prize for Economics which was introduced in the early 60’s – Something I do have to confess that had passed me by.

For those considering taking a Northern Lights Trip to Lapland a stop in Stockholm on the way out, or back, can be a great fun and fascinating way to spend a couple of days.

Click here to view our Stockholm and Northern Lights Break

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