Escape in Swedish Lapland

Prestige issue 269-270 Dec. 2015-Jan. 2016

Report and photos: Delphine Gebran Markarian

Who has not wanted to know where Santa comes from? Each year, with the approach of christmas, young and old dream of this character, each in his way, and live up to their expectations. He would come, according to the legend, from Lapland, the northernmost region of Europe, north of the Arctic Circle, the village that bears his name. Despite the harsh climate that prevails, Guy and Delphine Markarian made a one week getaway to the Sami territory and its tiny village Kiruna … Travel diary and impressions of our adventurous travelers who share their adventure with Prestige above the Arctic Circle in search of the Northern Lights and meeting the Sami people.

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Meet with the Sami culture. In the background, Lavvu, a traditional tent. © Archives Delphine Gebran Markarian

Lapland is not a strictly defined country, it is rather shared between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. From Paris, our trip was to Kiruna in Swedish Lapland, a town of some 20,000 inhabitants. The pilot announces that we are 68o latitude above the Arctic Circle. We fly over a beautiful white landscape speckled with brown shadows moving. But it was not until we saw a herd of deer running free, I realize that we are not above the clouds but Lapland, northern Sweden. The landing takes place on a beautiful white carpet. It was -30oC. We hear the creaking wheels of our suitcases on hard snow as asphalt. In winter the temperature does not exceed 0° C to melt and freeze. We cross small quiet alleys between houses with well decorated fairy lights windows; it is like the village of Santa Claus.

kiruna from the top

Kiruna is just a white carpet, seen from the sky. © Archives Delphine Gebran Markarian


The small village of Kiruna, «white partridge» of 15.92km2, discovered in the early XXth century, is an area of iron mines commissioned in 1899. Aside from the few Sami herders, fishermen and hunters, Kiruna was then almost empty of men. The exploitation of the field of exceptional quality and concentration, 60% grade iron ore, gave life in 1903 to a railroad and the iron route. It is the largest mine in the world. A sky opened until 1965, the mine has become underground. Since 2004, the authorities are in a dilemma. If the mine operation continues, it will cause the collapse of the city. Otherwise, it is the economy of the city that will collapse, it is almost entirely dependent on mining. In 2009 a decision was made to move the town 5km north-west with the railroad, highway, power grids and pipelines. Given the scale of the task, the construction continues until 2099.

«If you think  adventure is dangerous, try routine, it is deadly.» Paolo Coelho

Activities and discoveries

Once arrived at the hotel, we head to our cottage immersed in nature. Modern interior in light Scandinavian wood and minimalist furniture. A large painting of a forest dressed in white emerges through the window. We can not wait to get out, despite the cold, to make the reservations of the week’s activities. We had the choice between snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobile, ice fishing, reindeers led … We opt for one of the main activities of the region, the ride in sleds pulled by dogs. Just arrived at the kennel, we are greeted by a score of huskies very excited to travel kilometers. And that carried us at a high speed in the forest between the branches sprinkled with snow, to reach vast virgin spaces, limitless horizons. Superb views, breathtaking, unfolds around us, under the morning sun. A trip into space, the calm of nature, broken by the panting of the dogs. By late afternoon, a well deserved break brings us together in a Lavvu (Sami tent) prepared by a Sami couple around a good plate of reindeer meat very tender accompanied by potato puree and a raspberry sauce. Samis or Lapps are the largest indigenous group in Europe who lives in reindeer herding. You will have the chance to discover this people and its culture, and learning how to drive a sled pulled by reindeer, a very fun activity.

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The Sami people live from reindeer herding. Copyright: Archives Delphine Gebran Markarian

The Northern Lights

Every night, we consult the weather in the hope of attending a magic show, «Northern Lights», a bottle in hand to stay warm. Away from the lights, surrounded by open nature at 3 am, we are seeing for the first time this phenomenon that gives goose bumps. The sky is wrapped in a veil of strange colors dancing in the sky. The most beautiful light show that nature can offer us!


Delphine, Guy and the spectacular Northern Lights. Copyright: Archives Delphine Gebran Markarian

The Ice Hotel

Our stay comes to an end, we decided to spend a single night in a temporary hotel that opens from December to mid-April, when the structure starts to melt. This is the Ice Hotel, the Ice Hotel, consisting of 1,000 tons of ice and 30,000 tons of snice (or snow-ice, a kind of frozen water with the characteristics of the ice but the appearance of the snow) … A 6000m2 artwork done by a hundred artists and architects. At dusk, after an evening of music at the IceBar, we reach our room, an ephemeral building in this huge ice palace, an architecture with exceptional details, a magical interior. A sleeping bag covered with reindeer skin is available to us for a warm night.

ice hotel

The Ice Hotel, ephemeral hotel rebuilt each year, is open from December to mid-April. Each piece of these 6000m2 is carved in ice. Copyright: Archives Delphine Gebran Markarian


Copyright: Archives Delphine Gebran Markarian

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