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Saariselkä

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Saariselkä [1] is a largish winter sports center high up in Finnish Lapland, some 250 km north of the Arctic Circle and nearly 1000 kilometers away from the southern capital Helsinki.

Nestled in a valley, Saariselkä is a compact strip of a village with one gas station, one main supermarket, one liquor store and a slew of hotels, shops and restaurants, but it's quite manageable on foot and located only 30 km away from the town of Ivalo and its airport. The fells of Kaunispää and Iisakkipää, both equipped with ski lifts, are the primary centers for winter sports.

Understand

A succession of ice ages and their glaciers scraping back and forth has reduced what were once mountains into gentle rounded fells (Finnish tunturi), barely reaching 500m. The valleys between them are sparsely forested, but the exposed summits are treeless.

Aside from the occasional Sámi reindeer herder, there wasn't much human activity in these parts until Konrad Planting struck gold at the nearby Lutto River in 1865. The Finnish gold rush started soon thereafter and the first claim in Saariselkä was staked in 1871. Enough gold was found that by 1902 the mining company Prospektor set up its headquarters here and hacked a cart trail down to Sodankylä, some 100 kilometers away.

The gold rush slowly faded away, but in the 1960s the area started to gradually develop into a tourist attraction. Hotels and restaurants were built, skiing lifts were put up, and in 1983 the region stretching from Saariselkä to the Russian border -- favorite hunting grounds of former president Urho Kaleva Kekkonen -- were turned into the UKK National Park.

These days Saariselkä is a part of the municipality of Inari, which has some 7,700 inhabitants (including some 2,200 Sámi) on 17,321 square kilometers of land.

Get in

By plane

The easiest method is to take a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Ivalo airport (1:40, price €100-250 depending on the season), and then a connecting 20-minute bus ride into town. UK tourists may arrive at the airport at Kittilä, and take a three-hour road trip to Saariselkä, via Sodankylä.

By bus

Direct buses from the south are cheaper but involve a laborious 15 hour journey.

By train

An overnight train to Rovaniemi and a bus for the last 3 hours is a less painful but not particularly cheap alternative; this is, however, a viable option if you want to bring your own car.

Get around

Once in Saariselkä, you can pretty much walk anywhere you want to, but if you have gear in tow just hop aboard the (all day ticket €4) Ski Bus, which shuttles between the village and the slopes approximately once an hour.

See

  • Many tourists, especially the Japanese, come to Saariselkä to gawk at the aurora borealis. While they occur with a probability as high as 75% every night in season (November to March or so), they are all too often obscured behind a bank of clouds so don't count on it.
  • But there's plenty of standard Lappish tourist fare to keep you occupied during the day as well, ranging from husky safaris and reindeer-pulled sleighs to snowmobile and snowshoe treks through the countryside.
  • For arctic scenery, climb (or take the bus) up Kaunispää to take in the view.

Do

The fells nearby are excellent terrain for cross-country skiing, sledding and hiking, but somewhat puny for downhill since the maximum differential is on the order of 300 meters. Alas, this is about as good as it gets in flat Finland...

  • For extreme sledding, the legendary 1.5 km track down from Kaunispää can't be beat. Hold on tight and steer well!

Snow mobiles

If you want to get away from a group and go out on a snow-mobile with a private guide, there are quite a few operators to talk to ; Lapland Delights is one of them and offers ice-fishing in one of the local lakes which includes a snack reindeer lunch cooked in a hunter/fisherman's cabin, great !!

They also arrange viewing the 'Northern Lights' with a private guide, a wonderful way to spend an evening in the Tundra ( if only the lights could be guaranteed ! )

  • Top Safaris, Hotel Laanihovi, [2]. A safari company that offers a wide variety of safaris and is owned by the same people that run the Hotel Laanihovi.


Buy

  • Supermarket Kuukkeli, Saariseläntie, +358(0)16668741 (, fax: +358(0)16668680), [3]. 9-21.
  • Partioaitta (outdoor equipments), Honkapolku, +358(0)105494800.

Eat

Food in Lapland is expensive and fairly unimaginative, although if you haven't tried reindeer meat yet then this is your chance. For a more memorable experience, try a set dinner in a Lappish kota tent, offered by a number of hotels and tour operators ( with respect to the above poster, found the food in Saariselka to be tremendous, great dishes, friendly service and the meals really complemented the holiday experience of being in Lapland - quite special - see below )

  • Kaunispään Huippu, atop Kaunispää, [4]. Offers panoramic views of the mountains around and is a good option for a lunch or just a hot drink. I agree, do try the Reindeer fillet with peppercorns, worth taking a drive up for a meal.
  • Supermarket Kuukkeli. The little canteen inside offers one of the cheapest eats in town. Reindeer hash, cranberry jam and mashed potatoes will set you back €14,90.
  • Siulan Riista ja Kala. Game and Fish Delicatessen in the Siula shopping center - including a café which offers one of the cheapest meals in town. Daily "Lounas" (lunch) €9,50 is excellent value.
  • Teerenpesä, Restaurant and Pub, good value.
  • Pirkon Pirtti, most famous restaurant in Saariselkä. Hard to find vacant table - delightful log fires and delicious traditional dishes,a great place to dine.
  • Restaurant Linnansali, at Hotel Riekonlinna, expensive and fine. Specialities cod tongue and king crab.
  • Muossi Grill, snack kiosk in central square near Holiday Club Hotel, hamburgers etc.
  • Kotipizza, like it sounds, pizza, in Siula shopping center.
  • Rakka, ala carte, Rosso Express, pizza and Houseburger, hamburgers at Holiday Club
  • Petronella. Specialities include Reindeer filet and Lake Inari whitefish.
  • Siberia Restaurant (and Café) - fine dine in exotic Lapland.

Drink

There are quite a few possibilities for after-ski as well, all the hotels have restaurants and discos, and there's even a local microbrewery with a side line in distilled spirits as well. However, Saariselkä has a deserved reputation for catering to the middle-aged market, standard musical fare is melodramatic Finnish tango and even the food is all reindeer and snow grouse. Hip snowboarding youngsters tend to head for Levi or Ruka instead.

  • Saariselän Panimo, [5]. The local microbrewery, which does more than just beer: try Jellona Terwasnapsi, the home-brewed tar-flavored schnapps! A very authentically Finnish place in character.
  • Bepop, "Sportbar & Night", pub and nightclub at Holiday Club Saariselkä.

Wines :

Having posted above on Petronella, they also offer an excellent choice of wines if you're looking for the perfect accompaniment to the cuisine.

They also have a 'house cocktail' the 'Petronella' which has to be tasted to be believed ; great for warming up in minus 30 degrees C Finnish weather !

Sleep

Budget

  • Saariselän Panimo Inn, rooms start at 38€ in the summer, 79€ in the high season.
  • Savottakahvila (in Laanila near Saariselkä)

Mid-range

  • Hotel Kieppi
  • Saariselän Tunturihotelli
  • Hotel Laanihovi (in Laanila near Saariselkä), rooms 79€ in the summer, 97€ in the high season € [6]
  • Vahtamapään Maja (in the center) [7]
  • Hotel & Igloo Village Kakslauttanen [8]

Splurge

  • Holiday Club Saariselkä, [9]. Europe's northernmost spa and the fanciest digs in town, featuring a large swimming pool/jacuzzi/waterfall/etc section. Still, this is more of a family resort than a romantic getaway, so expect to bump into hyperactive kids. Rooms start at 120€ in the off season, 150€ in the high season.
  • Hotel Riekonlinna. International conference hotel, many of rooms have even own sauna and internet connection. Nice view towards the fjelds from most of rooms. Rooms 87€ in the summer, 130-150€ in the high season.
  • Hotel Gielas. From September 2008. Four star hotel with 84 rooms. All rooms have own saunas, bath, balcony and internet-connection.

Stay safe

Summer hiking in Saariselkä is safe if you follow safety advise and know your own limits. Routes near Saariselkä village are well marked and require only sneakers and clothes accordant with current weather. It's recommended to purchase an inexpensive map from your hotel reception or local market. Don't go alone into fields, at least without informing your hotel reception. Ask safety advises from your hotel reception if you feel unsure. Don't forget to report to your hotel when you come back. Weather conditions can change a lot even if it's warm and sunny when you leave.

Cellphone networks may not cover many places in between fields.

Tourists usually never meet any dangerous animals in Saariselkä. There are some bears in the eastern part of the national park, but bears would rather avoid humans if they can. It's recommended to indicate somehow to animals that you are roaming in the neighborhood.

Crime figures for Saariselkä are very low.

Stay healthy

Tap water is potable and of high quality.

In case of emergency call number 112. If you need medical consultation less urgently, contact to MedInari health service (nurse and doctor services) +358(0)207205830, address Kelotie 1, Saariselkä. It's managed by the Inari municipality and some local travel-related companies.

Get out

Routes through Saariselkä
VardøIvalo  N noframe S  RovaniemiHelsinki




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