Author: Ipsita Barua, Travel Editor
November 2015 was the tenth year of our married life and as the self-appointed travel planner, the pressure to plan a ‘special holiday’ was mounting. An extensive list of destinations across continents was drawn, travel blogs and itineraries referred to, ease of visa processes checked, climatic conditions and temperatures taken into account, costs compared, flight offers monitored. But all the shortlisted places didn’t quite meet the mark that a milestone occasion deserved. What could possibly top spotting whales in the Pacific, getting pulped at Tomatina, following a pride of lions in Masai Mara, hot air ballooning over the ‘fairy chimneys’ in Cappadoccia, boating in a cave lit by glow-worms, cruising through the Norwegian fjords… ?
The clock was ticking, and the husband mocking my search for a superlative. The struggle was real. And then one fine day, the Eureka moment finally struck! It was right in front of my eyes all the while and I failed to see the signs my desktop screensaver was throwing at me, until that very moment.
“We’re going to Sweden to see the Northern lights”, I triumphantly announced, while quietly crossing my fingers because the Northern Lights are very elusive, and even with a great deal of planning and praying, you might just have to return home dejected.
The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are luminous dancing streaks of green that light up the night sky in the high-latitude regions of the Arctic and Antarctic. Although it is quite scientific in nature as it’s created from a collision between the sun’s electrically charged particles while entering the earth’s atmosphere, its sight is a timeless celestial spectacle that favours only a few.
We were mentally prepared to take a no-show with a pinch of salt and snow.
But we lucked out and the skies obliged us with the most spectacular first show of the season the very next day of our arrival in Kiruna. Huddled together with eight other aspirants in -20 degrees Celsius in a pitch-dark forest, gaping in awe at the neon green waves dancing in the sky with nothing but only the sounds of deep sighs and camera shutters… few experiences can hold a light to this in one’s lifetime.
Now that we have a big tick off the bucket list, I feel confident enough to share a few highlights from our trip that could nudge you to go North.
Our 10-day itinerary included Stockholm (arrival and departure point), Kiruna (best for Northern Lights sighting) and Harads (couldn’t miss staying in the Tree hotel). All bookings were done personally.
Abisko National Park in the northernmost part of inhabited Sweden is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. We flew into Kiruna from Stockholm and from Kiruna airport, it’s a 1.5-hour bus ride to the Abisko Turistation, a cozy hotel in Swedish Lapland with all facilities for comfort. The Turiststation houses a restaurant, bar, a small library, souvenir shop and saunas. The shop stocks a wide range of items, from ready-to-eat food to cold weather gear. There is also an option to hire a wide range of outdoor equipment for your activities. They also offer guided tours like cross-country skiing, Sami village walks and photo outings with local experts.
Allow yourself minimum three nights here to enjoy the peace and quiet.
For more information on accommodation, transport and activities in Abisko, visit their official site here
Our next stop Harads, didn’t let the dizzying excitement of the Northern Lights dip, instead it took it a notch higher. This tiny village with a population of only a little over 600, is best known for the Treehotel, a designer’s version of our childhood fantasy. Our itinerary was adjusted and readjusted at least thrice just to allow us 3 days at this award-winning hotel owing to limited rooms and of course, huge demand. The Treehotel has only 7 rooms, each conceptualised and built in a forest by some of Scandinavia’s leading architects.
We stayed in the Bird’s Nest, which comfortably sleeps 2 adults and 2 children or 4 adults. The entrance to the Nest is Hosts Kent & Britta organize a range of guided tours and activities in and around the village, and also provide you with the necessary clothing to brave the subzero temperatures.
For more information on the Treehotel and the activities on offer, click here
STF Aurora Sky Station: On our first evening in Abisko, we took the chairlift to the STF Aurora Sky Station, located high up in the mountains with a large outdoor terrace and a lookout tower for Northern Light gazing. The station is like a meeting point where travellers and guests of the Turistation interact with each other, sharing travel stories and experiences over a tipple or two. It also has a café and a mini exhibition explaining the Aurora Borealis.
It wasn’t our lucky day for the lights, but the journey made up for it. Seated in the open chairlift, swaying to the cold Arctic winds above a dark, frigid forest, with no other person in sight, no sound except for the creaking hinges of the chairlift… felt like being North of the Wall and the White Walkers would emerge from the shadows any moment.
Snowmobile Safari & Ice Fishing: There’s something extremely liberating about driving a snowmobile through an enchanting winter landscape. You’ll need some practice and power to maneuver these mean machines but once you get a hang of it, you’ll not want to stop. Kent accompanied us on the snowmobile to the frozen lake and between piping hot sips of coffee we pulled out some fresh fish for dinner.
Ice Dining: Outdoor dining in-20 degrees Celsius on a frozen lake in the evening? ‘Are you out-of-your-mind?’ reasoned my left brain when I booked it. Undoubtedly, that was the best dining experience we’ve had till date. What’s not to like about being seated in a heated tipi tent on a frozen lake, surrounded by flickering torches and lamps, sipping wine and savouring a 3-course meal cooked and served on the spot under a moonlit sky? Take my money!
Husky Sledding: Pulling us excitedly on sleds across silvery silhouettes in the forest, the gorgeous huskies played the perfect host in their natural habitat. The musher was clearly in charge and it was fascinating to observe how each of the huskies knew their designated position while pulling the sled. We stopped in the middle of the forest for coffee and homemade cookies and stories around a fire. A ride like no other!
By the end of our stay, the raw and rugged wilderness was beginning to grow on us. The cold wasn’t numbing anymore, but rather comforting. The understated luxury in clean, simple lines was easy to get used to. The disconnect from deadlines and timelines was therapeutic.
If you are looking to explore some place not too far from Switzerland, I would highly recommend Sweden. December to March is a good time for Northern Light sightings and the summer months are glorious with never-ending daylight hours.
For more information, tips and holiday ideas check out the official site Visit Sweden
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