Desperately seeking Santa
Father Christmas is alive and well in Lapland. Chris Carter pays him a visit.
Every year, after putting in his day-long shift at the office, Father Christmas goes home to the Santa Claus Village in northern Finland, as any Finn will tell you. If you lack reindeers and a sleigh to get there, the village is a mere 15-minute taxi ride from Rovaniemi, a city with an international airport in Finnish Lapland.
Millions of hopeful letters are delivered to the post office here, all addressed to the man in red. Some people, however, prefer to deliver theirs by hand. After all, says Matilda Battersby in The Independent, visiting the village is a chance "to cross into the Arctic Circle (and take a selfie, of course) and visit Father Christmas's House".
Once there, "an elf called Pinecone welcomed us, entrancing my son with a tour through the elves' workshop. Father Christmas was huge and convincing, with a long, curly beard and commanding voice".
The Santa Claus Village is a small theme park with huskies, reindeer rides, shops, cafs, a restaurant carved out of ice and a Snowman World ice chute, says Claire Irvin in The Daily Telegraph. The hotel on the edge of the village is a cluster of chalets that can hardly fail to look "cute in this amount of snow surrounded by forest". It's like Christmas on speed. The 74 cabins at the Santa Claus Holiday Village are toasty. They also come with a terrace, sauna, bathroom, mini-kitchen, Wi-Fi and satellite television. It's all very snug.
Admittedly, traditional Lappish cuisine isn't up to much, with Irvin having to convince her son that he wasn't really eating reindeer meat "I'm sure it's just beef," she assured him. The food in Lapland is certainly "interesting", agrees Amy Packham for the Huffington Post. "I tried air-dried bear, reindeer and goose-liver terrine. Finnish meals last a few hours with multiple courses of small dishes and with food that sounds... odd but tastes pretty good. I embraced it and liked (most of) it".
A star hotel in the Arctic
Even further north in Finland is the (real-life) village of Saariselk, "home to Santa's office'" and, as chance would have it, Europe's longest toboggan run . So sledging is a must, says Packham, "even if you do end up falling out half-way down and rolling down instead". Like the Santa Claus Holiday Village, the Star Arctic Hotel in Saariselk is a cluster of cosy wooden lodges, some with glass roofs so you can lie in bed and watch the "pretty spectacular" Northern Lights in the sky at night. That's important, says Packham, because "time in Lapland is time to treasure the place spreads cheer on everyone who visits and it felt almost impossible not to be excited".