Last year, Sarah was the lucky winner of our Swedish Lapland competition. Having returned from her holiday, she's jotted down her experience... read on!
Arrival at Lulea Airport via a seamless transfer from Stockholm (thank you SAS). We were greeted by the super-friendly and excitable(!) Tomas, who regaled us with interesting Lulea facts (population: around 72,000; is part of the longest stretch of road in Europe and, as we later found out, is home to some extremely tasty reindeer, salmon and char).
A mixture of rooms in a block and purpose-built cabins, with a main building that housed the restaurant and reception waiting area, Sorbyn Lodge is warm and inviting. The team were so hospitable, immediately asking us if we were hungry, before serving up courtesy of the lovely Nina some delicious meatballs with lingonberry sauce.
A stunning dinner (arctic char with caramelised red onion jam; followed by chocolate fondant) set us up for the evening’s activity: a snowmobile safari attempting to chase the Northern Lights. We were advised that Love, our snowmobile safari guide, thought it would be ‘more fun’ if we took the snowmobiles out ourselves for the evening ahead. Given that the thought of hurtling through the woods excited Alan no end, we immediately said yes, without a second thought to the fact that we would have to forego the wine with dinner (it’s prohibited by law to drive a snowmobile after even the slightest alcohol). But then we were promised a bottle in our room for when we came back!
Love is an excellent guide – and enthusiastic. We were treated to a thorough tutorial on how to operate a snowmobile (moving your body weight essential) and were given a light 2-stroke. He clearly loves his machines (there was a fleet) and he brought a friend who was the fourth in our three-machine formation. The drive through the wooded terrain at night was simply stunning (as a passenger I got the full treat) – like being in Narnia– trees topped with sparkling snow and stars clear in the sky.
On the stop, I was in charge of lighting the fire – though I had the help of Love and his firesteel so was quite successful. We sat chatting over twigs found in the woods which were balancing sausages over our ‘cooker’ – considering the cold it was very relaxing. Afterwards we were off on the snowmobiles again, but after a while asked to stop – and we could see it. It was weak, but it was a view of the Northern Lights moving across the sky. The silence was incredibly peaceful as we stared at the blur.
The final leg took us back to Love’s garage – where he proudly talked of the mechanics of snowmobiles (it’s clear these guys know their stuff) before kindly dropping us back to our room at Sorbyn where our wine was waiting. An amazing first night.
After a relaxing breakfast, we braved the -21 degree temperature to drive with Ingle to meet our chauffeurs for the day. I was excited about the whole trip, but this was what I was really waiting for.
There is nothing like being jumped on by ten genuinely adorable pure-bred Siberian huskies (in a two-by-two formation of course) to put a smile on your face. The breeder/musher, Richard, has 24 in his pack, which we were told is small (50 to 100 is normal). Our team of 10 for the morning ahead were selected as they are a regular team (he tends not to swap them around too much). After a lot of cuddling, licking, and introductions (the dogs, not Richard), we were kindly asked to take our seats in the sled and with a ‘Yip’ we were hurtling through the snow.
The weather was clear and the huskies raring to go... it was great fun!
The day was beautiful – cold but clear and full of sunshine. Richard took us through the woods and then uphill (overall result, about 200m). Again, the snow was glistening, but really all I was staring at was the 10 sets of legs pounding along the track in front of me – apparently these guys burn up to 15,000 calories a day doing this! Their focus was amazing; they almost instinctively knew where to head, but at considerable speed.
Richard could not be more loving towards his dogs. And it shows. They genuinely adored racing and trotting along the track and the occasional stops before lunch – to take in the scenery, some quick conversations – seemed to actually frustrate the dogs. The back two just wanted to start up again at every point, particularly Comet who even tried towing the sled on his own!
The stop for lunch meant some frozen meat snacks for the dogs, while Richard took us to an outdoor shelter and, while preparing a small campfire, served us lingonberry juice. Lunch was reindeer and sweet potato soup, with a snack of finely chopped garlic, onion and mushrooms served on crispbreads. It was delicious – but then he is a professional chef as well. We chatted through education, his life in Sweden and his love of nature – for us city guys it was a real insight. It was also really interesting to hear how he trained the huskies; how he grouped them in their teams, and who he was planning to match-make with who in the future.
Before we started back, we were allowed to cuddle the huskies a bit more (I was asked to stop so we could leave). Then, the real treat – almost back at Richard’s house we were given a chance each to ‘drive’ the sled – starting the huskies with a ‘Yip’ (not ‘Mush’) to which they instantly responded. Seeing the run from the vantage point of standing rather than almost sitting on the sled was incredible, it doesn’t get more breath-taking.
Once back at the house, I got to help feed the huskies their protein ‘soup’ (meat in liquid – apparently they are not the best liquid drinkers and this is important). Bowls of food delivered in two-by-two formation, which they were clearly grateful for, before leading them back to their kennels for the afternoon. I couldn’t have been happier with the day.
A quick goodbye at Sorbyn was heartfelt with hugs everywhere – just lovely people. They were also so helpful when we stupidly left our camera in one of the snowsuits – it was tracked down and dropped to us when we were already in the car with a truly patient Tomas. Driving to Brandon Lodge via Pine Bay (where we were to stay for the remainder of our trip), he was thrilled to tell us that we would be driving by snowmobile back to our residence – in the fog. Patrick, our snowmobile guide for this short half hour trip was also so friendly, and at least gave us a chance to catch up in the dark (at 3.30pm!) and mist. On arrival at Pine Bay, Helene and Goran were just lovely – tea, coffee, and fresh cake and biscuits were waiting for all the guests, and the lounge area was like a living room. We met our fellow residents – an Australian couple, a Singaporean trio and some Mancunians – and conversation quickly started – and continued through another wonderful dinner (seafood salad, fillet steak with vegetables and a mint brownie).
After dinner, we were offered a sauna! The sauna was a private lodge set a few metres away from the residence, with a view out to the lake, which was serene. We had the option to add more or less water to ‘steam’ as we pleased, and as a way to relax and unwind, it was a perfect way to end the day in the bracing cold (but no kidding, it was worth it). We felt very much at home at Pine Bay, and enjoyed our lovely room with its chic décor and plush duvet as we finally settled for the night, still thinking of our new friends (both human and husky...!)
Breakfast at 8.30 (great variety of continental and yoghurt/cereals) before getting ready for Alan’s favourite moment: the 5-hour snowmobile tour. We were 2 of a tour of 8 people (the Mancunians from our lodge, and four others from Brandon – a friendly group). Our guides, Roger and Andreas were very happy-go-lucky – and clearly adored being on those snowmobiles. Leaving from our lodge to meet with the others at Brandon Lodge, the fun started early with a small “misjudgement” by our companions requiring a quick trip back to our lodge to pick up a replacement snowmobile (no grudges held!). Having made it to Brandon slightly late, we met the rest of our group. As the day was considerably warmer than the previous one there was far more water sitting at the edge of the bay than normal, as a result we had the entertaining sight of our guide from the previous day managing to sink his mobile into the sea as we watched.
After much laughter (and a quick tow from our guides for the day) we left him drying his snowmobile out while we set off.
Having driven for 40 minutes or so we approached one of the islands in the bay. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of water skirting the bay made it impossible for us to safely cross onto the island (or a couple of others our guides tried to take us to). No matter, after some more fun crossing the frozen sea we stopped for lunch and ice fishing. While Roger set up a large barbecue and started prepping a great meal, Andreas showed us how to survive in the wild by cutting a hole in the ice and fishing for our food. Fortunately, we weren’t reliant on fishing skills to feed us as an hour of fishing by 8 people delivered one small fish.
We suspected our guides had little confidence in our abilities with a rod as they had rustled up a delicious meal of smoked reindeer and potato stew to warm us up again. Having polished this off in no time we prepared to set off, leaving our one paltry fish for the sea eagles who were standing patiently watching us from 100m away.
As we hadn’t been able to get onto the islands we headed back inland and into the woods where the fun for the drivers really began. We followed a winding route leading up and downhill flinging ourselves left and right to help as we went round corners attempting to keep up with Roger up front. Although the speeds were obviously far lower than those out on the open ice (where we were going at 50mph) in close presence of the trees to the trail we followed was far more fun.
Having eventually burst out of the trees near our lodge we headed home and waved goodbye to our new friends from Brandon as we headed in for some hot coffee (and a beer). After some relaxation, a dinner (where we were allowed to rearrange the place settings for a communal group event) of creamy, warming artichoke soup, followed by perfectly cooked salmon and a white chocolate panacotta was once again, delicious, with some wine and story-swapping of our days.
But waiting in the wings was Tommy, our guide for our final adventure of the trip. A night-time snowshoe hike into the forest – with the hope of some Northern Light sighting, though the cloud made this unlikely. This did not spoil the evening ahead however. After a drive to Brandon to pick up our snowshoes, which were surprisingly easy to fix to our feet, we climbed uphill through the forest in once again serene surroundings. Once hitting a perfect spot, Tommy built us a fire, and proceeded to ply us with hot chocolate and homebaked Swedish cake.
Tommy, as it turns out is a celebrity both in Swedish Lapland, and London. A renowned hunter (his dog was the winner of a bravery medal however) and featured in reality TV show Hunted (as one of the chasers). He is also passionate about his craft, and we were fascinated to hear his take on ‘living off the land’ and providing for oneself, around the campfire in the silence of the forest and its snow-topped trees. No Northern Lights were seen, but on the way back, we did spot some tracks (rabbit), and the climb down was easier of course – but after feeling weary from the day, the evening hike gave us our energy back! The drive back found us lucky – to see moose, gracefully ambling across the road – our first sighting. We then saw more as we continued the pleasant drive back to Pine Bay, where we said goodbye to Tommy, thanking him for another memorable experience within nature.
After another slow, relaxing breakfast, Tomas arrived to take us back to the airport (regretfully). His usual chirpy self, he was very keen to ask us all about our time here, what we loved, what we didn’t (we were silent at that point). The scenery was still so awe-inspiring, though looking out the window was a tinge of sadness as we drove to the airport. There, Tomas noted that ‘all things must come to an end’. Such a shame. But to say this trip gave us unforgettable memories, unrivalled experiences, unimaginably beautiful settings and unshakeable bonds (though we doubt the huskies feel quite the same about the last point…) is an understatement. If you ever get the chance to go on an adventure like this, grab it – it’s not something to miss.
We're delighted Sarah and her partner had a great time in Sweden. If you'd like to experience a similar adventure holiday, just get in touch!