Winter escapes are nothing new, but they have come to possess a newfound thrill about them, and where better to delve into all that the many European winter wonderlands have to offer than Finnish Lapland – and the first of the Lappalainen family’s collection of arctic hotels, the Wilderness Hotel Nellim?
In the Narnian-like wilderness of Inari, Finland, 42 kilometres/26 miles northeast of Ivalo, is the village of Nellim, with a population of only 165. It is the epitome of what you think Finnish Lapland to be.
Amongst pristine white snow and contrasting evergreen trees, cabins and houses with chimneys dispelling smoke are dotted along the few streets, with snowmobiles parked outside instead of cars, and the peaceful silence and beauty of a place unaffected by noise and light pollution.
Close to the shores of the eponymous lake, rests Wilderness Hotel Nellim, the original of four hotels owned and run by the Lappalainen family. Labelled as the perfect combination of traditional Lappish style and Northern luxury, the hotel boasts a warm and cosy atmosphere, approachable staff and activities for the adventurous. And we can safely say they deliver on this. Their motto of ‘A little adventure. A promise to experience something big.’ is achieved in a casual yet charming way. Friendly and knowledgeable staff lead activities from husky safaris (our personal favourite), ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and snowmobiling, with laughter and expertise, making for more than enjoyable, and certainly memorable, experiences.
Cleverly designed, the hotel’s layout is reminiscent of a village, with snowy sweeping pathways leading from the main building to the various accommodations and towards the quaint Lake Maajärvi, giving a homely feel and seamlessly blending with the architecture of Nellim. The main building of the hotel includes a lounge area, restaurant, bar and sauna, which have been hand crafted by the owners, Jouko and Mari, while the neighbouring building houses the equipment area and a sweet souvenir shop filled with an array of options, from apparel and soft toys to art and reindeer furs. The accommodation is spread across the lakeside, giving that close to nature feel and a sense of space and openness so many are looking for.
Right on time
While you’re Out There
The hotel also has Aurora Bubbles and Kotas for those wanting an uninterrupted view of the night sky and the Northern Lights – for those who really want to up the romance stakes… but these are without private showers, meaning a trip to the service building is needed.
Our Aurora Cabin, described as a hint of luxury, was just that. Classically simple with a small wet room, a two-seater sofa (which becomes a second bed if needed) and a double bed carefully placed under the windowed roof, the cabin’s luxury comes from the chance to sleep under one of the world’s most stunning and chased phenomena, the Northern Lights. Panelled wood and heated floors are accompanied by reindeer furs and similarly inspired pillows, and while our cabin didn’t include the large mirror and kettle pictured, it offered everything we needed for this kind of all-inclusive adventure retreat.
In the winter months, dining is served buffet style, with an abundance of options for each time of day, lunch and dinner are surprisingly wonderful, although light on the vegetarian and vegan options, and vegetables in general. Service was not perfect, and quite abrupt at times, with plates being cleared occasionally before your knife and fork had been placed on the plate, but it was always with a smile, something not to be overlooked. Mistakes are only natural, and more often than not expected at any hotel, but any mistakes made added to the charm; the staff were real, offering human connection, instead of the robots habitually running destinations such as these.
Wilderness Hotel Nellim has a charm about it: there’s a certain magic that explains its popularity; and that of its sister properties. With an intimate feel created by the family-run team contrasted against the stark wilderness that surrounds it, the hotel, although not unique, is one for the guidebooks. It knows what it is and doesn’t shy away from that or try to be more. It is a rustic haven offering once in a lifetime experiences with a relaxed approach; a true winter retreat laced with adventure and simple beauty.