When summer finally arrives in Finnish Lapland, the endless forests and mirror-like lakes take on a new lease of life. Experience the heart of the Arctic Circle with Lonely Planet Traveller’s guide.

Finnish lakelands, the perfect conditions for cloudberries to flourish. Photo by Mark Read

1. Catch cloudberry fever

Virtually unknown outside of northern Europe, in Lapland the cloudberry is treated with a reverence normally only afforded to highly coveted delicacies like truffles. These tiny, orange-gold bubbles, growing one to a plant, begin to emerge in July and remain ripe for only three weeks. The start of cloudberry season is thus the signal for the Finns to put everyday chores on hold and get picking as if their lives depended on it. The collecting, selling and eating of cloudberries – usually either mashed into jam or served fresh with slabs of halloumi-like leipäjuusto cheese – is a summer obsession.

Ranua, situated on the very southern edge of Lapland, wins no prizes for beauty but is the place to be on the weekend of the cheerfully eccentric cloudberry festival. Stay at the comfortable Hotelli Ilveslinna (hotelliilveslinna.fi) and visit the excellent Ranua Zoo to get up close to Arctic wildlife.

Only the finest cloudberries make the grade - too white means too ripe. Photo by Mark Read

2. Learn about Sami culture

Lapland is Sami country, so it’s not that unusual to see these indigenous Arctic people in traditional dress at the supermarket. The best place to learn about Sami culture is at Rovaniemi’s Arktikum museum and science centre, which has excellent displays of clothing, boats and cultural artefacts, plus an interactive section on Arctic wildlife.

Summer at a lake lodge is perfect for berry picking, fishing and relaxation. Photo by Mark Read

3. Get back to nature

The Hetta-Pallas Trail is the prettiest and easiest long-distance hike through Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. Starting off in Hetta, the 30-mile trek should take around four days, and the route is dotted with wilderness cabins, some with saunas. Contact the Pallastunturi Nature Centre for further details (nationalparks.fi).

For a traditional experience, stay at Hetan Majatalo, which has been run by the same family for four generations. These days, the hotel takes the form of newly built wooden chalets near the village of Hetta. It’s a great spot to use as a base for exploring the wilderness of the northern region of Enontekiö, given its proximity to numerous hiking trails (hetan-majatalo.fi).

Or to really spend the summer like a Finn, rent out a wilderness cottage, preferably one on the edge of a lake for those post-sauna dips. Lomarengas has a good selection of self-catering cottages – many come with their own rowing boat for you to fish for your own supper (lomarengas.fi).

4. Hit Lapland’s nightlife

It’s only fitting that the streets of Rovaniemi, Lapland’s capital, appear to be shaped like reindeer antlers when viewed by plane from above. This is where to find the best nightlife and restaurants in the area, including Nili, which serves a fish- and berry-rich take on modern Lappish cuisine (nili.fi).

Market traders cook local fish and vegetables. Photo by Mark Read

5. See a sacred island

Inari, a tiny village in northeastern Lapland, is the heart of Sami life in Finland, hosting the parliament, a museum and a cultural centre. From its position on the edge of Lapland’s largest lake, Inari, it’s a short boat ride to Ukko Island, which is sacred to the Sami. Climb to the top or explore its cave formations (saariselka.fi).

This is a short excerpt from a longer article by Matt Bolton, first published in Lonely Planet Traveller.

Matt Bolton is the former senior staff writer of Lonely Planet Traveller and is now a regular contributor. His trip to Lapland was his first experience of a traditional Finnish sauna.

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