We’re told we are heading to the sorting office to deliver some festive letters. But when Sparkle the elf pushes open the door to the log cabin, surrounded by fir trees and lashings of snow, it’s the man himself who greets us – the real Father Christmas.
From a front-of-a-festive-card perspective, he looks very convincing. So much so, I’m slightly stunned. My six-year-old daughter Amelia grins widely, and rushes to embrace the jolly-looking man who has a really authentic-looking beard and very ruddy cheeks.
In his soft Irish lilt, he asks her what she would like for Christmas. But says no, he can’t accommodate her request for one of every toy in the world – and, instead, she’s given a wrapped-up sticker machine (that we bought ahead of the visit and secretly brought with us).
Carol Driver takes her six-year-old daughter Amelia to Finnish Lapland (above) to meet elves and the real Father Christmas
Amelia hangs out with the elves
Then we’re out into the snow and minus seven degrees, and on to our next activity of the day – kids’ snowmobiles.
My husband and I have brought Amelia to Finnish Lapland for a whistlestop, two-night trip.
With so many operators offering trips to this destination, and with the magical world of Father Christmas available in the UK courtesy of Lapland UK in Ascot, it’s difficult to know which one to pick and whether flying abroad is a bit of an unnecessary expense altogether. But here, you are guaranteed snow, on what is probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
The Santa theme begins at Stansted before we board our charter plane to remote Kuusamo Airport, with Jet2 TV screens at our departure gate displaying ‘Lapland’ as our destination, and staff wearing elf outfits and handing out sweets.
‘This is your captain speaking. This plane will shortly depart for Lapland,’ the announcement comes over the PA system on the aircraft.
Three-and-a-half hours later, we watch from our coach window as the snow falls while we travel along the scenic route to the Arctic Circle Hotel, in Suomu – which lies on the Arctic Circle – home for the next two nights.
It’s a three-star hotel in a jaw-droppingly beautiful location. The three of us are crammed into a smallish room with an extra pull-out bed for Amelia, but we’re not in there for long.
Carol and her family stay at the Arctic Circle Hotel, which she says is in a ‘jaw-droppingly beautiful location’
The onsite restaurant serves sumptuous hearty food (roast dinners, homemade soups, pasta dishes), which the kids and adults alike enjoy. At dinner that night, the elves who are to guide us through our activities the following day with games and singing, introduce themselves and explain how all the kids have to complete six tasks – from learning an elf song to going on a husky sleigh ride – so they can graduate, along with special elf Sparkle, from Elf School. It’s a really fun way of keeping the little ones entertained.
Then it’s time for bed – tomorrow is a very busy day, with an incredibly early start.
With bleary eyes, my husband and I try to ignore the 6.45am alarm (4.45am back home), but our excited daughter has other ideas.
Carol’s trip includes a 10-minute reindeer sleigh ride
Snowmobile rides are included in the Lapland itinerary
Carol describes her Lapland adventure as a ‘trip of a lifetime’. Husky sledging adds to the fun factor
In Suomu snow is guaranteed. Carol describes the landscape there as a ‘winter wonderland’
After breakfast, we travel on a coach that’s filled with families to our first activity just a few minutes away. It’s snowing, but we’re all snug in the snow suits and boots that are provided.
We crunch our way through the beautiful winter wonderland to a log cabin, where the elves are waiting for us, to explain how they need the children to help collect the letters to Santa strewn all over the office, which of course they happily do.
The families are called one by one to a big teepee with a roaring fire inside. The elves guide us through games as we wait to be called for our turn to go to the sorting office – a ruse that results in us meeting Father Christmas.
Amelia’s verdict? ‘The most magical trip ever,’ the six-year-old says
WHAT IT WAS LIKE MEETING THE REAL FATHER CHRISTMAS
By Amelia Driver, age 6
The elves had tricked us because they didn’t want us to know that we were going to meet Father Christmas just then.
I knocked on the door and it opened and Father Christmas was inside. The icicle I was about to eat slipped out of my hand.
Amelia meets Father Christmas
He was big, round and jolly. He wore glasses and a red hat with a little fluffy white snowy type thing around the rim and a fluffy white ball at the top. He had a big white moustache and a white fluffy beard.
He looked at me kindly with a twinkle in his eyes.
Santa Claus gave me a present and it was a sticker maker machine. It was just what I had asked him for.
I know it was the real Father Christmas because the real Father Christmas lives in Lapland. The others that we see are the elves dressed up, they’re his helpers.
You should come here – because it’s so much fun, fun, fun, fun!
It’s a fun way to do it. A surprise for the kids and parents. Then, after that, it’s off for snowmobile rides, first for the little ones (who are towed on mini snowmobiles by an adult on a full-sized machine), then we’re back on the coach heading to another nearby location for a 10-minute reindeer ride. Our group is split into two, and while some are being pulled along by Rudolph and his mates, the other is inside a warm teepee, drinking hot berry juice.
After a short stop back at the hotel for lunch, we’re back on board and heading for a skidoo ride, then it’s an hour for group games and time to play in the snow for 30 minutes. Then it’s another short drive, where the grown-ups can ride the (big) snowmobiles.
There’s a lot of waiting though as adults outnumber the machines. And while there is a fire and the kids are being entertained by Ginger the elf, the cold does start to creep in.
We’re then back on the coach for our last stop – the huskies. The group is split into two again, and one gets to ride in a sledge pulled by the hounds, while the rest of us meet the huskies currently being trained. They’re in cages and not all of them are particularly tourist friendly yet.
It’s all over in a minute or so, and we head back to the coach for the last time. It’s been dark for a few hours and the moon is already out (there are only four hours of daylight here in winter), so it feels a lot later than 5pm.
After a roast dinner, we get changed for the graduation party, which is two hours later, and all of us are close to falling asleep.
Back at the restaurant there’s a joyful graduation event (with lots of dancing elves) for Sparkle and the children, who are presented with a special book to mark becoming fully fledged elves.
Exhausted, we’re all asleep within minutes when we get back to the room. On the last morning before flying home, all the families on the same trip descend on the slopes next to the hotel for an hour or so of tobogganing with the elves too.
After a very early lunch, we’re shuttled to the airport via a souvenir shop, and arrive nearly four hours before our flight. It’s time I would have rather spent enjoying the snow.
On the flight home, Amelia turns to me and asks whether she’ll ever return to Lapland. Maybe, I reply. ‘I hope so,’ she says, ‘it’s been the most magical trip ever’.
So despite it being a whirlwind visit, I’d say it was worth it after all.
Two-night Christmas Sparkle short break to Suomu. Lead-in price for a family of 4 is £4,440. Christmas Sparkle includes flights, transfers, full-board accommodation, in-flight catering, a magical immersive experience at Elf School, 60-minute husky and reindeer experiences which include a sleigh ride through the forest, meeting the animals and their rangers to learn about their history and life, snowmobiles, Magical Post Office, tobogganing, and a private meeting with Santa Claus, Elf Graduation ceremony and celebration party. Departures from Birmingham, Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted Airport. Visit www.canterburytravel.com or call 0800 270015.
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Pictured: The bizarre fig tree that’s growing upside-down in the ruins of an ancient Roman town