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Finland has absolutely nothing in common with the Middle East, which makes it an obvious choice for a week away. Debonair swaps Hessa Street for Helsinki and Lewa for Levi to bring you 10 reasons why you should pay this unique part of the world a visit
1. Getting there
Finland may well be one of the world’s northernmost countries, but it’s only a six-hour flight with FlyDubai. We flew to Helsinki on the low-cost airline’s Boeing 737 MAX 8. However, with the grounding of the MAX, FlyDubai has returned to using its 737-800 models. They may not have the MAX’s high-definition screens in the economy seats, or the fully reclinable seats in business class, but you still get the same friendly service and the bonus of flying out of the much quieter Terminal 3. Cost-wise, you’re looking at around Dh1,500 for an economy ticket, with business coming in at the Dh8,000 mark.
Where do you go on holiday when you live in a country that is a major holiday destination? You certainly won’t be going anywhere hotter, so why not go to the extreme and head to Finland for some sub-zero temperatures and a whole load of snow. There’s no better feeling than walking in a snow shower, feeling the crunch under every foostep. Oh and building snowmen and having a snowball fight is positively encouraged, no matter your age.
With its location 170km north of the Arctic Circle, the Levi ski resort is all but guaranteed a fresh covering of crisp white snow. Set on the 1,742ft Levi Mountain, the popular destination also happens to be the biggest ski resort in Finland. The mountain itself is vast, covering countless runs, so you have the option of amateur, to world class. Again, we recommend you hire all your kit while you’re there: fret not; it’s all top-notch equipment. You can even hire fat bikes and snow boards. For complete beginners — such as the Debonair team – expert tuition is on hand. Here, on the kiddies’ slope, we went from desert dwellers to downhill masters in less than an hour. If you’ve never been skiing before, we recommend giving it a go.
If there is ever a dog that makes you go “awwwww” then it’s the husky. Man, woman, or child, the thought of spending a morning at a husky park is irresistible, especially as it ends in a two-hour safari through the Finnish woods. Being surrounded by healthy, excited huskies is a real happy-trigger, as it is for the dogs themselves, as they get completely spoiled by visitors.
Being in a pen with 10 young pups, all wanting to play was one of the highlights of the trip, as was the guided sled-ride through the snow-covered forests. They’re in their element here, bounding over the fresh snow, just like you see on the Discovery Channel. At the end of the snow safari, everyone heads to the mushers hut for a hot berry drink served in a traditional Finnish kuksa cup. Sitting around the central log fire stove, the thought of going back to reality is a tough one: just let me have one more play with the doggies.
For anyone outside of Finland, reindeer are seen as elusive beasts, inhabiting remote forests, only spotted by the hardiest adventurer. In reality, reindeer are absolutely everywhere; so much so, locals class them as a vegetable. Reindeer are handsome/beautiful creatures and despite their large antlers, they’re a bit daft, which makes them even more fascinating. During our reindeer safari, the reindeer pulling our sled had a fascination with the bobble hat of one of the passengers in the sled ahead of us. Much hilarity ensued, as our curios mount tried his best to nibble the aforementioned headgear.
6. Northern Lights
Lapland is an ideal location to watch the bright, dancing lights of the Aurora borealis. Viewable only from the high-latitude regions, the Northern Lights are produced by solar winds ionizing in the atmosphere, which create a vivid green light show high in the Earth’s sky. With basically zero light pollution outside of towns, the Aurora borealis can be viewed from September to March, with locals recommending September, as the nights are clear and due to the lack of snow, the Lights are reflected in the Finnish lakes, of which there are 188,000. The Lights can only be seen on clear nights and we recommend booking a Levi Igloo, so you can lie back in bed and watch the light show through the clear glass roof.
7. Hotels & food
One thing we do not get here in the Middle East is fresh food; something Finland has in abundance. Everything grows and lives a short trip from a dinner plate here. Fish, steak, vegetables, reindeer, it’s all fresh, healthy and super tasty. Helsinki’s restaurants are world-class, and they have to be, as due to the cold weather and polar nights, Finns tend to eat (and drink) a lot. We stayed at the famous Hotel Kämp in the centre of Helsinki, which proved to be the ideal location for exploring the city’s busy nightlife. Booking tables is a must in the city’s restaurants, or you can simply stay within the warmth of the hotel. Kämp is the most luxurious hotel in the capital and has been the number one choice for visiting celebrities, politicians and royalty since it first opened back in 1887.
It’s fair to say, wellbeing, and saunas in particular, are part and parcel of Finnish culture. There are an estimated three million saunas in the country, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that there’s only five million inhabitants. Fins relax in the humid huts with family; invite friends over for chats and it is well known that a lot of Finnish business gets done in the heat; the hotter the host can go, the more likely they are of sealing the deal.
9. Dress Code
Unlike most exclusive resorts, dressing to impress is not required in places such as Levi in Lapland. Despite a number of former F1 drivers calling it home, you wont see any tuxedos around town, just warm, sensible clothing that you can remove to reveal a wooly jumper and jeans. Also, there’s no need to take any chunky skiwear with you as you can hire some top-quality gear from a number of rental outlets in the town. Save your suitcase space for essential thermals, T-shirts and woolly hats.
10. Rally driving
Thanks to its slippery conditions, Finland has produced more than its fair share of world-class rally drivers and you can have a go at being the next Tommi Mäkinen too, at Levi’s Lapland Driving. Here, piloting a mixture of Can-Am buggies and the rally school’s BMW 130i, professional driver Jani Ylipahkala will put you through your paces after first showing you what the rear wheel drive, 230bhp BMW can do on the twisty, specially built snow course. Jani (AKA Stunt Yani) is a real character, with some great stories to tell once you’ve burned some frozen rubber.
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