Arriving in snowy Kiruna I was so excited. There was a buzz on the flight., Most people were traveling for important birthdays and other such events, and I was so surprised to be on a flight where everyone wanted to chat. My first stop was a dash to see if the astronaut pig was still there but woe, he was gone. Maybe he is in space now?
The crunch of snow underfoot followed by whispery snow was thrilling. I bounced out to the waiting bus and immediately joined a tour of the ICEHOTEL. I was dying to see it. And then I thought, it is cold isn’t it? Of course it is cold, but until you are standing there, standing on the ice, surrounded by ice, sitting on ice, does it actually hit home.
I was hungry so I made my next stop dinner. Right after I collected my all in one snow suit, huge snow boots, leather mittens that made me look like a seal or the joker, and a balaclava. I was set.
I trekked to The Homestead. Just down the road. So I followed directions, crunching through snow as I went. But where was it? After 10 minutes I spied a couple also in snowsuits and asked them. Just down there, they said. Look out for the candles. And have the burger, it is great! So, renewed I trotted on.
Around a corner I spotted an outdoor Christmas tree and some candles. Was this it? It was. Toasty and warm and very inviting, I ventured in from the snow and -10 deg outside,
I removed my snow suit and sat for dinner. I started with lovely fresh and bright lingonberry cocktail (with pear and vanilla).The chef freezes 300kg of lingonberries, cloudberries, blueberries and raspberries when in season to get them through the winter. For starter I had blueberry cured salmon, whichwas delicious and now, as I travel home to Ireland in the ferry, I have blueberries in my bag as I want to give that a go
Main course was the burger, the goepi burger. What is goepi? Smoked minced reindeer I was told, The burger was served rare, was that ok with me? Yes please. It was one of the most delicious things that I had on the trip, perfect burger, rare and moist with great texture. The bun was fluffy with a crisp exterior. It was huge but I managed it. I felt very full.
Next stop dessert, and I had to try the ice option. As well as carving the hotel, essentially out of the river, the ICEHOTEL also makes (1 million) glasses and plates too. Vanilla ice cream and cloudberries was served on top. How to describe cloudberries? Native to the arctic region they are an orange berry, slightly sour and almost savoury in flavour, delicately intense. I love them.
When in Lapland jump on a snowmobile. I didn’t think I would enjoy it but I loved it. I was a bit of a speed demon wanting to go faster, faster, and faster again. On my first trip, we snowmobiled for two hours or so from 11.30am to a cabin in the woods where we had a wilderness lunch. The lunch was typical of Lapland, Sami Souvas, smoked salted reindeer fried in butter and served in bread. Utterly delicious and part of the Slow Food Arc of Taste. They opened the last Terre Madre in Turin with it.
The next night I went on the Northern Lights snowmobile expedition. This is the best year for 50 years to see them, assuming there is little cloud. Unfortunately there was a lot of cloud, but we did have an amazing snowmobile ride through the forest in the dark to the same cabins, where we chowed down on moose goulash. No booze as we were all driving. Which was nice for a change.
My last meal was at the ICEHOTEL restaurant itself and I kept it light, although I do regret not having the ICE tasting menu where all dishes are served on ice or with ice. My starter was wonderful bleak roe (I visited a producer when I last visited Lapland 2 years ago and even popped some fish to make some myself), white fish roe and crème fraiche with blinis.
For main course I had a more hearty moose dish, a fillet which had been cooked for 50 minutes at 80 degrees C so that it was melt in the mouth tender. Served with spiced lingonberries and spatzle, this was a filling dish. So much so that there was no room for dessert, which is a shame as I do love those arctic berries.
I travelled to the ICEHOTEL with Discover the World who operate direct charter flights from Heathrow to Kiruna, with packages for 3 nights starting from £1,093pp or via Stockholm from £870pp.