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Camping with the Sámi in Swedish Lapland

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Read on to hear tales of my stay in Sápmi Nature Camp – an immersive and experiential stay high in the Arctic Circle, perfect for those looking for an unforgettable night under the Northern Lights. Hosted by Lennart, a descendant of the local Sámi people who have called this area home for generations, it offers a no-holding-back opportunity to learn about their culture and how to exist and survive in such extreme environments. 

About the Author

About the Author

I love the diversity of Europe. The continent offers a wealth of cultures, languages, landscapes and adventures waiting on our doorsteps. Wine taste in the vineyards of Tuscany for lunch and be in Lapland in time for a Northern Lights display over supper.

EUROPE SPECIALIST

Molly

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Through history, humans have fought tooth and nail against the seasons; the rain with umbrellas, the cold with radiators and the sun with air conditioning. But there are corners of the world more elemental than others – where the weather dictates a day and in theory renders a space uninhabitable. Learning to cope in these certain destinations across the globe might mean you need more than just a few gadgets to battle the elements. You will need local intel.

Far in the north of Norway, Sweden and Finland, across the line that dictates the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set at all between May and July, whereas in winter it struggles to rise. The cold sets in from December, with it a thick layer of snow and tumbling temperatures that test the most resilient of thermometers. Minus 30 degrees is common, as are snowstorms and views of the Northern Lights. A large portion of the area is known more widely as Lapland.

The Sámi have called Lapland their home for more generations than you can count on all your fingers and all your toes. They migrate throughout the seasons, hunting for food in the summer to sustain them through harsh winters and relying heavily on reindeer for their warm hides and meat to survive. Their existence in such an extreme environment is extraordinary. Sápmi Nature Camp offers the opportunity to learn more about the Sámi cultures and traditions with an overnight in situ, amidst the elements in the heart of Lapland.

Sápmi Nature & Lennart Pittja

There are no creature comforts at Sápmi Nature. Here you will sleep in one of five tepee-like canvas lavvus, warmed with wood-burning stoves which you are in charge of keeping lit. There is no mains water or electricity, and here you sauna rather than shower. Located high above the Arctic Circle and far from civilisation, Sápmi Nature is as immersive as experiences come.

Lennart, your host, will welcome you with the widest of smiles to his home – the wilderness of Lapland. He knows the area around him better than anyone. He knows not just where he is most likely to forage for cloudberry (a super fruit) but also where to stand to call for moose, and critically, the best spot on the frozen river to admire the Northern Lights from. He is well equipped for the environment, with thick woollen gloves and reindeer wool jackets. Bright laces run through his boots, as you’ll find Sámi use bright colours in their dress almost as an antidote to the severely white and black landscape.

In his own words, “Many call this a wilderness. But this is Sápmi – the land of the Sámi. We’ve lived here for thousands of year and this is anything but a wilderness. This is actually my own backyard.”

Non-Motorised Experiences

For many, Lapland experiences mean fast-paced snowmobiling through the snow. Admittedly, these are a fun means to explore. But at Sápmi Nature, the pace of life is much slower, and the experience is all about using the natural tools we have to make the most of the environment. Criss-cross frozen lakes and zig-zag through frozen forests by snowshoe or cross country ski. With such an expanse of wilderness to explore, with Lennart as your guide you are in knowledgable hands. Following his lead, you will learn about what it means to survive and thrive in this environment but also the challenges the Sámi face in a world that is developing fast around them. Depending on the season, you might stop for a spot of ice fishing, drilling a hole into the ice and fishing for your supper. The silence of your surroundings stands to show just how far away from it all you are. It is as humbling as it is overwhelming and rewarding.

Foraged Food

To survive in such a harsh and inhospitable environment, you must be savvy about planning ahead for your supper. In fact, the summer harvest of fish, meat and berries for the Sámi often feeds them throughout the harsher months of winter. Over time they have mastered making the most of the snow and ice to create electricity-free fridge freezers to preserve things, producing lingonberry jams and smoking Arctic Char to last them for the cold months ahead. The end result on your plate is a foraged and locally sourced feast of reindeer meatballs or smoked Arctic Char with berry sauces and local vegetables. You can guarantee that everything fed to you has been sourced within five miles of where you sit.

Full from your feast, you will then served some sweet treats over a coffee and some squeaky cheese At first glance, you’d be forgiven being unsure due to its unappealing appearance, but Lennart explains you’ll need to plunge it in your tea before eating it. It feels like a bad joke you are the butt of but really, it is rather delicious – I ended up eating an entire block.

Technology Free Life

Even if you wanted to cheat this one, the lack of signal will make it rather difficult. The only bit of tech you might be able to make the most of is that of your camera – if it can stand the cold. With no television, darkness from 3pm and facility-free rooms, you are forced to continue to make the most of the outdoors, listen to Lennart’s captivating stories and learn more about the extraordinary part of the world you are in. It is liberating and rewarding and really helps capture what this place is all about.

Silence & Northern Lights

The final surprise, if the night allows, is the Northern Lights. Far from light pollution and any other distractions on the surface of a frozen river, wait safely on a platform of ice thicker than you are tall. The silence is overwhelming, save for all the whooping you’ll be doing when the blues, greens and pinks light up the night’s sky. As magical as the Northern Lights themselves are the stars around them – Orion’s Belt, shooting stars, and from time to time the glow of Venus and Mars all those millions of miles away. In my opinion, it is one of the most magical places in the world to view them.

Head to Sweden for a winter escape, with a 7-day trip including a night in Sápmi Nature Camp, from £4,400 per person with this Ultimate Adventure in Swedish Lapland.

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