I met the Sunvil representative, Sue John, and 5 other independent travel agents, at Heathrow airport terminal 3 at 5.15am. Our flight with SAS departed at 7.15am and we experienced the standard economy service with seats in a 3-3 plan. The staff on board were attentive, although they could improve their appearance as some looked a bit scruffy as if they hadn’t made an effort! There were no meals served on board but they do serve complimentary tea and coffee during all flights. Our flight to Kiruna was via Stockholm and we had a mad dash from one terminal to another. Legroom was comfortable and the flights were all on time.
On arrival to Kiruna’s tiny airport we were welcomed by snow and cold temperatures. We were met by a taxi and taken straight to our first hotel, Camp Ripan (although Sunvil choose to call it Hotel Ripan in their brochure). It is located just a short distance from Kiruna, which is really just a small mining town (you can see the mine from here) and there is very little in the way of shops, bars and restaurants. The accommodation at first seems basic and is overlooked by blocks of flats, but once inside the cabins you are greeted by warm and modern accommodation. The cabins are ideal for families with space to store winter gear and you have your own front door unlike normal hotels.
To get to the main reception is a few minutes’ walk across a very icy driveway. The reception lobby is basic with comfy seating and a wood burning fire. You can book many excursions and there are also a small shop with clothes and a small shop selling drinks and souvenirs. We were taken on a tour of the accommodation and then watched a video about Sami culture. We then got to try the hotel’s new spa experience which takes you on a journey through different saunas and treatments. It was lovely to sit outside in the hot tub surrounded by snow! This was a great relaxing experience and much needed after the journey from London. Clients would have to pay for this as extra to their accommodation, but it would be better if it was included to encourage more guests to use.
The hotel is well known for its restaurant and the food we had in the evening was exceptional. They serve a la carte style meals using local ingredients and we had a 5-course tasting menu with plenty of good wine to accompany it.
Following breakfast the next day, we checked out and our luggage was taken to the next hotel while we transferred to our dog sledding excursion by the owner. We changed into ski pants and jackets provided by the company, as well as warm boots, hats and gloves. We were taken to the dog sleds and were greeted by lots of yapping husky dogs. Once the owner had harnessed up all the dogs to the three sleds, he took three agents on one sled, then myself and Sue had to drive the other two sleds. I was petrified at first as they dogs went very fast but once out of the enclosure they calmed down and it was good fun, just a few near-misses with trees going round corners! Part way through the excursion we stopped at a small hut where the owner lit a fire and we had tea and biscuits, a great way to warm up.
After we had changed we transferred by mini bus from Kiruna to Bjorkliden Mountain Resort which took just over an hour. On arrival we noticed how much more snow there was and it had a ski resort feel to it with people skiing nearby. We had a buffet lunch and enjoyed the great views of the mountains and frozen lake below, so different to Kiruna. We had a tour of the accommodation of Hotel Fjallet which ranges from hotel rooms to the more expensive chalets. Customers can hire ski equipment and also book Northern Lights excursions to the nearby Aurora Sky Station and other winter sports. The resort is also popular in the summer with camping, fishing and walks.
After this we transferred a short distance down the mountain to Abisko Mountain Station accommodation. This is a very basic looking building but does offer a great location for Northern Lights viewing. Inside, it did feel a bit like a hostel. Some of the main rooms had been recently refurbished but there is also hostel-style rooms with bunk beds which I wouldn’t recommend. Outside the main building there are two-storey self-catering chalets which are ideal for families up to five people. I would only recommend a one night stay here. The communal areas were also lacking style, but there is a small shop selling winter clothing, food and souvenirs.
We transferred back to Kiruna and to our hotel stay at the Arctic Eden Hotel. This hotel is much more central in Kurina with a few basic shops within walking distance. The rooms are situated off long corridors, which had the feel of an office building, but it is functional. There is a lounge area and check in area where you can get free tea and coffee plus a small museum with Sami culture information. My room was compact but nicely decorated with a view of the city. The bathroom was very modern and featured a great shower with lights and music!
Our evening meal was at the hotel’s restaurant which is located in a separate building next to the hotel, which you walk to outside. The food was a la carte style, but the restaurant lacked a bit of atmosphere, probably because it is the end of season. Overall, this hotel is a good place to stay for one night on arrival.
The next day breakfast was taken at the restaurant next door, which offered a good variety. This morning we checked out and transferred to Nutti Sami Siida, a fifteen minute drive from Kiruna and very close to the Ice Hotel. We changed into a snow suit and warm boots, gloves and hats ready for a reindeer excursion. Unfortunately one of our group suffered a serious accident just minutes after we set off so we abandoned the rest of the planned lunch and reindeer trip.
The rest of the group transferred to the Ice Hotel just a few minutes away and we had lunch in one of the restaurants. After a short visit to Reindeer Lodge just down the road we headed back for our tour of the Ice Hotel. We were able to visit a number of the ice rooms and suites, all with different sculptures. It was amazing to finally see this unique hotel which offers warm accommodation in chalet-style rooms or cold accommodation. There is a separate check-in for guests staying in the cold rooms where you get a snow suit for during the day which you exchange for a warm sleeping bag at bed time. There are two restaurants plus the Ice Bar for drinks in the evening and the hotel can book many excursions for guests including snow mobiles, dog sledding and Northern Lights trips.
In the evening we enjoyed a meal and then changed into our snow suits and had a couple of drinks in the Ice Bar. These are very expensive at approx. £10 a drink but it is a great experience not to be missed. There is also a warm lounge area near the dressing room for guests to chill out before going to bed. I stayed in an Ice Room with two of the other agents and we each had our own sleeping bag. The dressing area has lockers to store luggage plus there are showers and toilets and lockers to charge phones. It was all very well organised. I would recommend people stay their first night in a cold room and then spend a couple more nights in warm rooms. The hotel is open to day visitors until 6pm so it can get busy during the day with groups walking around and visiting the gift shop.
After surviving the cold accommodation for one night, we had breakfast and then a few hours at leisure before our transfer to Kiruna airport. Our flight with SAS was on time and we arrived back at Heathrow approx. 5.40pm.