VISIT Santa while up in Lapland? Not me, it was nowhere near Christmas.
Spanning northern Sweden, Finland and Norway, the region is covered in snow and ice for winter.
But autumn is another story. When I landed in Lulea, Sweden, it was sunny with blue skies.
My early-start journey was so swift — just two hours to Stockholm, then another short flight north and I was checked into my cosy cabin at Brandon Lodge in time for lunch.
By mid-afternoon, I was on a boat to one of the 3,300 tiny islands in the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland. A jumper and a decent coat was plenty of insulation.
Our guide Andreas, who spoke perfect English like every Swede we met, stoked a fire and showed us how to make pinnbrod — dough wrapped round a birch branch and cooked over an open flame.My cabin looked on to a beach featuring a volleyball net and chairs. I could see why the area is so popular with Scandinavian tourists . . . and why they might want to keep it to themselves.
Visit Lapland is letting Brits in on the secret, pulling together activities and accommodation you can book in one place, in English, without hassle.
We signed up for a guided cycle trip to a nearby harbour. You can even take huskies along for the ride. Head out fishing or try a yoga class on the sand. Designing a trip is easy.
On my first evening, I had a chance to see the Northern Lights, a real “bucket list” experience.
These dazzling colours are glimpsed now and then in skies across northern Europe and Canada. But they are a near-everyday sight in Lapland in autumn and winter. Our trip over the September equinox is reportedly the best time of year to see them, so my hopes were high.
In a wooden hut at the waters’ edge, warmed by a log fire after feasting on smoked reindeer, we caught our first glimpse of the spectacular colours in the sky.
Nothing can prepare you for the magic of that first moment.
Green towers danced on the horizon before forming a mighty arc over our heads.
When they finally burned out, around midnight, I was reluctant to head to bed.
The next morning, we headed to the village of Harads for a night of luxury at Treehotel.
Its spectacular rooms, suspended from trees in a small forest, featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces and Kate Moss has been a guest.
Waking up in a treehouse ten metres from the ground was a wonderful experience.
Further north, we entered the Arctic Circle and tried a sauna experience at Camp Ripan, Kiruna before hopping back in the car and heading for Abisko.
The lakeside road offered easy driving compared to being at home. But, more importantly, it served up stunning views that made me want to stop the car at every one of the many viewpoints.
Each corner we turned delivered an even more impressive view of Lake Tornetrask. It freezes over from December to March but when I visited it was a sparkling clear blue framed with trees and snow-topped mountains.
From the balcony of our wooden chalet at the Bjorkliden resort, we saw moose and reindeer, and had views of the unmistakable Lapporten Gate — a U-shaped valley on the edge of a national park that could easily be mistaken for a scene in North America’s Great Lakes.
That evening, Oliver Wright, a Yorkshireman and specialist snapper with Lights Over Lapland, took us out for a photography workshop.
The area around Abisko is ideal for seeing the Northern Lights, with low rainfall that means more frequent clear skies.
So Oliver helped us set up high-end DSLR cameras on tripods and made sure were comfortable with all the kit before heading out to a small clearing in the woods.
When the lights appeared, we were ready to snap away.
There was no better way to spend my last evening in Lapland than capturing those stunning lights in photos I will treasure for ever.
GETTING THERE: Fly to Lulea or Kiruna via Stockholm from London, from £96pp one way with SAS. See flysas.com.
STAYING THERE: One night’s B&B at Brandon Lodge is from £52pp based on four people sharing. A night’s B&B at Bjorkliden Hotell Fjallet is from £56pp based on two sharing.
MORE INFO: See visitlapland.com.