The perfect trip: Lapland
Inari: Best for Sami culture
No-one knows Lapland like its original inhabitants, the Sami people. They have probably lived as far north as you can go in Finland for the last 11,000 years, roaming with their reindeer across the icy plains. The quiet town of Inari serves as the capital for Finland’s Sami, home to Sajos, the Sami parliament building – a woodclad building that was designed to look like a reindeer skin hung out to dry from above – and Siida, the Sami museum. The story of the Sami is not best reflected in towns, however, but instead on the wild plains of their ancestors, where many still hold on fiercely to their traditions.
Few have retained their link to the past like the Paltto family. Reindeer herders for longer than they can remember, they live in the tiny hamlet of Lemmenjoki, west of Inari. Reindeer surround the family home, ranging through the forest and burrowing into the snow for lichen. They do so under the watchful eye of Nils-Heikki, a 24-yearold master of the yoik, the sung story or oral history that is a pillar of traditional Sami culture. Inside the house, his mother Kaija conjures up handicrafts bearing motifs gleaned from the ceremonial drums once used by Sami shaman to communicate with the spirit world.
But it is his father Heikki, the patriarch of the family and the vice-president of the Sami parliament, who anchors them in their Sami past. ‘I’ve been herding reindeer since I was fourteen,’ he says. ‘And I have taught these skills to my sons.’
He eases his snowmobile out onto the trail. In its wake, our simple plywood sled strewn with reindeer skins bounces agreeably through the forest. With his Swarovski binoculars, Heikki scans the horizon for strays.
‘What makes us strong is the reindeer,’ he says. ‘Our clothes, our food, our tradition of being on the land – everything in our culture comes from the reindeer. If there were no reindeer, there would be no Sami. That’s why we have survived, because we never stopped herding.’
Deep in the national park, Heikki takes a rest in a brick-built lavvu, a replica of the traditional Sami tent. He absent-mindedly carves out a spatula from a piece of discarded timber, then cooks reindeer stew and sausages over a blazing fire. Outside it’s blowing a gale and freezing cold but in here, gathered around the Sami hearth, the temperature is welcoming toasty.
‘Things may have changed but I still remember all the lessons I learned,’ he says. ‘I don’t need maps. I know every stone, every tree. I have spent my life following the reindeer. Our connection to the land remains very deep.’
Lemmenjoki National Park: Best for wilderness
Lemmenjoki National Park (pronounced ‘lemmen-yokki’) is the traditional homeland for northern Finland’s Sami people. And it also happens to be one of Lapland’s most beautiful corners. At 1,100 square miles, the park is one of the largest uninhabited territories in Europe: an immense wilderness of forest and fell. In winter, the park is woven with trails that meander along ice-bound rivers and narrow byways carved by summer hiking tracks, through deep snow and between tall pines dwarfed by the hulking, 534-metre Joenkielinen Fell nearby.
From the fell’s summit, Lapland’s forested vastness undulates to the horizon in low, rolling hills. ‘This is one of the last and largest refuges for the old pine forests of Western Europe,’ says Pirjo Seurujärvi, the park’s director, surveying the scene. ‘Most of the pines are around 500 years old, but some have been here for 800 years. And Lemmenjoki is one of very few places to have been sculpted almost entirely by nature, not by man. Yes, there are Sami here with their reindeer, but this landscape hasn’t changed in centuries.’