About 5 hours by bus north of the arctic circle, and Santa’s home in Rovaniemi, Finland, you will find the small town of Inari. When I say small I mean a one reindeer town. Inari sits on the edge of Inari lake, which becomes a vast solid surface of ice in the winter. There is one main street, two hotels, one B&B, a supermarket that doubles for the post office, a tourist info office that doubles for the liquor store and a very nice museum. The population is approximately 800, and if you have just come from cosmopolitan Helsinki you will appreciate the down to earth friendly residents, who represent the real Finland. For nature lovers it is heaven, for those seeking unusual experiences and challenges there is husky dog sledding, snowmobiles, reindeer safaris and all forms of ski.The indigenous people of this area are the Sami, and their Parliament meets in Inari.
The Sami people were once nomadic and they can be found in Northern Europe across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Their traditional professions revolve around reindeer herding, felt making, hunting and now tourism.
In the middle of winter groups of indigenous people from around the world gather in the small town of Inari for the International indigenous peoples’ Film Festival. An open air amphitheatre is built from ice and under the stars, and sometimes even the Northern Lights, the villagers and their guests sit on reindeer skins and cuddle up to watch films made by and about indigenous people around the world. The temperatures in the theatre can reach -20°C, but the people are so warm you don’t feel it! In 2009 there were participants from as far away as the Philippines. But the really unique experience comes when the films are over and the town sets out to “party” in one of the two hotels. There are local Sami performers, as well as the indigenous guests who play their kinds of music. Some of the Sami turn up in their traditional costume. The locals are very friendly and inclusive of guests, and the atmosphere is reminiscent of an old Irish country pub. This is where you get a sense of the real Finland character.
So if you want to feel in the middle of nowhere, and to really know the Fins, try Inari.
Where:Inari, Finnish Lapland.
To get there:You can take a bus from Rovaniemi (5 hours) or anywhere else in Finland. Or fly to Ivalo, on SAS or Finnair, and from there take a 20 minute bus ride.
When: Although many travelers go to Lapland in the other seasons, I really don’t get the point, for your first trip go in the winter, to see what is unique about the place, snow, snow and more snow. For the Skabmagovat Film festival go between January 28th – February 2nd.
Where to stay:I would say there is more action in the Inari Hotel, which has a more active pub/restaurant, and is in the “centre” of town. But I have stayed at Kultahovi where we had a sauna in our bathroom and patio facing the forest.There are also small cottages and camping around the lake.
You can search for Inari hotels here.
There is also a film festival in Guovdageaidnu – Also Sami, and in Finnish Lapland.
While in Inari you might like to try ice fishing.