Saariselkä

Saariselkä (Sámi: Suoločielgi) is a largish winter sports center in Inari municipality high up in Finnish Lapland, some 250 km north of the Arctic Circle and nearly 1000 kilometers away from the southern capital Helsinki.

The Saariselkä village.

Nestled in a valley, Saariselkä is a compact strip of a village with one gas station, one main supermarket, one liquor store and a slew of hotels, shops and restaurants, but it's quite manageable on foot and located only 30 km away from the town of Ivalo and its airport. The neighbouring fells of Kaunispää and Iisakkipää, both equipped with ski lifts, are the primary centers for winter sports. The hiking trails, skiing tracks, biking routes and snowmobile tracks of Saariselkä also cover the villages of Laanila and Kakslauttanen (3 km and 10 km southward) and Kiilopää (6 km east from Kakslauttanen), which may be regarded as part of the same tourist resort.

Saariselkä is also used as a base for hikers and cross-country skiers going to the Urho Kekkonen National Park or Hammastunturi Wilderness Area.

Understand

A succession of ice ages and their glaciers scraping back and forth has reduced what were once mountains into gentle rounded fells (Finnish tunturi), barely reaching 500m. The valleys between them are sparsely forested, but the exposed summits are treeless.

Aside from the occasional Sámi reindeer herder, there wasn't much human activity in these parts until Konrad Planting struck gold at the nearby Lutto River in 1865. The Finnish gold rush started soon thereafter and the first claim in Saariselkä was staked in 1871. Enough gold was found that by 1902 the mining company Prospektor set up its headquarters here and hacked a cart trail down to Sodankylä, some 100 kilometers away.

The gold rush slowly faded away, but in the 1960s the area started to gradually develop into a tourist attraction. Hotels and restaurants were built, skiing lifts were put up, and in 1983 the region stretching from Saariselkä to the Russian border – favorite hunting grounds of former president Urho Kaleva Kekkonen – were turned into the Urho Kekkonen (UKK) National Park. Ten years later Hammastunturi Wilderness Area was established between Saariselkä and the older Lemmenjoki National Park to the west.

These days Saariselkä is part of the municipality of Inari, which has some 7,700 inhabitants (including some 2,200 Sámi) on 17,321 square kilometers of land, while Kakslauttanen and part of Kiilopää are in Sodankylä.

Get in

Saariselkä is at national road 4, i.e. E75 from Helsinki to Nuorgam, with several buses daily from Rovaniemi. You could come e.g. by plane to Ivalo, Kittilä or Rovaniemi or by train to Rovaniemi and continue by coach.

By plane

The easiest method to get here is to take a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Ivalo airport (1:40, price 100–250 depending on the season), and then a connecting 20-minute bus ride to Saariselkä. UK tourists may arrive at the airport of Kittilä, and take a three-hour road trip, via Sodankylä. The airport at Rovaniemi is likewise three hours away by coach.

By bus

Direct buses from the south are cheaper than aeroplane, but involve a laborious 15 hour journey.

There are several connections daily between Rovaniemi and Inari, with stops in Saariselkä.

Saariselkä is quite well connected with northern Norway, with buses e.g. from Nordkapp, Karasjok, Vadsø and Tana bru, via Inari, Ivalo and Saariselkä to Rovaniemi. Some of these may drive only in summer.

From Sweden, you will probably come via Haparanda and have a transfer at Rovaniemi.

From Russia, you could take the three times a week Murmansk service, with a transfer at Ivalo.

By train

An overnight train to Rovaniemi and a bus for the last 3 hours is a less painful but not particularly cheap alternative; the train is a viable option also if you want to bring your own car.

Get around

Path and information board at an entrance to the national park,

Once in Saariselkä, you can pretty much walk anywhere you want to, but if you have gear in tow just hop aboard the (all day ticket €4) Ski Bus, which shuttles between the village and the slopes approximately once an hour.

The coaches to and from Ivalo pass Saariselkä, Laanila and Kakslauttanen several times a day, a few coaches go via Kiilopää as well.

See

Memorial stones at the Magnetic Hill, 6 km north of Saariselkä. The national road 4 originally lead to Petsamo, with a winter harbour at the Barents Sea, especially important in 1940–1941. The steep originally 5 m wide gravel road was so hard for lorries, the drivers thought there must be some magnetics involved.

Do

Duckboards across a swamp.

The fells nearby are excellent terrain for cross-country skiing, sledding and hiking, but somewhat puny for downhill since the maximum differential is on the order of 300 meters. Alas, this is about as good as it gets in flat Finland... The ski lifts are one kilometre to north-east from the Saariselkä village, between the fells.

There's plenty of standard Lappish tourist fare to keep you occupied during the day as well, ranging from husky safaris and reindeer-pulled sleighs to snowmobile and snowshoe treks through the countryside. There are quite a few operators to talk to. You could also e.g. go ice-fishing in one of the local lakes with a private guide, with a snack reindeer lunch cooked in a hunter/fisherman's cabin or spend the night on the treeless fells.

Buy

Eat

The restaurant at the top of Kaunispää in winter.

Food in Lapland is expensive and fairly unimaginative, although if you haven't tried reindeer meat yet then this is your chance. For a more memorable experience, try a set dinner in a Lappish kota tent, offered by a number of hotels and tour operators ( with respect to the above poster, found the food in Saariselka to be tremendous, great dishes, friendly service and the meals really complemented the holiday experience of being in Lapland – quite special – see below )

Drink

There are quite a few possibilities for after-ski as well, all the hotels have restaurants and discos, and there's even a local microbrewery with a side line in distilled spirits as well. However, Saariselkä has a deserved reputation for catering to the middle-aged market, standard musical fare is melodramatic Finnish tango and even the food is all reindeer and snow grouse. Hip snowboarding youngsters tend to head for Levi or Ruka instead.

Sleep

Igloo village at Kakslauttanen.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Summer hiking in Saariselkä is safe if you follow safety advise and know your own limits. Routes near Saariselkä village are well marked and require only sneakers and clothes accordant with current weather. It's recommended to purchase an inexpensive map from your hotel reception or local market. Don't go alone, at least without informing your hotel reception. Ask safety advises from your hotel reception if you feel unsure. Don't forget to report to your hotel when you come back. Weather conditions can change a lot even if it's warm and sunny when you leave.

Cellphone networks may not cover many places in between the fells.

Tourists usually never meet any dangerous animals in Saariselkä. There are some bears in the eastern part of the national park, but bears would rather avoid humans if they can. It's recommended to indicate somehow to animals that you are roaming in the neighbourhood.

Crime figures for Saariselkä are very low.

Stay healthy

Tap water is potable and of high quality.

In case of emergency call number 112. If you need medical consultation less urgently, contact to MedInari health service (nurse and doctor services) +358 20 7205830, address Kelotie 1, Saariselkä mon-thu 8–16 fri 8–15. It's managed by the Inari municipality and some local travel-related companies.

Connect

Postal code FI-99830 Saariselkä.

Go next

Routes through Saariselkä

Vardø Ivalo  N  S  Rovaniemi Helsinki


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, August 20, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.