Lapland is made up of the Arctic region that caps the northern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Lapland in Finland is often referred to as the fantasy land of Santa Claus and Christmas. But it is a lot more. While you are bound to come across Santa’s reindeer and elves, Lapland offers a wintery European destination for an incentive trip like no other. So, when we were asked by a client for a winter destination for their adventure-craving sales force, we immediately thought of this magical winter land.
Much like the Yukon, Lapland owes part of its fame to gold. Gold was first discovered in the Lapland river valleys in 1868, resulting in a mini gold rush. There is still a little gold to be discovered in the Ivalojoki river valley for the determined prospectors. But the more valuable gold lies in experiencing Lapland in all its awe-inspiring beauty.
The group arrived in Rovaniemi on a flight from Helsinki. Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland and the gateway to the region. Despite its smaller size, Rovaniemi is a busy urban center packed with modern buildings, from the functional to the fascinating. While ninety percent of the old town was destroyed in World War II, a redesign, led by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, has given birth to an architecturally-vibrant Arctic community.
The new town plan follows a reindeer antler pattern, and today's Rovaniemi features many meticulously designed, environmentally-friendly buildings that have inspired architects all over the world. One building that survived the war is a 1930s mail truck depot, which has been converted into the Korundi House of Culture—and that’s where we stopped by for an introduction to Lapland. This is where Rovaniemi's heart turns into art, with exhibitions of local artists. This is also home to a small but perfectly formed concert hall, playing host to the Lapland Chamber Orchestra.
Having learned a little about this fascinating Northern metropolis, the group was eager to discover what they had imagined as the main attraction of Lapland—its diverse wildlife, whose number exceed Lapland’s population of only 180,000. There are wolves, wolverines and brown bears roaming around the wilderness of this Arctic haven. So needless to say, our group was thrilled at the prospect of encountering such a varied wildlife while on a day excursion.
And of course, there is reindeer—everywhere. Many locals keep herds of reindeer, which at over 200,000 exceeds the number of inhabitants. There are also huskies and white Samoyed that were brought in from Siberia as working dogs to pull sleds—which our active group found enjoyable as they explored the area on this unique mode of transportation.
Outdoors to Your Heart’s Content
Nothing gets the adrenaline in an active group going than sporting activities in such a unique land. There's nothing you can do in Davos or St. Moritz that you can't do in the ski resorts of Lapland. There's downhill, cross-country and freestyle skiing and snowboarding—which our adventure-seeking group took full advantage of. For the more relaxed members of the group, there was walking the forest trails with snowshoes or those who had their faces whipped by the fresh mountain air courtesy of a snowmobile.
For a teambuilding activity, we planned a fishing expedition for the group. In Lapland there are hundreds of gorgeous lakes (the biggest of which is Lake Inari in the far north, which covers close to 400 square miles), all filled with fish—a fisherman’s dream.
Even when the lakes are frozen, Lappish fishermen are on the ice with their ice fishing augers drilling through the ice by hand to catch pike, perch, rainbow trout and whitefish.
For our group, we had planned an ice fishing safari which included scooting off to a frozen lake by snowmobile. Though not many of our amateur fishermen came home with a catch, they got to enjoy a BBQ right on the ice—a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most.
Dining à la Lapland
It was finally time to experience the sumptuous Lappish food again. Needless to say, reindeer features heavily in the local cuisine. It's fat free, healthy and wonderfully gamey—although for some it was too close to the notion of Santa Claus. For those, there were plenty of other Lappish delicacies to explore. The highlight was reindeer food (lichen), which, when dried, makes a light, crisp garnish for all kinds of arctic fish, baby root vegetables, herbs, berries and even licorice.
The Light Show
Of course, Lapland promises the chance to witness the magical sky show otherwise known as aurora borealis (Northern Lights). Everyone’s bucket list included experiencing this galactic phenomenon.
Since most of Lapland is situated within the Arctic Circle, it's an ideal spot to watch the northern lights. According to ancient legend, an arctic fox, whose swishing tail sends sparkling lights into the sky, creates the aurora borealis. Dancing displays of green, red and blue lights can be seen on clear, dark nights when conditions are right—which luckily was the case for our group.
It’s All in the Heritage
No incentive trip to a far-away land is complete without some exposure to and understanding of the local culture. Lapland is rich with a thriving community of indigenous people.
The Sami originated in the Sapmi region of Lapland—a far-northern area comprising parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia—making them Europe's northernmost indigenous people. It is estimated that there are just under 10,000 Sami living in Finnish Lapland and our curious group got to learn about their culture, customs, costumes and languages by an organized visit we planned for them to the Arktikum Museum and Science Center in Rovaniemi.
Hot and Dry
Finland is almost synonymous with saunas. There are saunas at every corner and there is no hotel in Lapland that is not equipped with a traditional Finnish sauna.
Sauna has a very special place in the hearts of the local people, to the point of fierce rivalry. A real Finnish sauna is insanely hot, can last for hours and is most commonly enjoyed nude. There are electric saunas, hot stone saunas, smoke saunas and even an ice sauna. Locals meet in saunas, relax in saunas and some even give birth in saunas. They thrash each other with birch twigs in saunas.
This all was a fitting experience for the group to leave Lapland with. Our adventurous group even learned very quickly to follow the local tradition of jumping into a frozen lake after enjoying their very hot sauna.
With this heart-warming experience, the group was ready to head back to the US armed with what could easily be characterized as the lasting memories of an incentive trip of a lifetime.
To plan a once-in-a-lifetime incentive trip for your high achievers, let the professionals at the Maxxus Group prove their resourcefulness.