My experience in Swedish, Lapland
Arjeplog, a town in Sweden’s Lapland just south of the Arctic Circle, is home to some 2,900 inhabitants in the summertime. From approximately January through April, its population increases to 6,000. But it isn’t ski areas that draw in these temporary residents. Arjeplog offers many lakes — 8,000 in total. Once a thick layer of ice takes hold of their surfaces, the auto industry takes hold of Arjeplog. The ice and snow atop the frozen lakes is plowed and shaped and re-formed to recreate world-famous racetracks: Silverstone, Formula 1 circuits, and others have found their icy counterparts here.
The area’s frigid temperatures give automakers the chance to discover how their latest models perform in extremely cold weather and allow them to make tweaks accordingly. Winter car testing first took place in the 1980s and has taken off since, proving a boon to the local economy. Car testers, engineers and other specialists now come up here for months at a time. Local residents temporarily move in with friends and family in order to rent out their homes to them.
Paparazzi, zoom-lensed cameras in hand, are known to stalk the nearby forests. They’re aiming at supermodels of the four-wheeled persuasion. Photos of yet-to-be-released makes of autos can net them big bucks. You might spot a car with a zebra-like paint job. The design confuses a camera’s lens, making it hard for a photographer to capture a sharp image of the prototype.
With a captive population with money to burn, the area was ripe for an event location. Enter the Iglootel, a seasonal wonder constructed wholly of ice and snow offering space for after-work gatherings and overnight accommodations. Each year, as soon as enough of the white stuff has fallen, the construction process begins anew.
With frequent, three-hour nonstop flights connecting Stuttgart, Munich, Frankfurt-Hahn and Hannover with the nearby Swedish town of Arvidsjaur, those residing in Germany can also avail themselves of the Iglootel’s chilly charms. A standard package tour to the area consists of two nights’ stay in a standard hotel, along with one night in the Iglootel.
My long weekend of Arctic exploration began with a flight from Frankfurt-Hahn, a one hour, comfortable bus transfer to Arjeplog, and check-in to a lovely rustic cabin making up part of the Kraja camping complex and a warm meal. So delicious was my late dinner of Arctic char served up by the restaurant attached that when the news flash of the appearance of the Northern Lights reached our table, I refused to budge. This proved foolish on my part, as that was the only time they choose to reveal themselves for the duration of my stay.
Over the next couple of days, I was treated to a trio of unique excursions. Bundled up in furs and tucked into a sled towed behind a snowmobile, a moose safari resulted in the spotting of eight specimens, including a mama and her very big baby. SpeedCar on ice was six turns in the shotgun seat of a peppy rally car. My favorite outing by far was the sled dog tour, in which a team of ten yapping huskies raring to go pulled us through a silent, snowcapped forest.
I also enjoyed some quiet pursuits of my own, including tasting locally brewed beer at the elegant Silver Lodge, checking out the interior of the coziest church I’ve ever seen, and exploring the shops downtown.
On the final night of my stay, it was my turn to experience the ice hotel. Following a tour of the premises, a scavenger hunt/quiz game played with the other guests, a bowl of hot soup that quickly turned cold and a cocktail served in a glass of ice, it was time to brace for the night ahead. I prepped as advised, by soaking in a Jacuzzi under starry skies, then working up a sweat in a wooden sauna warmed by a wood-burning stove. I then put on my warm woolen underwear and a hat, crawled into my polar sleeping bag, and drifted off into an uneasy sleep It wasn’t the most comfortable of nights, but it was one I’ll never forget.
If I’m ever to return to Arjeplog, I’d like to visit the Sami village and to check out the Silver Museum to learn more about the area’s history. There’s a ski area nearby as well as a brewery. And if ever again I hear the call “The Northern Lights are shining,” I’ll drop my fork and head outside.