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I despise cold weather. As someone who lives in New York, I rarely seek out destinations that promise below-freezing temperatures. But then I was invited on a trip to Finland that included a stay at Arctic TreeHouse Hotel in Rovaniemi, also known as the birthplace of Santa Claus — something that I cannot confirm with confidence. Nevertheless,I was pretty intrigued, to say the least.
Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland. The city spans nearly 3,000 square miles, yet only about 63,000 people live there. Winter is obviously the busy season for tourism, and after visiting in November, it’s easy to see why.
Getting to the Treehouse isn’t the easiest objective. While there are no direct flights to Rovaniemi from the United States, there are quite a few weekly jaunts from Helsinki to the small Arctic Village via Finnair. The journey takes about an hour and a half, and if you’re going in the colder months (which here means anytime past October), then expect the flight to be pretty full.
The Arctic TreeHouse has a shuttle to come and get you from the airport. I didn’t experience a particularly scenic drive, considering Rovaniemi gets about five hours of sunlight in November, but the trip is only about five minutes. The entire resort is set in the middle of a snow-laden forest, with the main building dedicated to a gift shop, lounge area, restaurant, and reception.
The sentiment that best described the mood as soon as I reached the check-in point is the Danish word hygge. As I checked in, a fireplace crackled warmly in the background, and tranquil guests were scattered throughout the lounge, reading books while sipping wine and hot cocktails. Lappish-inspired reindeer hides adorn the floors and furniture. Behind the reception area is the restaurant and bar area, where all meals are held at the resort. And the rooms are just as enticing as the common areas.
The TreeHouse has 52 suites, five glass houses (which have multiple bedrooms and personal saunas), and three executive suites, each of which is equipped with WiFi, a Nespresso machine, a minibar, safety box, bathrobe with slippers, and travel-size bath products by LUMI. All en-suite bathrooms are equipped with heated floors. Locally made furniture and decorations cover the minimalist style spaces, though the biggest selling point of the rooms are the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the forest, which are perhaps best enjoyed while laying in bed. I’m not sure if I’ve ever gasped upon entering a hotel room before, but even the basic suite was enough to garner an audible response.
Needless to say, the views from the TreeHouse are simply stunning – at least during the few hours per day of sunlight that allow you to gaze farther afield from the comfort of your room. If you’re lucky, the Northern Lights may make an appearance, though that particular view is nature’s decision. I can’t say I was lucky on that front, though all the more reason to return, I suppose.
The isolation of the rooms is both a blessing and a curse. It falls into the latter category if you need something from the main lounge, restaurant, and reception area. For this, there are two options: Trek through the cold on a five or so minute walk, or contact the front desk for a shuttle service to and from the rooms. Reception is available 24 hours via WhatsApp to assist guests with any and all needs. I happened to want my room cooler at around 4 AM one night, for example. I texted, received a response in two minutes, and the deed was complete.
All meals at the hotel are served at Rakas Restaurant & Bar, located in the same building as reception. Breakfast is served buffet style, while lunch options come from a daily à-la-carte menu. Menus change according to the season and feature locally sourced ingredients. Vegetarians, fear not. I indulged in an hours-long tasting menu our first night there, and my vegetarian options were simply exquisite.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the restaurant is its wall art, which was designed and created by Rakas’s in-house chef, and its connection to what’s on your place. Each painting depicts an abstract visual of a current menu item. Once the painting sells, the item is removed from the menu for good. Some of the current menu favorites of our group included silky soup (Jerusalem artichokes with truffle and lemon-flavored apple), king crab toast, and roasted veggies with garlic oil, as well as the juicy classic burger with mayonnaise (also available vegan). Don’t skip on the Rocky Road to the North dessert, composed of chocolate cake, mint krokant (chocolate with mind), and cloudberry ice cream.
Many of the drinks available trend local, too. Most of the regional breweries and distilleries are located about an hour south of Lapland, though you can get a taste without leaving TreeHouse. I enjoyed a local dark lager from Aihki, as well as taste a few local gins from Kyrö. However, the understated Minttu stole the show for me. This sweet peppermint liqueur packs a serious punch at 50 percent ABV, but it goes down smooth as hell. The spirit is even more dangerous in a hot chocolate, of which I had at least one spiked with Minttu every night by the fire.
For those looking to engage in off-site activities, TreeHouse’s guest services can organize sauna visits, outdoor activities, and local dining options. There are a few bars and restaurants in the “city center” of Rovaniemi, as well as a bit of shopping, but I’d personally recommend maximizing your time at the hotel. For children (and Christmas-eager adults), Rovaniemi’s SantaPark is within steps of the hotel. The beautifully executed facility is geared toward children, and good luck getting the staff to break character.
Overall, the TreeHouse provides a one-of-a-kind experience like no other. Whether looking to enjoy the great (snowy) outdoors or simply post up by the fire and get your relaxation on, the TreeHouse offers a curated experience for each and every guest that walks through the doors. I’m not sure when I’ll make it back, but I’ll certainly be dreaming of my view from above for months to come – especially during the dark days of a New York City winter.
Pricing starts around $380 per night during high season in winter if you book well in advance, and as low as $230 per night the rest of the year.