If you've never visited Finland, you should. Lonely Planet named Finland as one of its top three countries to visit in 2017. RCI member, Philip Hakim, headed off with his family to Finland on his first ever RCI exchange holiday. An adventure into the unknown turned into one of their best family holidays ever!
It was with some trepidation that my wife, Michelle, our eight-year-old twins, Zara and Daisy, and Annabel aged 10 - set off to visit Santa in the December of 2014.
We stayed at Holiday Club Yllas 2 - which has the ID number 2425 if you are looking for it in the RCI.com Resort Directory. This resort is to be found in Äkäslompolo, which is in Finnish Lapland. It is a world apart from Barnsdale Country Club (2932), our home resort. This was our first RCI Exchange Holiday, and we were impressed from the start.
Our accommodation exceeded expectations. It was a fabulous traditional timber cabin, which was spacious and well appointed, with our very own sauna which we used every day, and a heated drying cabinet for our clothes.
To make this a really special holiday for the girls, we tried as many different adventures as we could. We had fun husky sledding, reindeer trekking, snowmobiling by night and day, snowshoe walking and, of course, called on Santa himself in Rovaniemi.
Because we planned to see as much as we could, I hired a car. After flying from Gatwick to Helsinki, we took an internal flight to Oulu airport - we could have flown directly to an airport close to our resort, but we couldn't make the flight times. So we drove to our resort from Oulu - and what a pleasant surprise that was. Hire cars come with studded winter tyres and Sat Navs. I was a bit nervous about driving on compact ice, but it felt surprisingly stable. We motored past vast expanses of icy woodlands and pretty townships along the way.
Finland is not overly expensive and, having such wonderful accommodation, the self-catering element of our holiday gave us a lot of flexibility and made it even better value. Each day we ate a hearty breakfast before setting off on a winter wonderland adventure, then returning to our comfortable cabin to chill out in our steamy sauna in the afternoon. There was no rush, we took everything at a gentle pace and filled each day with wonder.
The days seemed somehow longer and the light brighter in the winter than I expected. The mellow long dawns and dusks were incredibly relaxing, just sitting by our cosy cabin and marvelling at this strange beauty while the reindeer wandered by.
I would recommend contacting an activity centre to plan your day trips and activities while in Finland. Our resort put us in touch with reputable companies and our trips were well organised, leaving us nothing to do but enjoy ourselves. Some activities were expensive, but we knew this was to be an extraordinary holiday so we decided to do as much as possible while out in Finland. Besides, only having the RCI holiday exchange fee to pay to take this holiday, we saved more than £1,000 on accommodation rental costs.
And what a terrific holiday we had. Dining at tables made of ice in the Snow Village, viewing illuminated ice sculptures after darkness fell, walking over a vast frozen lake towards a halo of blue hues across the end of the snow-covered valley - you have maps, follow clear route markers and so can't go wrong!
It is fantastic and magical. Santa and his elves were less magical for Michele and I, but our girls loved them. Staying on a ski resort, we were just 15 minutes away from the nursery slopes, so we rented a sledge from the resort and had so much fun. Then it was back to our cabin and a roaring wood burner for hot pancakes and Glühwein.
It was a brilliant holiday, not as cold as we expected and, wherever you went, the Sami people were delightful. We agreed that we would definitely return for more of this one day.
Want to learn about the resorts which are available to RCI members in Finland, and in Finnish Lapland?
If you own timeshare but are not an RCI member, then learn more about how to join RCI and enjoy its many holiday lifestyle benefits by clicking below.