Glamping at the Top of the World
The aurora borealis swirls over Norway and Finnish Lapland from October to April. Frozenmost/Shutterstock
What I learned from Hurricane Ian is that even people who live in paradise sometimes yearn to escape to some remote spot on the globe for serenity and healing. Just days after a river of murky seawater invaded my Naples home, I’m feeling that way myself. It’s just a fantasy, of course, because right now it’s all about cleaning up and helping our neighbors. But even a moment of fantasy has healing properties, so I’m still deciding between a glass igloo beneath the swirling lights of the aurora borealis near the Arctic Circle and a glamping tent near a remote village in Tibet.
Aurora Borealis Therapy: Finnish Lapland
I saw the aurora borealis once. Well, not so much saw it as absorbed its sudden gauzy arrivals and departures from an indigo-blue sky. Greens, mostly, with swirls of white and lavender, but it was so much more than color. I felt it brush my skin like butterfly kisses. I even imagined that I heard it sing. I looked it up later, and yes, the aurora borealis crackles and hisses as it swirls.
I was traveling with a group of journalists in Finnish Lapland when our guide unexpectedly stopped the van in the middle of nowhere and commanded us to get out on the snow-banked side of the road. The element of surprise and awe made it magical, but anticipation made it even more magical the next night and the night after that.
Glass-domed igloo at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finnish Lapland. Courtesy photo
I’ve long dreamed of going back, but lately, the fantasy has taken on a new dimension. This time, I have my sights on a glass-domed igloo for two at the luxurious Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle where guests go full 180-degree immersion in the aurora borealis from the comfort of their own beds.
By a clever feat of engineering, the glass doesn’t frost over when it’s minus 40° outside and toasty warm inside. Surrounding each private igloo is nothing but a vast snow-covered Christmas tree forest. There also are snow igloos (you need a down sleeping bag) and luxurious log-and-glass chalets.
At night my beloved and I will drift to sleep beneath the magical light show, and hurricanes will be cleansed from our minds. In the daytime, we may go sledding or cross-country skiing, or maybe we’ll join a reindeer safari with native Sami guides. I’ll skip the “refreshing” ice swim (sometimes they need to saw out a hole for you), but I’m all about that authentic Finnish smoke sauna, switching with birch leaves and about a ten-second roll in the snow included. We can pack light, as the resort offers for rent all the necessary winter apparel, boots, and gear.
With all this, plus Finnish and Lappish cuisine and a respectable supply of Finland’s legendary spirit, Koskenkorva vodka, could there be a more stress-releasing destination on the globe? I think not.
The aurora borealis is visible between now and late April.
Left: Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden on the island of Tromsøya. Photo by Karen T. Bartlett
Young sled huskies in training are excited about hiking with visitors at Tromsø Wilderness Center. Photo by Karen T. Bartlett https://villmarkssenter.no/
Tent Glamping on the Tibetan Plateau. Photo courtesy of Songtsam.com
Serenity found: A Botanical Garden at the Top of the World
Who would guess that a fjord-embraced Norwegian island, renowned for polar expeditions and aurora borealis light chasers, also claims the world’s northernmost botanical garden? I happened upon the Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden purely by accident while exploring the island of Tromsøya. There was no gate, no ticket booth, and not even a gardener in sight. Perhaps it is tended by gnomes in the middle of the night. It was a magical private moment, making my way in solitude along the terraced paths spilling over with brilliant flowers, their faces turned to the sun, and their backs to jagged snow-peaked mountains.
On the same island, which lies in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, are some of the oldest and most colorful fishing villages in Norway. In my fantasy, it’s summertime in Norway, and I’m headed back there now, not to hike again with the huskies through emerald-green, cloudberry-infused meadows (okay, maybe I’ll do that, too) but first, to recapture my moment of serenity in the northernmost botanical garden in the world.
Luxury inn-style amenities in the tents at the new Songtsam Glamping Resort in Tibet. Courtesy photo
Glamping: Tranquility on the Tibetan Plateau
Now I’m dreaming about the brand new Songtsam Glamping Resort near a remote village in the Palpa Valley of Tibet, set in a spectacular mountain wilderness surrounded by lush virgin forests and meadows of grazing yaks.
Each tent, spaced just far away from the others for privacy but close enough to the gourmet-quality dining tents, exudes the expected ambiance of a fine hotel, from super-comfy bedding to stereos and expansive private decks and observation platforms. And well it should, as the Songtsam name is renowned for its collection of unique luxury hotels across the Tibetan Plateau. This is their first glamping resort. The company isn’t just randomly bandying about phrases like “unobtrusive service,” “sustainability,” “reverence for nature,” and “preservation of the culture¬;” its founder is a native of the real Shangri-la in Yunnan Province. He’s also an award-winning documentary filmmaker on the essence of Tibetan culture. Guests of the glamping resort can balance authentic cultural exchanges, breathtaking nature experiences, and fresh local cuisine with plenty of time for breathing, sleeping, and yak gazing.
I think I could find the tranquility and healing I need there.