Deep in the heart of Norrbotten County, Swedish Lapland, is the quaint village of Harads. With a small population of a little over 500 people, you could quite easily pass through, blissfully unaware that it is home to the unbelievable Arctic Bath.
There is very little that I can say about the beauty of the landscape that surrounds it without sounding over-exuberant, but trust me when I say it is simply astonishing. When we visited in mid-January, the five hours or so of very low sunlight provided a constant rolling palette of colour, from dusty pink to rich golden hues, lighting the surrounding forests, lakes and snow covered hilltops with dramatic effect.
As a photographer, I was beside myself with excitement for every second of our stay – lighting conditions like this are photography heaven and Mr Smith was simply delighted to hear that the rush to capture golden hour was less pressing than usual as here it lasted all day.
Our journey to reach the town started with a short domestic flight from Stockholm to Lulea and then into a rental car for the hour or so onto the hotel. Navigating the knee-deep snow to find the car was the first challenge, but once we were on the way the sense of adventure took over.
The snow-covered roads and blustery cold outside made this one of the most exciting rental car journeys we have taken. Having the car transpired to be an excellent decision, too, as taxis can be hard to come by in Harads. It also afforded us the freedom to plan some of our own excursions throughout our stay.
Light birch wood clad walls, a warming fire in the bar, a pervading sense of calm – it was a distinctly welcoming arrival. The very heart of the building is open to the elements and contains the infamous river plunge pool, from which the hotel derives its name.
Watching various brave souls descend into the foreboding hole in the ice, whilst sipping a negroni, certainly made for unusual entertainment.
It may sound a little cliched but the design of the place is so impressive that it wouldn’t have surprised us if Blofeld himself was sitting at reception, welcoming you to his newest lair. (Though Mr Smith was quick to point out that all comparisons to James Bond ground to a halt when he was seen dragging himself clumsily out of the plunge pool.)
The list of guided activities on offer at the hotel is extensive and includes everything from dog sledding, to visiting the indigenous Sami people. We opted for the Skidoo expedition, ice dining and a snowshoe adventure, all of which we were fortunate enough to experience privately (despite the group booking). We also opted to head out on our own excursion to the Storforsen rapids, a little over an hour’s drive away.
Speaking to other guests, you can’t make a bad decision when choosing how to spend your time depending on your interests. Each experience was so far removed from the normality of day-to-day life, that you’ll feel a tremendous sense of adventure whatever you opt for.
One theme that pervades them all however, is the sense of pride in the community that each of the guides we encountered had.
For Mr Smith, the highlight was sitting having lunch by an open fire in the snow after a hard morning on the snowmobile. For me, it was our romantic dinner à deux in a traditional tipi on a frozen lake which also doubled as an excellent opportunity to see the northern lights.
One experience that is worth expanding on, is the hotel’s ‘spa ritual’ – three guided cycles through the sauna involving some meditative breathing and essential oils designed to calm the nervous system prior to the moment of truth: that plunge into the icy lake at the centre of the hotel.
If you’re familiar with Wim Hof, it’s clear that there is plenty of hype about the benefits of cold exposure and I can categorically say that any cynicism will be swiftly washed away with your sense of achievement and feeling of calm you are left with.
I would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to the poor lady having a massage in the treatment room immediately next to the pool during my first dip. Suffice to say, there were some choice expletives heard echoing around the spa!
Despite only having one intimate restaurant, dining is a lavish (and delicious) experience. A series of three evening tasting menus are on rotation, comprising of eight courses made up of entirely local produce and featuring an array of reindeer, moose, Arctic char, and other Scandinavian fare…
The sense of adventure, the uniqueness of the landscape and the avant-garde design of the hotel all combine to make this – and I don’t say this lightly – one of the most exciting trips I have ever had.
It’s hard to imagine such a wintery wilderness can be such a short journey from the UK, but for those with an adventurous spirit and a desire to do something totally out of the ordinary, this might just be the trip for you.
Natural highs: embracing free-air living in the Norwegian wilds
Holly Clark was named as one of the top society snappers by Harrods and works as the preferred photographer to some of the worlds most lavish venues and leading wedding planners; her work featuring in the likes of Vogue, Tatler, Stylist and more. She’s also heavily inspired by travel, and her prints of people and places are available at Holly Clark Editions.
All photography by the author