Sirly Schinmann, whose career took off after she participated in the Finnish MasterChef, is one of the two founders of Aurora Estate, a boutique establishment specialising in luxury travel. The top-rated restaurant and hotel providing exclusive service tempts visitors to return to Ylläs year after year.
As Sirly Schinmann, 30, opens the door to an old smoke sauna that stands across the yard from the main building, she recalls her childhood in Estonia.
– The smoke sauna is one of my favourite places here. A smoke sauna was all we had when I was a child, says Sirly Schinmann, co-owner and chef at the Aurora Estate.
The location by the Lake Ylläsjärvi boasts yet another sauna building, which dates back one hundred years, as well as a new main building made of timber and home to the Aurora Estate boutique hotel and restaurant. During the high season and for special events a big tent, a tentipi, is also put up in front of the main building. The concept of Aurora Estate was developed by Sirly and her business partner Heidi Seikula; the basic idea is that the guests don’t need to worry about a thing during their stay.
– Luxury travel no longer means golden faucets – instead, it stands for experiences, courtesy and privacy. We are a remote destination, and we want our guests to feel comfortably safe and at home, Sirly says.
The hotel at Aurora Estate has only seven rooms, which ensures that the visitors receive exclusive service. The staff address the guests by name and take care of everything including restaurant reservations, safari bookings, and ski equipment rentals. Sirly and Heidi have aimed at offering all-inclusive luxury experiences since day one.
– We strive to tap into the luxury travel market, since there will always be a steady flow of new customers. They will always be able to afford to spend more money, Sirly explains.
Many of the hotel’s guests return to Ylläs time and again. This Christmas the hotel will accommodate visitors who are enjoying their fifth stay at the Aurora Estate. As the name of the establishment suggests, the Aurora Estate offers an ideal location for viewing the northern lights, which can be watched in true luxury style while bathing in a jacuzzi.
Food is a vital part of the travel experience for the visitors at the Aurora Estate and falls within Sirly’s domain of expertise. Sirly, who entered the restaurant business through the Finnish version of MasterChef, says that she has been cooking ever since she was a child at home with her grandmother, and as the eldest child of the family she would often prepare meals for her sisters. Her first encounter with game also dates back to her childhood, and game meat is still one of Sirly’s favourite main ingredients.
– When I was a child, we had freezers full of game. I have gone on hunting and fishing trips ever since I was a little girl. When I had to fillet a fish on MasterChef, it was nothing out of the ordinary for me.
In her restaurant at the Aurora Estate Sirly prefers to use local ingredients. Nonetheless, she would never use tomatoes produced in Finland during the winter, as they wouldn’t have caught a single glimpse of sunlight. She is also particular about what the game animals have eaten before ending up on a plate. This is why Sirly only uses wild reindeer in her kitchen, as they have not been fed with pellets.
– You can tell what the animals have eaten by the taste and smell of the meat. The reindeer I use comes from 50 kilometres away from the Swedish side of the border. The lamb comes from Meän liha, who acquire their meat from producers in the Tornio-Rovaniemi region.
Sirly says that people have certain expectations when it comes to restaurants located in Lapland, and that she has deliberately decided to act contrary to these expectations in appropriate measures. The local reindeer, for example, may be served with an accompaniment from Central Europe.
– Knowing that my main ingredients are in order, I can perfect the style with Central European touches. The reindeer carpaccio may include fresh truffles, for example.
The December menu at the Aurora Estate also includes options such as king crab, cod and lamb shanks. The restaurant has received top reviews for instance on TripAdvisor, and it is nearly fully booked for the Christmas and New Year sittings. A good reputation has made business easier in the north.
– I never thought I could create such a fulfilling career in Lapland and compete on a national scale, says Sirly.
In addition to her job at the Aurora Estate, Sirly works as a private chef through the Private Chef service during the high season. The customers include people who fly over to Lapland on a private jet and never set foot in a restaurant but wish to indulge in a full-service dining experience in their own lodgings.
– The clients are very demanding which makes the job pleasantly challenging.
Sirly settled in Ylläs for four years ago after she experienced a burnout as a result of intensive work and needed some peace and quiet. The sought-after haven was found at Ylläsjärvi, the home region of Sirly’s partner Aleksi, and a place familiar to Sirly from her time working as seasonal staff in almost all of Ylläs’ restaurants.
Sirly, who grew up in the Estonian countryside, appreciates the safety and clean nature of Lapland. This is why the entrepreneurs of Aurora Estate have also spoken out against the mining operations planned in the vicinity of the travel destination. Sirly enjoys spending time in nature together with her Alaskan husky, Viivi.
– That is my time for myself. I will listen to some music and bask in the beauty of Lapland’s seasons. Winter is the best time of the year here.
– I also like the fact that in Lapland you can leave your door unlocked or your car running when it’s below zero, and that you can trust your neighbours. Here, there is no need to be afraid, Sirly concludes.
The winter season is a busy time of the year at Ylläs. Knowing that tourism is prospering, however, makes the stress easier to handle, and all the hard work Sirly and Heidi have put in has started to pay off. This was not self-evident when the two women started building the Aurora Estate a couple of years ago, as back then people were still talking about economic depression.
– We are now one step ahead and at the right place at the right time. We have shared the same vision since the beginning, and if it weren’t for Heidi, I would never have ventured into this, says Sirly, expressing her gratitude to her friend and business partner.