PHOTOS BY: Visit Finland
As a country endowed with plenty of natural and historic treasure, Finland also offers tourists another cultural characteristic: plenty of peace and silence. As a counterbalance to the hectic rhythm of daily life, Finland has plenty of space to breathe where you can do as the locals do and take things easy, whether it’s staying at an idyllic lakeside cottage, sweating it out in a sauna or exploring its untouched nature.
Spending holidays at lakeside cottages are an essential part of Finnish life, with long summer nights best spent on the porch of a cottage. Activities include sweating out in a sauna with cooling dips in the lake – an ultimate way to purify both body and mind. While luxury cottages are available, many people prefer a traditional approach, with smaller cabins that offer minimal amenities located off the beaten track. Because of their locations which are often in rugged natural settings, activities like hiking, fishing and mountain biking are the norm.
Covered by more water than land, the central Lakeland region is prime cottage country and the heart of the Lakeland is Saimaa (the largest lake in Finland). A great way to explore the region is via the tens of kilometres of cycle routes, taking you past scenic stretches and plenty of bridges. The archipelago is also perfect for kayaking, with over 130 islands and 21 harbours to visit (and maybe spot the endangered Saimaa seal).
Saunas are a Finnish institution – there are 1.8 million saunas in the country – and it is considered an honour for someone to be invited to a sauna. For newcomers, a sauna experience in Finland may be a surprise, as the interior is nearly dark and silent, and the Finns normally partake in this activity with no clothes on (although visitors are welcome to keep a towel on). Generally done in groups, a ‘vasta’ or ‘vihta’ (a bundle of fresh birch twigs) are often used, and are purported to have good effects on the skin. Saunas are located almost everywhere in Finland – and is usually best enjoyed in cottages no matter what the season.
Midsummer (during end of June) is a main national holiday in Finland, and is originally a celebration of the summer solstice. As midsummer is the beginning of a warm summer, many Finns spend their holidays at a summer cottage away from the city. Normally quiet by nature, this is the only time of the year when they let their hair down.
In the old days, bonfires were lit to keep evil spirits at bay, and spells were cast to ensure a good crop or increased fertility. Lighting bonfires and bathing in saunas are 2 of the most typical traditions during this celebration, as well as making noise and getting intoxicated (a behaviour to bring luck). It’s held all over the country as the days are long and the nights are bright.
CYCLING THE COASTAL/ARCHIPELAGO AREAS
The southwest of Finland boasts several cities, historical towns and national parks that stretch over land and sea. The vast and varying natural terrain is ideal for boating, cycling and hiking. Here you can cycle past plenty of historic small towns like Porvoo, Loviisa and East Uusimaa.
Porvoo is known for its idyllic cobbled 18th century Old Town section, as well as its most well-known landmark: red shore houses, which were painted red in honour of the arrival of Gustav III, the king of Sweden. From Porvoo, the cycle route leads to Loviisa, a historic small town with a collection of ancient wooden buildings. A detour by boat to nearby Svartholm sea fort makes for an interesting excursion. From Loviisa, you can head towards East Uusima’s barren rocky shoreline and green rolling landscape, or cycle inland to Lapinjärvi, a prime historic Finnish rural village.
More cycling can be had in the Åland islands, which consists of 6,500 islands (65 are inhabited). Virtually flat with hardly any traffic make cycling through the scenic pastoral landscape a breeze. Small bridges and ferries take you from one island to the next, passing isolated areas that seem to be completely untouched on some islands.
Around 65% of Finland is covered in forest, with fir, birch and pine dominating the landscape. Hiking or walking in the woods in summer are popular activities for the Finns, who abide by the rule of ‘Everyman’s Right’, meaning that anyone can walk freely in the forest.
There are short walking routes throughout the country, as well as 37 national parks for those looking for longer hikes. For short walks, the Nuuksio National Park is easily accessible from Helsinki, while longer backpacking hikes can be had in Lapland’s Lemmenjoki National Park and Urho Kekkonen National Park, the country’s largest parks.
Finns consider a trip to Lapland the only way to see the true face of their country, and countless visitors repeatedly return to this land on the northern side of the Arctic Circle. A large selection of marked trails makes it easy for inexperienced hikers to explore the huge parks, while wilderness areas are perfect for more demanding hikes.
The Finns are berry enthusiasts, and ‘Everyman’s Rights’ provides everyone access to some of the treasures of the forest, including berries and mushrooms, especially during autumn when they are in profusion.
Plenty of lighthouses dot coastal Finland, with many now serving as accommodation options. These offer the visitor a glimpse into the lives of lighthouse keepers, and guarantee peace and quiet, save for the sounds of the ocean. Some notable lighthouses include the 1953 Kylmäpihlaja (Rauma) which has rooms located in the tower, and picturesque Tankar (Kokkola) which is dotted with traditional Finnish summer cottages near a nature trail. Built in 1889, the lighthouse is of the classic shape and style, and makes for terrific photos.
Historic Bengtskär (Hanko) is the highest lighthouse in the Nordic countries, while Söderskär (Porvoo) – with a 1876 wood-heated sauna – is a 150-year-old lighthouse located in the middle of a nature preserve for sea birds.
There are direct flights from Singapore to Helsinki via Finnair, taking 12 hours. For more in Finland visit www.visitfinland.com.