The best thing about Finland is that you’re never far away from the great outdoors. You can be dodging trams in the heart of Helsinki, and just an hour later find yourself in Nuuksio National Park – an exhilarating taster of the country’s landscape, dominated by pine and birch trees, placid lakes, moody pools and steep, craggy gorges. Finland in miniature – and all in a weekend.
Jump on a Friday lunchtime flight and you’ll be in Helsinki in time to enjoy a leisurely evening in the northern summer light. Take a bus to the city centre and find the Number 4 tram stop for the ten-minute ride to the Katajanokka promontory, site of the Eurohostel and Helsinki’s best early-20th-century art-nouveau buildings, with their turrets, granite arches and ornate wooden doorways.
Stroll down to the quayside Market Square and jump on the ferry through the South Harbour to the island fortress of Suomenlinna. Don’t miss the Panimo restaurant, housed in a pastel-pink converted barrack with excellent seafood and beers made on the premises.
Early the next morning, head back to the Market Square to stock up on vegetables and berries from the outdoor stalls; bread, cheese and cold cuts from the nearby indoor Market Hall; and a map of Nuuksio National Park from the Academic Bookstore on the Esplanade. Then jump on a train from the main station to Espoo where you switch to the bus to Nuuksio and your very own Finnish wilderness.
You could easily spend a happy day tramping through the fragrant forests on the short trails – the Hawk’s Trail is just 4km and takes in some spectacular views – but to find your own private pocket of wilderness, head for a booked cabin or take a tent to an isolated campsite.
A longer route, for example, heads north from Haukkalampi to Salmi, just outside the national park, where you’ll find the campsite at Paratiisi – aptly, this means ‘paradise’. There is also a small beach here on the shores of the Poikkipuolilainen Lake. Salmi is popular with weekend trekkers, but the 12km route you take to get there passes through silent pine trees and skirts small lakes.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to finding somewhere to picnic but the waterside at the southern end of Kaitlampi is a bit special. Keep your eyes peeled, especially in areas of aspen trees, for the flying squirrels that are a Nuuksio speciality. Elk and hard-to-spot lynx also populate the park, which is rich in birdlife too.
Cabins, such as the secluded one at Oravankolo on Ruuhilampi, are usually equipped with saunas, so heat it up and soothe your muscles before plunging into the nearest lake or pool. The summer light may deter you from sleeping, so indulge in a spot of evening foraging. The admirable Finnish Everyman’s Right permits the free collection of anything edible on common land, so get hunting for mushrooms or berries if you’re there in late summer. Dangle a worm in the lake and the chances are you’ll pull out a perch or two for your supper.
If you choose to overnight near an organised recreation area such as Solvalla, you can rent a canoe and explore the lakeshores. You’ll probably have the water to yourself, especially in the evenings when the day-trippers have headed back to the city. You can paddle right up to the sheer granite overhangs on the far side of Lake Pitkäjärvi, or simply rest in the middle to marvel at the quiet.
Peep out of your sleeping bag in the early dawn and take your camera down to the lakeside as the early sunlight slants through the mist on the water. Sit back and soak up the luxurious silence – no traffic, no shouting townsfolk – before the restless birds pipe up for dawn chorus.
Spend the morning relaxing at the water’s edge or exploring more trails before heading back to your starting point. A bus at about 1pm will link up with a train from Espoo back to Helsinki. Take the bus to the airport with time to spare for your return flight – and brace yourself for the return to civilisation.
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