Looking for some time away from the bustle of modern life? With wildlife, natural beauty and a fascinating sauna culture, Finnish Lakeland has the answer...
Spending time in the outdoors is a big part of Finnish life. Even in the heart of Helsinki, you’ll find woodland and wild parks, plus seven national parks within a two-hour drive of the capital. With a tenth of the country made up of lakes and waterways – and more than two thirds covered in thick forest – the Finns can easily access wilderness in a short space of time. No wonder they are seen as some of the most laid-back people in Europe. You too can tap into regional Finnish traditions — found just a three-hour flight from London — and reap the benefits of spending time in the pristine nature of Finnish Lakeland. Here’s how…
The sauna culture is a way of life and a passion for Finns. The experience can last through the day, into the evening. It’s a space to sit in quiet reflection, bond with friends, have a few beers and recharge the batteries. Sauna and nature – both cleansing, healing and invigorating – are often combined with a swim, shoreline ramble or forest forage — part of the reason why so many lakeside cabins have their own sauna.
Connoisseurs say the smoke sauna experience is the best. The gentle heat and higher humidity are kinder and softer on the body. Sitting in the darkness of an old smoke hut with the scent of woodsmoke is a near-spiritual experience.
The classic wood-burning sauna is the most common. The metal stove is fed with birchwood until the sauna is hot and the stones sizzle when soaked. Take a bunch of birch branches, fasten together and dip in water before gently lashing your skin until it tingles.
First the ice is cut from a frozen lake, then the hut erected. Once the wood stove is installed, the sauna warms to a gentle 60°. Finish with an ice-cold swim and a quick roll in the snow - if you dare. The adrenalin rush is incredible and you will tingle from head to toe.
Helsinki’s public saunas are often located in cool urban spaces and provide a chilled city experience. Try the Alles Sea Pool saunas, the eco-designed Löyly with its waterfront terrace, bar and restaurant, or one of Helsinki’s hip roof-top saunas.
There is one sauna per person in Finland. Nothing beats a cooling dip in a lake after a warm steam.
Foraging for wild treats in Finland, from cloudberries to mushrooms
With Everyman’s Right, you can freely roam the countryside and eat the fruits of the Earth to your heart’s content. In summer, bilberries crowd the forest floor, wild raspberries scent the air, while cloudberries and lingonberries splash vegetation with bright colour. In autumn, the Lakeland forest floor mushrooms boletes, chanterelle and milk cap. If new to foraging, book a guide. Through summer and winter, you can fish on the lakes. When the water freezes over, the Finns simply drill a round hole in the ice and drop their rod.
There is nothing like gathering your own ingredients from the countryside and making a meal from scratch. Some tourist providers combine foraging with cookery courses. Check with the local visitor centre. Top restaurants produce locally sourced food: fresh fish caught from a nearby lake; berries made into colourful sauces and jellies; tangy mushrooms accompanying organic meat. Whatever you do, don’t leave the Finnish Lakeland without trying a Karelian pie. Traditionally the pastries are made with a rye crust and are filled with rice. You can learn to make your own in North Karelia or Eastern Lakeland.
Nordic Noir has deep roots in Finland. The country is truly atmospheric when the fog rolls over the lakes, especially during the long, dark nights of winter. This has inspired some of the scariest, most intriguing crime fiction, putting Finland squarely on the map when it comes to Nordic Noir. Nothing beats curling up by the wood burner in a Lakeland cabin among the misty waters as you settle in with a dark Finnish crime novel.
One third of Helsinki is covered in green spaces, earning it the name ‘The Nature Capital of the World’. The city is surrounded by sea on three side and by forest on the fourth. One of the best ways to explore Helsinki’s parks, woodlands and coast is on a bike. For a truly relaxing cycle, book a half-day guided e-bike tour with Happy eBikers along Laajalahti Bay, hopping between peninsulas along narrow bridges.
Just 15 minutes by public transport from the city centre is the Viikki area, a tranquil place of meadow, woodland, and boardwalk trails, as are the rapids of Vanhankaupunginlahti, offering soul-restoring waterside walks. And less than an hour away from the city by bus there are two national parks: Siponkorpi to the northeast and Nuuksio to the northwest. Just outside of Nuuksio, you can stay at Villa Paratiisi on the shores of Poikkipuolianen lake and explore the national park, hear ancient stories of the land and learn about the traditions of the Finnish sauna.
The Moomins — quirky and fanciful white, hippo-like characters — were created in Finland, inspired by the brooding landscapes that play a big part in the Moomin world. You can visit the Moomin Museum at Tampere to learn about the creation of these other-worldly and eccentric characters.
Finland’s national animal, the brown bear, is most easily sighted in the wild taiga – the swathes of Nordic conifers found on the eastern fringe of Finland near the Russian border. Hunting bears in Finland is minimal compared to on the other side of the border, which means lots of bears gather on the 'safe' Finnish side, making them easy to spot. You can take a guided bear watching or photography excursion between April to September.
Wolverine also visit the hides, along with grey wolf. To hear the wolf’s eerie cry filling the darkness is a haunting experience. Catching sight of the elusive lynx is harder, but you may uncover its tracks with an experienced guide. With your guide you can also stalk wild moose, elk or forest reindeer (bigger than the farmed reindeer) or watch flying squirrels, not fly, but fall with style.
Meanwhile, the lakes abound with waders and water-birds, including Finland’s national bird, the whooper swan. If you are fortunate, you may spot the world’s rarest seal: the Saimaa ringed seal, especially in early summer when they laze on the rocks in the sun. One of your best chances to spot them is on this boat trip, where your houseboat sails close to where they lie. You can also spot Lakeland’s industrial beavers at work or play on the shore at dusk – or a bull moose wade out into the water. Stay in a hillside cabin in the wild taiga to experience Finland’s larger carnivores, or at a lakeside cottage to enjoy the host of Lakeland wildlife.
Finish Lakeland is great all year round. In summer, it’s perfect for hiking, swimming and camping, while in winter – when the lakes freeze and the snow falls – it’s great for ice skating. Warm up with a toasty fire.
Magnetic North Travel are the experts when it comes to exploring Scandinavia, creating tailor-made trips in a part of the world that is known for its hard-to-navigate wildernesses.
Magnetic North Travel have organised a range of Deep Sleep stays in Finnish Lakeland, from short spa breaks on a Nordic houseboat to itineraries aimed at mind, body and soul. Find out more at:
Love travel quizzes, events and competitions? Then sign up today for free so you don’t miss out!