cold hot fun

The real fun starts when it’s really cold

Winter in Finland brings all kind of opportunities. From winter sports to trying to catch the aurora borealis, it’s never really boring. When the temperature drops below -20C, I enjoy to go out with a thermos bottle of boiling tea or water. You’d think it’s to keep myself warm, right? Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

cold hot fun

Sunset vapor at -24C

That hot water will nearly insta-vaporize when it is thrown into the air.

When you attempt to do that, you can pour the hot water into a cup, so you have a few tries. Be sure you throw fast enough otherwise hot water could fall on you before it’s cooled down.

Vaporizing water in the cold air

Vaporizing water between trees

What else is in the photo is up to your imagination.

Pirttisaari – a wonderful hiding place in Porvoo’s archipelago

Pirttisaari (Cabin Island), which belongs to the western part of Porvoo’s archipelago is known by few, but even fewer have probably noticed that it’s a sweet little spot for an excursion into nature. Given that it is an island we’re talking about, a little more effort is required to go and spend a day by the sea here, but it’s definitely worth it.

I was a little nervous about how things would work out with the boat timetables, as only the departure times were listed on the noticeboard belonging to Pörtö Line, the ferry operating between Kalkkiranta (the departure point on the mainland) and Pirttisaari, not the arrival times. However, I decided to chance it at the harbour with my backpack and climbed on board the ferry behind the other passengers. Most people, judging by the amount of stuff they had with them, seemed to be going for longer than just a day, probably to summer cottages. Only a few looked like they were, like me, on a day trip.

As a mainlander, I was already enthusiastic about the sea voyage itself – a rare treat! A few travellers had settled below deck to shelter from the wind, but most of us sat outside happily enjoying the sunny crossing. From the deck you could see charming cottage islands, rocky islets dominated by birds and open high seas. The water was almost mirror calm and it then occurred to me, that the conditions would have been perfect for kayaking. Oh well, not this time.

On the way to Pirttisaari, the ferry stopped first at the tiny island of Tredjeholmen to drop off some passengers, and then made a quick stop at Bodö, the next island, to deliver the mail. I double-checked with the ferry’s friendly staff where I should get off and was told not until Pirttisaari’s old school pier, where I would also get picked up in the afternoon.

About an hour after our departure from the mainland we arrived at Pirttisaari’s old school pier. The ferry emptied of passengers, the majority of whom then decanted into their own, smaller, boats. I was clearly the only one, who had come for a daytrip. At the end of the pier was a coherent map, but I had a map in my pocket that I had printed from the internet just in case. If you don’t have any kind of map with you, it’s probably a good idea to take a picture of the one at the pier using, for example, your phone, so that you can check the route and sights when you’re on the move.

After the pier, I came into the yard of the former school building but kept going straight ahead. On the red ochre wall of the building was a small sign: Till friluftsområdet / Recreational area – turn right! The former school with its gardens is private, but you can cross through the yard to get to and from the pier. However, hanging around the yard without permission is not allowed.

When exploring the island, it’s good to be respectful of islanders and their privacy and leave places tidy when you leave. Remember, when visiting any place outdoors, you should always follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

I started walking down the path, narrower than a cart track, towards the crossroads. From there I had to decide, will I go to Svartviken first or head straight towards Lerviken, both of which have a maintained and stocked campfire area. I strolled slowly along the easy path, inspecting what was on either side of it. Foxgloves on one side, with their colours blazing, were probably fugitives from the garden.

Juicy-looking blueberries cast their fruity glances in my direction, and I just couldn’t resist… It wasn’t long until my mouth was completely blue. What a delicious start to the trip… But someone else could pick that cep, as I didn’t have my mushroom knife with me.

The name Pirttisaari, meaning ‘Cabin Island’, had already led me to believe that on the island there would be at least one cabin. There were actually several, many painted with red ochre, which fit perfectly with the picturesque archipelago landscape. The island has been inhabited since the 1700s and there are still permanent year-round residents, even though you would think that with the long boat trip from the mainland, people would just come to spend the summer here in their cottages.

You won’t come across any cars on the island. The biggest vehicle that you might encounter on the narrow path is a quad bike. Among other things, these are probably used to transport firewood to the campfire spots for visitors of the island. The only other sounds of motors rumbling are really only heard from the sea, unless someone’s cutting wood with a chainsaw.

In many recreational areas route markers are made with paint dots on trees, but not on Pirttisaari. When I arrived at the first crossroads after the schoolyard, there were wooden signs waiting for me. Svartviken to the left and Lerviken to the right and the toilet. I chose Lerviken first, because I suspected that there might be more to see.

The small road leading to Lerviken went through a primeval forest, where some bugs were probably feasting on the decaying wood that had been left to lie there and rot in peace. A bright green moss carpet covered the forest floor and I stopped a number of times to admire the colours, light and shadows in amongst the majestic spruces.

Random songbirds performed their solos every now and then. My own footsteps were the loudest distraction, but fortunately only a faint one.

The trail led me over the top of a bare rock, alongside a former pasture and then continued through coniferous forests before the next signs with maps, from which I could see that I was already close to the beach and a defence tower. The tower is locked so don’t anticipate climbing up to get a better view, but don’t worry: the Gulf of Finland archipelago landscapes open up spectacularly from the top of the rocks.

I scrambled up onto the handsome looking rocks next to the army tower, along a path of sorts, but then I went my own way. What a view! If only I had brought my binoculars with me. I could see islets and islands near and far. On one island in the distance I could clearly make out the column of a lighthouse. Moomin Papa’s lighthouse, Söderskär, which is located in Porvoo’s outer archipelago. You can even go and visit Södeskar on a number of different ferries or boat cruises.

I jumped forward from the rocks and noticed a graying wooden cross. The cross has been erected in memory of the fisherman’s son Isak Lilleberg. Isak sailed to the outer island in 1838 to collect his sheep, but was surprised by a storm and drowned on the way. On the back of the wooden cross you can still kind of make out his house mark of four arrows.

I took a moment to sit on the rock to savour the euphoria of looking at an open sea view in laid-back warm weather. These landscapes really do make the spirit soar. It was fun to explore the rocks. By the shore, their rugged features had been softened over time, caressed by the waves; any grooves in them had been pretty much smoothed by the water.

In several places little towers had been made from piled up stones, a reasonable task for a hot day on this kind of island.

I then got up and continued my journey towards the campfire and picnic spot. One family was enjoying the sunny rocks by the cove and I heard from the screams of a the children, that the water was a little fresh. I went to the small headland and then leapt across the stones, aiming towards the sailing ships gliding in the sea. Someone had made a short crescent shaped wall out of beach stones to pass the time, but what for? Maybe it was a play den.

Hunger was starting to make my stomach rumble. Thankfully Lerviken’s campfire spot was already pretty close.

I was expecting a simple campfire ring, but Lerviken surprised me with a super smart shelter with glass walls on one side! The previous picnicker left the fire place soon after I arrived, so I got to sit and enjoy my thermos of tea and my sandwiches in peace, while starting at the open seascape behind the rocks. It was a good idea to build a wind shelter, that you can see through, when the views are as beautiful as this.

On the wall of the shelter were some barcodes which you could scan with your smartphone, if you owned one, and load material telling you about wonders on the island and most importantly, a list of 10 things that you should do before you leave the island. I took my phone out immediately (thankfully there was plenty of charge left in the battery) and browsed the tasks. Yes, I’d already seen those things… and yes, I had already heard those sounds, I had climbed to a high point on the island. But wait a minute, this looked like a fun task…

The task that caught my attention, was to ‘discover your inner artist and make a work of art for the island out of materials provided by nature’. So I admit that this wasn’t exactly original, but it was fun to spend a moment finding different kinds of stones and make a cairn on the coastal rocks. The next visitors could then do whatever they wished with these sculptures. My ecological work of art followed the given instructions of not leaving a permanent mark on or causing damage to the island.

As I left the campfire area, I passed a leftover from the war: a pretty well camouflaged bunker in the side of the rock. There’s no point in trying to get inside there either, as it’s forbidden to enter army buildings without permission. I returned to the path that I arrived on back to the familiar crossroads and followed the sign to the island’s other side, Svartiken.

From Lerviken to Svartiken is a distance of about 1.6km, so you shouldn’t get exhausted, especially as the terrain is nice and even. So I curved from the straight path slightly to the side, as with this kind of short distance on a small area near the seashore there’s no risk of getting lost. But I also still had my map safely in my pocket. I followed the cart track from Svartiken slightly to the right and, still on the small path, through the forest, ending up in a charming bay between Marraudden and Mellanudden. This side of the island looked so different with all its lush greenery!

I then came back on myself and turned onto the little road going to Svartiken. It’s good to keep your eyes wide open by Svartiken, because even though there aren’t that many options offered to the walker, the wooden signs are small. If you arrive on the island via Svartiken, the route to Lerviken is clearer, but coming from Lerviken there are a couple of crossroads which can confuse the traveller.

At Svartiken there is a boat jetty, where there were a number of boats parked. The secluded, rocky inlet is a great place to stop for the night if you wish to, as there is a maintained campfire place with firewood and a tidy outhouse. I would recommend Lerviken however as the number one location for daytrippers, where you can enjoy the open landscape/scenery and sheltered campfire place. Svartiken is designed more for boaters.

Then I looked at the clock – it was time to head back to the old school pier to wait for the ferry and my ride back to the mainland.

The ferry arrived at the jetty around 2pm and about a dozen passengers boarded. Sitting on the deck of M/S Pörtö in the afternoon sun in the middle of the glistening sea, I sighed, thinking to myself that Finland does indeed have a gloriously beautiful archipelago and it’s an amazing thing that even an ordinary landlubber like me can go and enjoy it just by using the ferry. And this trip didn’t even cost that much, for the ferry crossing to Pirttisaari’s old school pier and back is free!

Directions and parking: Kalkkiranta beach can be reached by bus from both Porvoo and Helsinki (about 1hr30 from Central Station). From both directions you will need to change buses at Söderkulla, which is about 7km from Kalkkiranta where you catch the ferry, and the times coincide with ferry departure times. Please see Helsinki’s Journey Planner for routes and times from Helsinki. The ferry journey from Kalkkiranta on the mainland to Pirttisaari is about one hour.

If you come via car, you can use Kalkkiranta’s free parking area, but if it’s full you have to find a parking spot by the side of the road. For bicycles, there’s plenty of room near the beach and you can buy ice-cream and other snacks from Kalkkiranta’s kiosk.

ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6670253  E 413851

Map (Lerviksudden, Pirttisaari)  ETRS-TM35FIN -tasokoordinaatit N 6670253  E 413851

Winter fairy tale land – Koli

You don’t have to go all the way to Lapland to find beautiful winter landscapes. In North-Karelia you can find the most highest place of South-Finland. In the fell Koli you can find it’s peaks Ukko-Koli, Akka-Koli and Paha-Koli. People believe that these peaks got their name’s from powerful ancient gods.

You can use snowshoes or ski’s to get to the top of Koli. There is also a hotel and Koli National Park‘s nature center in the top. After hiking in the hills you can get a cup of coffee for example in the nature center Ukko’s cafeteria.

When the sky is clear, you can see lake Pielinen from the Koli hills. When the sky is misty, you just have to enjoy the magical spruce forests with snow and hard rime that accumulates on tree branches.

Old forests look magical in winter time. Village under the hills can be without snow on the trees, but when you climb up to the fell, usually you can find beautiful trees with snow and ice on them.

Finnish artists, photographers and nature-lovers have been inspired with this heritage landscape for centuries. Usually people say, that you should go to the Koli, when the sky is clear and sunny. I think you should definitely visit Koli in a foggy day also.

When almost everything is white, you start to realize, that it’s not really white. It’s blue, it’s purple, it’s orange and colors are changing sometimes really fast. Some camera’s go crazy and it’s difficult to capture the real color of the forests. But who know’s, what’s real and what’s unreal?

Some part’s of the trails are without winter maintenance, but usually paths are walked open by people, so you can even go walking there just with your winter shoes. Don’t hesitate to ask advice’s from nature center’s helpful workers.

Stunning view with special effects – Helsinki in winter

In winter day is short in Helsinki, less than six hours day light at its shortest. Usually the sun hides behind the clouds, but when it shines, it is time to get out and enjoy the winter day.

Kaivopuisto in southern Helsinki offers beautiful view to the archipelago and nice walk by the waterfront. In November when weather gets cold, sea begins to freeze and boats are lifted to the dock yard for the winter.

When the busy small boat marina quiets down, a temporary bridge is set up between Kaivopuisto boardwalk and Uunisaari island. From Uunisaari and neighboring Liuskasaari islands stunning scenery opens up to the sea.

The place is popular but the atmosphere is so peaceful and seems that nobody is in a hurry.

In winter time, icy seaside cliffs and cold air make a strong contrast to the open sea. When the water has higher temperature than the air, steam begins to rise above the sea. That makes the scenery even more dramatic. Rocks and cliffs are beautiful when covered with ice. Be careful, they are slippery, too.

On a cold day, air above the sea is full of ice crystals and it is possible to see a special halo effect around the sun. Crystals reflect the light splitting it to the colors of rainbow.

Kaivopuisto is located 2 km from the city center and it is easy to reach by foot or tram. To enjoy the best views, head to the small islands.

During winter time, it is easy to get to the Uunisaari island via pedestrian bridge. When the boating season begins, bridge is removed and there is a boat connection. Uunisaari is a recreational area and there is a restaurant and a sauna. In winter bring your gloves and scarves and enjoy the view to the open sea.

Map – Uunisaari bridge

Coordinates: (ETRS-TM35FIN) N=6670343 E=386410

Information about Uunisaari can be found here.

Cycling in Porvoo’s National Urban Park

Porvoo is one of Finland’s best loved national landscapes, with its red wooden riverside storehouses and pastel-coloured buildings belonging to the old town, its river valley and its National Urban Park.

National Urban Parks are an assembly of natural spaces, agricultural landscapes and built areas of cultural significance in and around the urban environment. Porvoo’s Urban National Park is made up of the historical town itself, ancient relics, nature conservation areas as well as parks and recreational areas used by urban residents. Altogether this forms about 1,112 hectares.

While writing this I discovered that Urban National Parks can also be found in seven other cities around Finland: Forssa, Hanko, Heinola, Hämeenlinna, Kotka, Pori and Turku.

My own National Urban Park exploration began on board a Jopo bike courtesy of VisitPorvoo, which can be rented from under Mannerheiminkatu bridge. I set off just as the bells of Porvoo’s handsome cathedral struck ten o’clock, as if someone had fired a starting shot for a race. Weaving through tourists enthusiastically taking pictures with their smartphones, I peddled through the cobbled streets, over the bridge and then onto the bicycle lane alongside Porvoo river.

I had boldly chosen a gearless bicycle, having concluded that I would be riding mainly on flat terrain. Riding on a Jopo also felt reassuringly nostalgic and like a laid back way to travel on a sunny day.

Having decided on Haikkoo Manor as my destination and point for turning back, I peddled along Porvoo’s western bank. The city’s old and new centres were left behind on the opposite shore, as I continued my journey south alongside relatively new apartments.

From my bike saddle, I observed boats laying idle in the harbour as well as gliding along the water. Canada geese were resting on the river bank as I passed The Art Factory, where Visit Porvoo’s travel info is based and from where you can pick up a cycling and outdoors map. I spotted its #URBCULT- area, in which school kids had been nurturing vegetables planted in containers made from old pallets. There was even sauna on offer there in celebration of summer!

After the cycle path had curved round into Kokonniemi, I stopped for a moment to admire a some street art on the wall of the pumping station, inspired by the famous Japanese print The Great Wave of Kanagawa. On my right the coniferous hill of Kokonniemi rose up steeply.

Soon I came across a maintained park area with a campfire pit – a great place for a picnic. One couple had set up their picnic chairs on the lawn of the river bank, but the two campfire sites made out of concrete well rings are a much better way to cook your sausages than using disposable barbecues. I do advise taking your own firewood though, as I didn’t notice any provided by the city.

The features of this park at the tip of Kokonniemi are charming, with a delicately carved yellow pavilion (unfortunately somewhat vandalised), as well as a magnificent straight avenue of linden trees, which leads from it to the beach. This would be a lovely spot for a summer cafe.

Looking at the pavilion and the view, images of old, black and white domestic movies started to play my mind: a manor house romance; a couple in love walking along the linden tree avenue in the summer dusk, a violin playing softly in the background… The park’s construction began in 1891, which was an acknowledgement of the location’s beauty and elegance.

After admiring the park, I cycled ahead on a gravel cycle path and started to crave ice-cream. Looking at the map I noticed, with relief, that nearby was Kokonniemi’s campground, which would be sure to have some. I broke into a little sweat cycling up hill, but at least I had earned my ice-cream.

I took this opportunity to inspect the map further. I noticed as I left the camping area, that the rocks of Kokonniemi were gleaming at me from the other side – another place to go and explore.

Approaching Uddas, the view opened out along with river’s mouth, which stretched out on my left. The reedbed continued as far as the eye could see and the sea could barely be spotted behind all the greenery. The cycle path continued to be even and easy until I reached Uddas, where there was a small uphill before rolling into the forest. I made a little stop again: the raspberries on the side of the cycle path looked too good to resist.

Out and about were other cyclists, joggers and a few walkers. It was especially pleasing to see one particular couple: the lady was jogging while the gentleman accompanied her in an electric wheelchair. It was great to see that this route in the middle of nature was accessible, for all to enjoy. When I came to the field, I chose the path on the coast and and started to look out for a cycle path on the right. Somewhere the path had to rise up to a vantage point.

Then I came to a small beach, where a couple of families where sunbathing, and noticed that a path branched out from the cycle path uphill to Tornberget, next to a granite column, with a mysterious engraving of the number 60 on it. I parked my bike on the side of the coastal path and clambered up the gently rising trail in hope of finding the vantage point.

The forest path was a joy to walk, with the leaves shimmering in the sun. Without the drone of cars anywhere nearby, it was completely quiet except for a bird fluttering and chirping in a nearby tree. Further up, I came across a fitness route which had stretching apparatus on the side of it. I turned past it onto the path that led to the left. And then again to the left, on the coastal side.

With my mouth blue from Tornberget’s juicy berries, I walked onto the almost bare rocks and was presented with a fantastic view towards Porvoo River. This was the moment to sit down and dig out my sandwich and water bottle. I did slightly regret not filling up my tea flask that morning, but that was quickly forgotten. It did me a world of good watching the shimmering water, boats occasionally floating by and a few fluffy clouds in the blue sky.

Back on my bike, after peddling a few metres; I noticed another path leading upwards after the rock walls of Tornberget. The path seemed to promise another fine view, but I decided that my next scenic stop would be a vantage point further along.

As I passed the shore of Hamari, I took a peek at cute, old houses which the local sawmill workers had built for themselves. At some point Hamari used to have its own harbour and docking station. If I hadn’t already had a snack break, I would have stopped at the beach cafe, but instead I looked for the route to the Lennätinkallio nature conservation area. The area’s forests have been left alone to grow in peace since 1961, when the nature conservation area was established.

I cycled along the park road and then to Haavikkotie road which shot me out onto the the fitness trail. I left my bicycle parked on the edge of the forest and picked up the first path going up on the left and decided to aim as high as possible, sure I would find the vantage point around there somewhere. I scrambled for a little while on the pine dominated rocky hill and wondered where to go, but then took the widest path into the spruce forest. From there I found the vantage point with it’s small lookout tower.

At the lookout tower there’s a picnic table. You can compare the view with the image of it that hangs on the side of the tower, by the internationally known painter Albert Edelfelt. Some kids turned up from the straightest path from Lennätinvuori clutching their mobile phones. I suspect they were not there for the view, like I was. Probably on a Pokemon mission.

Because the tower is low, you don’t see over the tops of the trees as far as Porvoo’s centre. The view is mainly of forest and the open water of Haikkoo on the horizon.

I descended on the occasionally very rocky path that led down from the observation tower and back onto the fitness trail, peering at the forest view. The light dappled onto the dazzling, beautiful moss, the trees and on the scattered boulders. I let out a sigh.

After that I peddled towards Haikkoo on the nearest cycle path. However, I didn’t stop immediately at the Manor House and Spa, but continued by journey downhill, it was only 600 metres from the crossroads to Albert Edelfelt’s studio museum. Almost immediately I spotted a sign on the right hand side of the road. It indicated that a pond featured in Edelfelt’s painting was on the right hand side of the fitness trail. Naturally, I turned down it and continued cycling the forest route towards this other art subject.

The marked fitness trail was primarily for skiers and walkers, but it was also easy to cycle. The good signage to Haikkoo’s pond was a bonus. I parked my bicycle on the side of the fitness trail and walked on the bumpy and partially damp path towards the edge of the forest pond.

Haikkoo’s forest pond was charming with its waterlilies, which blossomed joyfully as they did in the painting itself. A large print of the painting was also on display in situ, which enabled comparison of Edelfelt’s version with the live view. I wondered if he carried his drawing and painting materials to the place himself or if he had an assistant. Did the models have to shiver in the pond for long?

I returned to my bicycle and rode along the fitness route back to the nearest residential area and from there to the crossroads, where I reached Edelfelt’s path which led to Albert Edelfelt’s studio, which now serves as a museum. An engraving on a rock in the garden confirms that Edelfelt (1854-1905) worked here for 24 summers.

Albert Edelfelt had been so fond of Haikkoo’s nature and landscape that in 1880 he bought himself an old estate manager’s house, and in a few years had a studio built for himself with windows in the roof. There were excellent views of Haikkoo’s open water from the house. The trees on the plot have obviously kept growing since then, but right on the shore you can still see the landscape.

In the garden of the studio, I noticed a few pictures of Edelfelt’s works and before going into the museum, I walked down the path towards the shore. More photos of paintings! This was a really nice outdoor exhibition and it was interesting being in the exact locations where the paintings were painted.

Down by the water, there was a table on a wooden bench. If you happened to have a print of Edelfelt’s Haikkoo painting with you, you could sit and observe what had changed in the landscape.

I popped a few wild blueberries into my mouth and stopped at the museum, where a guide was talking about Edelfelt’s life, the paintings on display (which were duplicates) and the artefacts, fluently in different languages. Then it was time to head back.

I peddled and at times had to push the Jopo bike up hill. Then, sweating, I turned right into the courtyard of Hotel Haikko Manor and Spa. It was very grand. However, the pond with a fountain near the parking area softened my heart – it looked somewhat unruly in the middle of this manicured milieu. My bike waited in the parking area, as I took a short stroll in the gorgeous grounds of Haikko Manor, where lawns and flowerbeds lived in harmony with frisbee-golf baskets.

InHotel Haikko Manor and Spa there’s a cafe where daytrippers can go and have a sweet or salty snack, you don’t have to be an overnight guest.

I returned to my bike, passing a white Rolls Royce, and then cycled back along the same way that I came, following the wonderful waterside route back to Porvoo, where I returned my rented vehicle to Mannerheim street under the bridge. A shorter route would also have been possible, but why take a short cut if you don’t need to? As I cycled I thought that you could quite easily do this day trip from the centre of Porvoo to Haikko just by walking.

Porvoo’s National City park is a great outdoor destination because it’s easy to hike there on your own, on short or longer routes, and keep within a stone’s throw from cafes if you wish. Or you can rent a bicycle and explore a wider area. When I saw the stand-up paddlers I immediately felt like paddling along Porvoo river.

I can honestly say, that one day is nowhere near enough to explore the National Urban Park that spreads out across both sides of Porvoo’s river. To help you plan your trip, there is some excellent material available. You could start with the ready thought-out themed routes (find the downloadable PDF maps here) and pick up a pocket-sized leaflet with you about the park or a free cycling and outdoor map from the Visit Porvoo visitor office which is in the Art Factory on the river’s western bank.

For those interested in art, there’s a leaflet available that tells you about areas connected to Albert Edelfelt. You can depart from wherever you like, follow the suggested routes or go off and create your own mini adventure!

The author stayed at Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast, courtesy of Porvoo’s travel office VisitPorvoo.fi

Tornberget on the map.
Edelfelt’s studio and museum on the map. Address: Edelfeltinpolku 3, 06400 Porvoo.

Walk in Kokkola’s legendary old town, Neristan

It’s Christmas time and I have returned to my old home town for family gathering. It’s the 23rd of December and the temperature is just below zero.

Rauma’s old town is known for it’s status as Unesco World heritage site. But Kokkola’s old town, Neristan, is just as stunning, an old wooden neighborhood with lots of romantic mood.

Old city hall and Christmas tree

Almost perfect square shaped city blocks, old style streets lights and beautiful wooden buildings take you back to 19th century. If you get lucky you don’t even see any cars parked on the streets!

Old wooden buildings with Christmas lights

The oldest wooden buildings are from the 17th century. Kokkola has two main languages. One is Finnish and the other Swedish. You can see the Swedish architecture’s influence in some of the buildings. Neristan is also Swedish and means downtown.

Restaurant in Neristan

Near water there is a small building with big windows and strange boat inside. It’s memorial for the skirmish of Halkokari: year 1854, when British navy raided Finland’s coast during Crimean war, they tried to burn down the harbour of Kokkola. This boat is the only known vessel that has ever been obtained as a spoil of war from the British navy.

Memorial of the skirmish of Halkokari

These holy fells are two billion years old – Pyhä area, Lapland

Pyhä area in Lapland is a row of beautiful fells. The name Pyhä means holy. They looked special in the eye of the ancient Sámi people, but also geologically these fells are something else: They’ve been around for two billion years. The round fells we see today are the roots of ancient high and mighty mountains. Come and see for yourself! But respect the sacred surroundings.

Noitatunturi, “the Witch Fell” is an old sacrificial place and the highest peak of Pyhä fells, reaching 540 m. Photo: Joona Kivinen

Sacred place for the Sámi people

The fells and the grand gorges between them look so unique that the ancient Forest Sámi people held the place sacred. There are several sacrificial and worship places, “seita”, in the area that you can visit. A seita can be a unique rock formation or special kind of a tree. It was believed that spirits and gods lived in such places.

pyha_isokuru1

Isokuru is the deepest gorge in Finland, plunging down 220 meters. It is 1,5 km long.

pyha2_2

On the bottom, there are many stories from the past if you pay attention. For instance, in the summer you see wave figures in the rocks, reminding of the time this place was under water.

Geological wonderland

Besides being culturally important, the Pyhä fells are special regarding the whole history of our planet: They belong to the oldest mountains in the world!

The age of the Earth is 4,5 billion years. The age of the main rock type (quartzite) in Pyhä fells has been dated to 1,9-1,8 billion years. These round cuties of today used to be massive mountains, reaching 4 km in height! Kind of like the Alps look today. Except that the Alps are wearing nappies compared to the ancient Pyhä fells, as they are only around 55 million years old. The difference in age is so huge it is hard to grasp.

The ice ages have done their part in sculpting the area. Massive glacier, as high as 3 km, has gone back and forth with warming and cooling climate and has rubbed the sharpness off the fells. Melting water from the glacier has gone through the gorges, carving them deeper and deeper.

pyha3

These Pyhä fells have seen it all. Literally. They have been here for half of the Earth’s lifetime.

Enjoy the National Park

In Pyhä-Luosto National Park there are many marked nature trails for your enjoyment all year round: Up the fells, down to the gorges or out to the open wetland on duckboards.

Whether you are into ancient cultures, geology, extreme sports or blissful nature, Pyhä has it all.

It is December and the day light is short. You only have a couple of hours of light, before having to turn the headlamp on. Then again, at noon it is both sunrise and sunset at the same time so the sky is just breathtaking. Then darkness falls for another 20 or so hours. But you have plenty of time to enjoy the northern lights…

Pyhä Visitor Centre

Map

A GLIMPSE OF MAGIC IN THE HEART OF HOSSA

The quiet patter of rain didn’t put us off trying the 3km nature trail at the heart of Hossa. We had already been treated with a couple of days of sunshine, so a bit of rain felt quite pleasant. Being active outdoors can make you pretty warm, and nothing is more refreshing than raindrops on your forehead.

The nature trail, which winds around Huosilampi lake as well as a smaller unnamed pond, is clearly marked and departs from Hossa Visitor Centre’s courtyard. The first portion of the trail is wheelchair accessible.

The first sight on the path left me and my partner feeling rather puzzled. Was it an enclosure to keep people out, or was the fence there so that the lichen couldn’t stray?

To clarify, this kind of enclosure is usually known as a ‘kirnu’ (‘churn’ in English), a fenced area in the centre of the main corral, into which reindeer that roam in the wild are herded during the reindeer round up, something which happens twice a year. The ‘kirnu’ is usually where the main action happens, where individuals are caught and put into separate pens according to whether they will go slaughter, be castrated, go on to breed, be sold and so on. However, the ‘kirnu’ usually has a gate which you can open easily. There was nothing like that here.

Thankfully we were on a nature trail, which meant that there was an information board to offer immediate relief to our confusion. The spot in question was a test area, where they were studying how quickly lichen grows, when it isn’t being eaten. So the fence was to keep reindeer out rather than lichen in,  which was a slightly more logical answer than our earlier speculation.

Our reindeer herding dog seemed to be of the opinion that there were too few reindeer around, and was eager to continue the journey, when we finally finished reading the sign.

Wheelchair access to the shore of Huosilampi lake

Soon after the start of the trail, we reached the shore of Huosilampi. Along the route, a pier had also been made wheelchair accessible. It is really admirable that access has been provided, for all to enjoy the clear waters of Hossa. When Hossa officially becomes a National Park in 2017, it is said that accessible infrastructure will be developed even further.

Along the shore there was also a campfire area which included benches with backrests, as well as a table in the shelter that a wheelchair could easily fit around.

Someone could be heard fishing on the opposite shore. Our route continued in that direction. For a while, the wide, accessible trail hugged the edge of the lake and then crossed beautiful swamplands.

The route then narrowed into a regular path as we dove into the woods, where the elevation differences were noticeably greater.

Soon after, a swamp opened out to our right. Is it just me, or are swamps especially beautiful in the rain? Their colour saturation seems more intense against the contrast of the dark sky.

A little further along we got to admire the dark back of Huosiusjärvi lake from a high slope. There was also a bench, where you could sit and rest. The nature trail shouldn’t include any dramatically steep climbs or tricky downhills, but you can still manage to break a sweat. You won’t find flat, even ground in ridge terrain.

We were approaching the ridge of Huosiharju, the trail slanting towards its eastern end. The path snaked clearly through the ground and was well-marked, making it easy to follow. No-one crossed our paths throughout the whole journey.

The nameless pond along the trail was dark turquoise even in the rain. Might it have been a kettle hole formed by a lump of ice melting at the end of the ice age? The nature trail’s information board confirmed my suspicions.

Kettle holes (bowl-shaped depressions in the land) and ridges, which tell us of the ice age’s powerful influence, have a strong presence in Hossa. But they are so big, noble and soft in form, that nature’s rage during the ice age no longer really comes across. Instead everything is beautiful, gentle and quiet. The turquoise waters of the kettle holes, the soft lichen on the ridges and the carpet of low-lying forest shrubbery invite the soul and eyes to relax.

This aside, nature’s strong will can be seen in the fallen trees, some of which looked like they had experienced quite a violent fate.

We wandered around the forest between the kettle hole pond and Huosilampi lake in a figure of eight trying to guess where the route continued. Straight? No, it continued to the south of Huosilampi.

Soon we reached a road. There was a tourist in a caravan in the carpark. From the carpark, steps led down to the lake shore, by which we found a campfire spot with a woodshed. On the other side of the water on the forest slope a reindeer rustled.

The clear surface of Huosilampi was trying to tell us, that the rain was weakening. Only small individual drops tickled the surface of the pond.

Walking around a small bay I saw tree trunks resting beneath the surface of the water. They were as beautiful as they were eerie.

During the whole trip we only met one other person, a man fishing. I asked if any fish were biting, but the man asked for more time saying that he had only just arrived.

Huosilampi’s disabled access shelter

Around the corner we came across a picnic area so large that you could arrange a wedding there. But it was empty. In front of it was a disabled access jetty. At the water’s edge there was a table for gutting fish.

Soon we were back at the Visitor Centre, where the carpark was filled with the smart-looking motorhomes belonging to French and Germans. It’s wonderful that foreigners have also found Hossa.

The nature trail is a great sampler of what Hossa is all about: clear turquoise waters, forests that are bright and full of rich colour, straight trees and round shapes. This is why it’s a great choice for those, who are for whatever reason only passing through and don’t have enough time to enjoy Hossa more extensively.

Also, thanks to its accessible sections, even wheelchair users can fully enjoy the beauty of its waters, the colourful marshes and the atmosphere of the campfire with ease.

After our own tour, we retreated to the cottage at Hossan Lumo that Suomussalmi region had kindly offered us, to dry off and rest for a moment.

The trail’s starting point is here on the map

This article is part of series about Hossa, carried out in collaboration with the municipality of Suomussalmi.

Translated by Becky Hastings.

This extreme outdoor activity is common In Finland – would you dare to try?

There might be a chance, that you feel cold in Finland during winter, especially if you’re not used to air temperatures below zero. If so happens, find a nearby winter swimming location and dip yourself into cold water. Paradoxically coldness warms you up. Be careful though – you might end up totally hooked to the hormone boost and the afterglow of winter swimming.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Lakes in Finland are frozen quite a long time in a year: in Lapland usually seven, in Central Finland five and in Southern part of the country at least four months. The Baltic Sea by the coast gets its ice cover in November-December, depending on annual weather conditions, and sea ice might thaw as late as in late May.

Ice, cold water, sun and friends - what more do you need? Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää.

Cold water, ice, snow, sun and friends – what more do you need? Winter swimming club at Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää. Photo: Päivi Pälvimäki.

Winter swimming (or ice hole/pool swimming, when done in an ice hole) is a traditional Finnish outdoor activity. We know for sure that people took cold-water baths in the 17th century. Probably much earlier than that, but we don’t have any documents of those practises. First winter swimming clubs were founded in the 1920’s and since then winter swimming as an outdoor and health enhancing physical activity has become increasingly popular.

Fell brook at Kiilopää arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

Ice pool in Kiilopuro fell brook at Kiilopää, Lapland. A true arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

If you want to experience the most traditional custom, combine sauna going and a dip in a hole in ice. The extreme temperature change really puts your blood circulating and releases many pain-relieving and pleasure hormones. Entering into cold water straight from sauna is not the healthiest thing to do, so you ought to cool off a bit in between. Usually this happens naturally, when you walk outside in frosty air from sauna to an ice pool.

Wait, I'll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Wait, I’ll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Go slowly into water, breath slowly out and dip yourself into water as short as you like. You might feel tickling in your fingers and toes, red spots might occur on your skin and you might have difficulties to keep up your normal breathing rhythm. They are normal reactions to cold-water immersion, do not panic and run away, especially because it might be very slippery. When you come out of water, you’ll start slowly feeling better and better and better and better…and you want to go back into that freezing embrace of water. After dipping/ swimming warm up slowly and drink something warm. Cold-water immersion is a positive shock to your body. When you do it regularly you will be able to stand better stress and your immune system becomes stronger.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Winter swimming season in Finland starts when water temperature goes below 10 °C, which happens in Southern Finland in October. There are over 260 registered winter swimming locations, where you can actually swim, not just dip. In Helsinki there are 14 winter swimming locations.

Great locations for winter swimming:

  • Fell Centre Kiilopää in Lapland, Northern Finland: Coldest water ever, minus degrees. Swim in Kiilopuro fell brook and then relax in a smoke sauna afterwards. Next day you will be so energized that you’ll ski over fells in no time. The true arctic spa!
  • Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki (opens again in May 2017): Urban treasure. A seawater 25 m pool with unique city view. Also a heated fresh water 25 m pool, children’s pool, saunas and a restaurant.
  • Löyly in Helsinki: Sculptural architecture and windy winter swimming in the Baltic Sea. A beautiful smoke sauna and good food.
  • Lake Kuusijärvi in Vantaa near Helsinki: Easy access. Winter swimming training. A 25 m ice pool and saunas.
  • Winter Swimming Centre Joensuu Polar Bears in Joensuu, Eastern Finland.
  • Rauhaniemi Ice Swimming in Tampere, Central Finland.
  • Herrankukkaro in Turku area, Western Finland.

Read more:

Swimming Holidays in Finland – for bespoke swimming holidays and swimming guiding services
Wild swimming in Finland
VisitFinland/winterswimming

Torvisen maja – sanctuary for tired skiers in Luosto since 1957

On the north side of Luosto fell there is the cutest little coffee house, Torvisen maja. I highly recommend visiting the cafe, not only for its delicious freshly baked doughnuts and pies but also for the incredible atmosphere, oozing authenticity and olden days. 

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You can reach Torvisen maja by car, skis, bike, feet, you choose.

How to get there?

I ended up visiting Torvisen maja as a pit stop on my skiing trip in December. The cross-country skiing tracks around Luosto are fabulous and versatile, by the way. Luosto fell is part of Pyhä-Luosto National Park in eastern Lapland. If travelling from abroad, the nearest airport is Rovaniemi. There are busses from Rovaniemi, as well as from other directions. As for me, I left my cabin with skis 6 km away, skied pass Luosto “centre” and towards the north side of the largest fell. There, you cannot miss the place.

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The heart of the cafe is the fireplace. Maria, the hostess, says people love to watch the fire for ages.

Resting haven for 60 years

At doorstep you already start feeling it. The warmth of the fireplace and dim light of candles embrace you. There are colourful rugs as tablecloths and traditional decorations from the olden days. This cafe has served tired and hungry skiers and wanderers since 1957!

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This is the very first guest book from 1957. A freely translated quote from a guest: “Possibly this hut brings people one step closer to nature, of which we have become estranged with.” That was 60 years ago, what about now?

Torvisen maja was founded by Torvinen village association as a wilderness hostel. One could stop here on a hiking or skiing trip and get a cosy sleeping space from upstairs, for a small fee. During the decades the cottage has served also as an open wilderness hut, and for the past 30 years actively as a cafe.

And imagine, there is still no electricity nor running water. But just that is a big part of the charm.

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Exceptional atmosphere and versatile menu

Today the cafe keepers are Maria Heikkilä and Toni Vaarala. They are very open and welcoming to all visitors from near and far, they chat with customers and tell stories about the cottage’s past. Meanwhile there is a fresh pot of coffee brewing and dough waiting to be turned into doughnut, or “munkki” as we say, on gas stove. Positive feedback from customers has been nearly overwhelming (we Finns do not accept compliments easily).

Indeed, a senior skier sipping coffee in the next table states Torvisen maja is the most atmospheric cafe he has ever visited, and he has been to many.

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Decorations are old and traditional. I love the rugs as tablecloths.

Maria and Toni emphasise they have a menu that is different every day but always contains fresh and home made goods.

I had a hard time deciding on my order as this was the Menu du Jour:

– reindeer-lingonberry pie

– lingonberry-fudge pie

– warm doughnuts, “munkki”

– pancakes (savoury and sweet)

– salmon sandwich

– tasting plate including reindeer salami, bear paté, reindeer liver, salmon and whitefish roe

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In the end I had to go with traditional munkki and coffee, and boy was it delicious! I could ski here every day just for the munkki.

Torvisen maja is open from Autumn until late spring, however long there is snow to be skied. The busiest time for the cafe is from February skiing holidays onwards until Easter.

Torvisen maja on the map