Enter The Land Of Melancholic Beauty

Perhaps not as striking and immediate as the Alps, nor as intimidating as the gorges of Norway, Finland can definitely be a strange beast to fathom, but there is great beauty here, beauty that is not found anywhere else on the planet.

In fact, besides those famous Lapland photos of aurora borealis and snow bent pines, small cottages and midsummer nights, it might appear to you that Finland is nothing but an endless stretch of mottled blues and greens. And while it’s true, it’s also so much more: It’s all about the details, and less about the scale. It is the silence, the sudden rush of leaves, the seasonal shift, the whole enthralling ambiance of the north.

A moment of stillness just before the sun takes the plunge.

While other countries often give me this continuous feeling of awe, bombarding my senses with towering mountains, quaint seaside vistas or gently rolling hills, nothing can really beat the magic of the moment I’ve felt herein. It’s a feeling hard to describe, with seemingly melancholy surroundings of little remark. It’s one of those deeply personal experiences everyone must figure out for themselves.

“Surely we have leagues upon leagues of lonely woods and scores of glimmering rural lakes, but to truly feel the magic – you only need to pick out any neck of the woods and let yourself be spellbound.”

Now, you might say that I’m perhaps a little bit biased, that everyone thinks just so about their country, but bear with me here. Although I have a great sense of home, my true country is nature, unhindered and unconfined by any border.

Imagine yourself somewhere there by the rocky coast, under those shadowy trees, enjoying the purity and silence.

For me the most memorable moments are those of discovery after a long day’s hike when you find that perfect spot in the wilderness. Be it in a dark wood by the deep green stream, or a solitary free-for-all cabin in the midst of winter. The peace that follows. The campfire by which you might find yourself contemplating the simple fact of being alive, or just warm yourself with the kuksa full of coffee.

Wilderness huts such as this one are scattered all around Finland for anyone to use as a temporary shelter.

Come summer and those mornings when you wake up to a concerto of early birds and the misty light of dawn. There is something ancient and shamanistic about it really, some deeper unconscious connection between the man and the wild, so often lost in this time and age.

What do you think? Why not come and explore it for yourself. The arboreal land of bear, elk and deer welcomes you!

Reindeers, while keeping their distance, are often quite curious about the wandering folk.

A stormfront chasing across the marsh with thunder in its wake.

Finland is all about stark contrasts and attraction of the opposites.

Amidst all those browns and greens, it’s spectacular to see a heather in bloom against the morning rise.

My Finland

I have been living here in Finland for close to 7 years now, after coming to Finland in 2011 in search of new adventures. I fell in love with the arctic and a local Finnish woman and have never left. While Enontekiö and Kilpisjärvi are my home and base for my guiding business, I have been lucky enough to live and visit a large number of places throughout Finland. Below is a summary of my Finland, in 5 photos. Enjoy!

These are the fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in the middle of autumn. This was taken the old fashioned way, out the window of a 2 seater aeroplane, piloted by my wife’s Uncle. The park has everything Lapland has to offer in one location, open fell tops, forests, marshes and lakes. As one of the national parks certified guides it was great to be able to see one of my workplaces from the air.

Kilpisjärvi, located in the arm of Finland, on the border of Sweden and Norway, is my home. There is nowhere else in Finland which offers the same mountainous landscapes. It’s a fantastic place for viewing the northern lights, and in winter you can ski or snowshoe pretty much anywhere you like. This shot is taken under Saana Fell looking over Lake Kilpisjärvi towards the Norwegian mountains.

At the other end of the country is Teijo National Park. It’s only a couple of hours from Helsinki, close to Turku and has around 80km of hiking trails. I was sleeping in of the laavu’s (a lean-to-shelter) in the park and was woken by the sun at around 4:30am to find myself shrouded in mist. This was one of the last photos I shot before the mist cleared. Misty mornings are common in Finland, particularly in autumn as the temperatures start to cool.

For me, this shot is winter. It’s one of the reasons I never went back to NZ. The temperature at the time was -42 C, the air was crisp and froze on the back of my camera every time I took a breath. When I looked through the viewfinder, my nose would freeze to the screen. Both our cars wouldn’t start and while most people stayed indoors, I was out exploring on snowshoes for a good couple of hours. I may not have been born in the north but I often feel as if I was meant to be.

I also love forests, which is a good thing as Finland is a land of forests, with seventy five percent of the country covered by them.  In the middle of summer, when everything is lush and green, that’s when they are at their best. This image was shot at Koli National Park back in 2015. The views from the top of the of the park are amazing, but it was the lushness of the forest which stood out for me.

The magical landscape of Koli is the most Finnish view ever

People say that what you can see from the top of Ukko-Koli hill is the most famous view in Finland.

You can find this breathtaking place in the easternmost part of Finland, in Koli national park in Lieksa.

Many artists used to come here at the end of 1800’s and early 1900’s to immortalize this spectacular natural landscape. Nowadays widely known and highly esteemed Finnish artist Eero Järnefelt (1863–1937) spent a lot of time in Koli, wandering around and searching for new spots to sit down and create new paintings. And, boy, did he find them! He was a master to describe Koli’s surrounding by paints.

This is where Eero Järnefelt made a painting called Metsälampi (Forest pond).

Today tourists from all over the world come to visit Koli to see these places that are well-known from Järnefelt’s works. Yesterday’s art became today’s advertisement.

You can climb up Ukko-Koli hill, which is the most visited place in Koli. On the highest point you can admire Lake Pielinen right there under your nose. All those green islands and endless blue water under the blue sky and white clouds… That has to be the most Finnish view there is.

There is also an observation tower called Räsävaara nearby Koli village. If you dare to climb up, the view from up there is really stunning!

From the tower you are able to see all around Koli: the Koli hill queue, Lake Pielinen and other smaller lakes and ponds. I think that this really is Finland’s most beautiful national landscape!

MAP.

Read more about Koli here and Koli National Park here.

Sky-Sailing above the Lakeland

I’ve always been afraid of heights. So, when a friend asked me if I would like to fly in a hot air balloon, I immediately said yes. I wanted to face my fears and have an unforgettable experience. Right after that I tried to forget what I just had promised.

After a few weeks it was time to face the fears. First the pilot gave us a short presentation of what was to come. Then he released a helium balloon to show the local wind direction, and decided the route in such a way that we would avoid the nearby great lakes. It would be a shame if the wind calmed over a big lake and the balloon would run out of gas.

The take off place was an old sports field 12 kilometers away. The first thing to do was preparing the basket. Then the hot air balloon was spread on the ground. First it was filled with cold air and when it was full, the pilot started to heat the air with a gas burner.

Soon the balloon was high in the air and the basket scarcely touched the ground. It was time to climb aboard. Now I was nervous, but just for a moment. Soon the balloon was high in the air and instead of thrill my mind was ecstatic.

Landscape was truly beautiful in the light of the setting summer sun. There was a green carpet of forests as far as it was possible to see.

Here and there I could see a blue lake shining like a jewel, hills rising and fields glowing in all shades of green.

The air was calm because the balloon had the same speed as the wind. It was absolutely quiet. The silence was broken only by our conversation, and occasionally the sound of the burner. The only sound from the ground was dogs barking.

Above a lake the pilot dropped the balloon as low as possible, and we could see our reflection on the calm water. The sight was unreal, beautiful and memorable. It was good moment to enjoy a glass of a sparkling wine. Then we rose again and travelled smoothly forward.

After an hour it was time to start preparing for the landing. As the balloon goes to the wind, landing takes place in a suitable open area. The balloon touched some treetops and finally it hit the ground with a small bump. The flight was successfully passed. This time fortune favored, because we hit the ground only 300 meters away from the planned spot. Such accuracy is very unusual.

We helped to pack the balloon, after which each of us received a diploma and a testimony to commemorate the memorable experience. It was not scary at all to be in the air. I had seen and experienced familiar landscapes in a completely different way than ever before. That was just great!

These 7 summits in Finland are easy to reach and will take your breath away!

Climbing on top of a fell is something you’ll never forget. Physically it can feel exhausting – prepare to sweat. However, with each step you’ll notice that the view behind your back is getting more and more amazing. When finally on top, you can not believe how beautiful the view is.

Here are my personal favorites that are relatively easy to reach and their beauty is mind boggling.

Saana, Kilpisjärvi

Saana is one of the most legendary fells in Finland. To get to the top you’ll have to hike about 4 kilometers back and forth, including Finland’s longest stairs. The view on the top is spectacular – and so is the cold wind. At the feet of Saana you’ll find Kilpisjärvi Visitor Centre and for example a hotel and some restaurants. Read more in English here. MAP.

On top of Saana

Pyhä-Nattanen, Sodankylä

This is an ancient holy place of the sámi people who are the only indigenous people in the European Union. On top of Pyhä-Nattanen there are strange rock formations called “Tors” named after the Scandinavian god of thunder Thor. To get there you need to hike a 7 km circle trail. Pyhä-Nattanen is in the Sompio Strict Nature Reserve, which means that you have to stay on the official trail at all times. Read more in English here. MAP.

Tors on top of Pyhä-Nattanen

Olos, Muonio

Olos is a cute little fell near to the Swedish border. It is a ski resort with hotels and restaurants and stuff, but you can still experience the serenity of the Finnish nature when hiking on top of Olos. The hike to the top is not long: only about 1,5 kilometers from the hotel. I recommend wearing snowshoes in winter! Read more in English here. MAP.

On top of Olos. Levi fell is in the horizon.

Pallas, Muonio

Oh my, the Pallas fells will surely steal your heart. In the beautiful national park of Pallas-Yllästunturi, the round summits of Pallas are one of the most popular place to visit. To get to the top I recommend that you hike the 9-kilometer-long circle trail called Taivaskeron kierros. At the feet of Pallas you’ll find a hotel and a visitor centre. Read more in English here. MAP.

If you love reindeer, Pallas is the place for you.

Oratunturi, Sodankylä

When driving from Kemijärvi to Sodankylä or vice versa, Oratunturi is a must see. With only a 2 km hike you’ll reach the top of this quite underestimated fell. The trail is well marked with red, wooden crosses (it’s actually a snowmobile trail). The view from the top is unreal! You’ll also find a lean-to shelter with firewood and everything next to the top. To find out more contact the Sodankylä Tourist InformationMAP.

View from the top of Oratunturi fell.

Luosto, Sodankylä

The Pyhä-Luosto national park is very easy to reach and has lots to offer. In winter this place is amazing for snowshoeing and aurora watching. The hike to the top of Ukko-Luosto is about 2 km long. When visiting Luosto, check out this beautiful little café with no electricity or running water: Torvisen maja. Read more about Pyhä-Luosto national park in English here. MAP.

View from the top of Ukko-Luosto. Pyhä fell is in the horizon.

Levi, Kittilä

And finally, if you’re not into hiking but still wanna see some breathtaking views, there’s always Levi waiting for you. On top of Levi there’s a parking lot and even a café. It is not common in Finland that a road leads to a top of a fell, but Levi is an exception. This place is a very popular ski resort, so be prepared for lots of tourists especially in winter. In the feet of Levi there is a village with many kinds of tourist attractions such as snowmobile safaris, hotels, restaurants and so on. There’s even a cabin lift that will take you to the top if you don’t have a car! Read more about Levi here. MAP.

Polar night on top of Levi fell. Pallas is in the horizon.

Please remember that weather can change very quickly in Lapland. Also, the trails to the tops of the fells can be very steep and rocky. Always make sure that you have proper hiking shoes and hiking clothes and a map before you go for a hike – even if the hike is going to be a short one. If you don’t know what you should wear, contact the local tourist information and tell them where you’re heading to ask for their advice.

The hidden romantic side of Helsinki

Helsinki is like any other capital of Europe. Busy busy people, places to eat and drink, a lot to see and much to do. But there is also a calm and romantic side that is hidden near city Centre.

Many people know Suomenlinna fortress, but there is also another place for a wanderer. Vanhankaupunginlahti (Old town’s bay) area has a romantic mood: idyllic walking paths near water, museum of technology, history and beautiful nature. About 1 kilometer south from Vanhankaupunginlahti there is Lammassaari (Sheep island) where you can do birdwatching and enjoy sunny days near the sea.

Western rapids of Vantaajoki (dam)

In my opinion the most romantic place is Vanhankaupunginkoski (Old town’s rapids) where the river Vantaanjoki meets the sea. Old brick houses tell the story of the neighborhood. The City of Helsinki was founded there in 1550 by King Gustav I of Sweden as Finland was under Swedish rule.

Dam in evening light

The river is divided into Eastern and Western parts and the western part has a dam. The old power station dam is beautiful in evening light. I recommend visiting there in your next stop to Helsinki.

Eastern rapids of Vantaanjoki

Map (Old town’s rapids)

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.

The peaceful coast of Emäsalo: Varlaxudden, Porvoo

Do you long to cast your gaze out to the open sea? Then you should head to Varlaxudden, which is part of Porvoo’s archipelago and located just off the southern tip of Emäsalo. Emäsalo is a large island of around 34 square kilometres, slightly southwest of Porvoo, accessible via bridge. The Varlaxudden recreational area is 12 hectares, but I suspect that most visitors don’t stray far from the shoreline.

I started my daytrip by car, heading south down the Emäsalo Road from Porvoo almost all the way to the pilot station, where you can’t go without permission. Varlaxudden’s carpark was right by the road. Not far along path, there was a neat outhouse on the rocks and some firewood.

Several daytrippers were dotted around the coastal rocks enjoying the calm weather whilst sitting, standing, laying on beach towels or wading in shallow water. Smoke rose from the depth of the sheltered campfire site as well as from the hot coals of an open campfire place nearby. A gentleman assuming the role of sausage guard went to turn the hotdogs and at the same time seemed to be making sure that I didn’t mistakenly think that they were up for grabs. Oh why didn’t I take my own sausages with me!

A lovely view of the Gulf of Finland’s outer archipelago was visible from most of  Varlaxudden beach. A few sailboats glided lazily forward in the distance and I wondered if the taller vertical post on the horizon was a lighthouse. I should have thought to take binoculars with me.

I bounded along the beach to the left and wondered if I could manage a visit to a sweet-looking rocky headland called Fågelboet with dry feet. The promontory must have been  a former island, as the land has risen around Emäsalo approximately 5 metres in the last couple of thousand years. I decided to move from the edge of coastal waters to the forest side and see if I could find a path leading to Fågelboet.

Having found the forest path leading in the right direction, I then came across a mini camp by the trail.  It seems that Varlaxudden had attracted some overnight visitors as well as daytrippers and they had found the perfect spot for their three tents in the shade of pine trees. I stepped around the tent ropes and back onto the path.

It occurred to me that the campers might be paddlers, but no kayaks could be seen on the coastal rocks. It would be nice to do a kayaking trip here from around Hakasalo for example, to save carrying a kayak from the parking place to the beach along the forest path.  Alternatively, a little further north of Varlaxudden, from Edesviken to Vaarlahti, kayaks can effortlessly be launched into the water straight from the carpark and that trip could then be combined with a tour of Hakasalo and Varlaxudden by sea.

Varlaxudden belongs to areas managed by the association of Uusimaa recreation area (website only in Finnish and Swedish), for which you can use free mobile applications (Recreational Canoeing Map and Map) to explore them.

There didn’t appear to be any signs for Fågelboet along the coast, but after a short while on the forest trail I noticed that I was actually on a marked path. I stopped for a moment to observe a tiptoeing chaffinch, who seemed oblivious to my presence.

The route, which was marked by painted red dots, soon led me to a logged area and a warning sign which said ‘Private’. Thankfully, I had already reached the headland, so it didn’t matter, and I turned and headed towards the beach. I suspect that the owners of the summer cottage on the neighbouring headland probably didn’t want any random passers-by wandering onto their land.

The path from the beach to the Fågelboet’s rocky headland, which I feared might have been wet, was very short and my feet remained dry in trainers. Part of the path is marked with painted red dots on the trees and private areas are marked with warning signs.

The long slender violet wands of the speedwell flower swayed in the light wind and I stopped to observe a buzzing bee, looking for nectar. Life is full of small joys.

And what fine rocks!  It was definitely worth making the short journey here from the beach. I sat down contented, enjoying the view of the sea and its islands. Sitting on rocks is the perfect way to take in marine life with its birds and boats or no boats at all. The only camera you need is your brain. I decided that this would be a good place to eat my sandwich.

In the middle of Fågelboet is an area sheltered by pine trees. There are signs to remind us that making campfires is forbidden. Careless handling of fire can easily destroy all of the vegetation here, on this dry rock. You can make campfires at the designated campfire spots on the beach without risk of causing damage.

After my scenic snack break, I did another small tour of Fågelboet and finally came across some birds! From behind the protected cove flashed bright white and then a couple of sturdy orange beaks at the end of long necks appeared. A swan family with their large brood were swimming peacefully, the fluffy cygnets close to their parents. The mother as well as the father pushed their smooth long necks under water. Food-time.

I returned back to the coastal path and wondered if the path marked with red painted dots would have led inland. For a little while, I followed the other path back in the direction that I had came from, but then emerged via a blueberry clump back on to the original path that I had followed to Fågelboet. I was in no rush back to the car park, as the other side was still unexplored.

So I returned to the Varlaxudden campfire pit and turned my eyes to the right, the direction of the pilot station. The spectacular rocks drew me towards them like a magnet and I squeezed between two big boulders onto a narrow path that led towards the smooth rocks of Skvättan. If the way had been accessible via sandy beach, it would have been fun to wade to the rocks, but instead there were lots of slippery stones and I wouldn’t have managed the journey without slipping and falling into the water.

The path belonging to the recreational area’s western side began to fade away as it led me over smooth rocks, their soft forms created by the sea’s waves. Walking on these rocks you don’t even need a path. Again, you can think about all the things that were brought forth by the land rising. Over the course of thousands of years sea water has churned many metres above its current height and honed these particular rocks until they were unusually smooth.

These smooth rocks don’t belong to the official Varlaxudden recreational area, but to the state. No matter how much I would have liked to, you can’t go around Emäsalo’s southern tip by foot, as a fence gets in the way. The island’s southernmost point is part of the state’s pilot station and the protected area of the navy begins from there meaning that any other activity is limited. There are 18 of these protected areas altogether in the Gulf of Finland and the Archipelago Sea, which belong to the Finnish State.

With one final glance, it was then time to return to Porvoo. The beautiful seascape, gentle wind, sunshine and space to breathe let my thoughts soar. Varlaxudden is excellent for families taking a day trip or having a picnic, but is also perfect for visitors who just want to stop and be. You don’t have to clock up kilometres here. The area is also a good place to venture off the path to pick berries or mushrooms for example, as you’re never far from either the coast or the road, which means that finding your way back is easy.

Location and Directions:

Varlaxudden recreation area is about 25 kilometers from the centre of Porvoo on the most direct route. The Emäsalo Road, from Emäsalo’s northern tip to Varlaxudden’s car park (Address: Emäsalontie 1420), is about 15 kilometers long. The road is in good condition but it is narrow, so cyclists and motorists must take care to notice and leave room for each other. One can usually park their car with ease at Varlaxudden’s car park, except for on the busiest summer days.

You could also cycle to Varlaxudden or get the bus. The bus stop is on Emäsalo Road (Emäsalontie) just before the pilot station, but the bus service (Porvoo to Emäsalo) is available only from Monday to Friday, and even then is limited. If cycling or driving, you can stop for coffee and snacks at the friendly village shop in Bengstby, Emäsalontie 715, which is about halfway.

Map ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6675112  E 424294

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

Translated by Becky Hastings.

The Photographic Playground of Pohjois-Karjala – Outokumpu

Living in North Karelia has had many great benefits for me, including the wonderful nature and the great photographic opportunities it provides. I’ve spent most of my time in Outokumpu and it’s surrounding areas, cycling around and taking pictures. From colourful farmlands to forests that look like they’ve been pulled straight out of a fairytale book, North Karelia has a lot to offer.

jason-tiilikainen-the-old-mine

Here are a few pictures that I’ve taken from and around the Outokumpu area.

jason-tiilikainen

Pictured above is the old copper mine in Outokumpu, a place where my great-grandfather used to work. These days it’s a local attraction, and during the summer months it opens for tours and other activities. Kumpurock, a rock music festival, is also held at the old mine annually, bringing in artists from all over Finland.

jason-tiilikainen-outokumpu-barn

An old barn in Outokumpu’s countryside. It’s fun just to cycle around and soak in the sights and sounds. Lot’s of old buildings hide in the farmlands, and it’s nice to find them because they can sometimes appear as if they have a story to tell.

jason-tiilikainen-sunset-in-outokumpu

A sunset over some forest in Outokumpu.

jason-tiilikainen-beach-outokumpu

Above: Sandy beaches are also easily reachable, only a few minutes drive from the center of town. Camping areas are also available and have been placed in some interesting locations.

jason-tiilikainen-forest-outokumpu

Forests in Outokumpu are vibrant at certain points in the year, and walking through them can often be a pleasure to experience.

Next time you’re driving from Kuopio to Joensuu or vice versa, pop into Outokumpu and check out the old mine. It has a lot of history, and can be quite interesting to see in person.

Map. Address of the old mine: Kaivosmiehenpolku 2, 83500 Outokumpu.

Planning on visiting Finland? Here’s what you can expect!

Northern lights over West coast

Northern lights over West coast

When travelling around the world and talking to people about Finland, they have heard about polar bears and northern lights. Well, we do have northern lights but no polar bears. None. Except a few in zoos.

Those white bears live on the ice pack of the Arctic Ocean, but in Finland we have the Baltic Sea. Finland doesn’t have mountains either. We have only mountain roots. Keep reading; I’ll explain this later.

Baltic sea

The Baltic sea

Almost 72% of Finland is covered by forests. It’s quite easy to see; when landing at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, the only things you’ll see are Helsinki city and forests. The landscape is quite flat, and a 20 or 30 metres difference in height already looks and feels like a mountain.

Cities in Finland are quite small and scattered with long distances in between. The Helsinki area has about 1 million people, but other cities fall behind significantly in population. And we don’t have skyscrapers. Sounds boring, right? Maybe not!

Finnish forests and lakes

Finnish forests and lakes

Ok, I have told you about things that are different here compared to the big world. What does Finland have to attract people here? Trendy Finnish design is one thing and food another, but I’m talking about nature. Lonely Planet just released a top ten list of the best countries to travel to in 2017 and Finland was the third.

Fishermen at river Tenojoki

Fishermen at river Tenojoki

As a Finn nature has always been close to my heart. Here is a few things that I think are special in Finland’s nature. I was born in a town called Kokkola which is next to the sea. Nature and forest literally started from my backyard. In the spring nature bloomed and I watched the birds sing and build their homes in nesting boxes I had built. In the summer, I enjoyed the long days –the whole night was one long sunset and sunrise. It was hard to say when one ended and the other began. Colorful autumns, then again, were perfect for long walks on the beach. The polar night is so magical in the winter that to get the best experience, I went to Lapland to see the Nordic magic.

Ice swimming in Lapland and magical polar night

Ice swimming in Lapland and magical polar night

The ice age ended about 10,000 years ago, but you can see its legacy right under your feet. Once, a few million years ago, we had mountain ranges like the Himalayas. Erosion has flattened the landscape, and the moving ice cover, which was many kilometres thick, flattened the ground even more. As I said before, we have mountain roots which you can see in Lapland as fells and hills. Even in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki, there are smooth rocks sticking out of the ground that were polished by the ice.

Legacy of the Ice age: polished beach rocks

Legacy of the Ice age: polished beach rocks

The coastline of Western Finland was under the sea just a few hundred years ago. Near the town of Vaasa, there is the Unesco world heritage site where you can witness this phenomenon. The land is rising from the sea about 1 centimeter per year.

Tampere city, on the other hand, was built on a monument of the ice age: the whole city lies on a narrow strip of land between two lakes, and there is the highest gravel ridge in the world called Pyynikki. It was formed by retreating glaciers at the end of the ice age.

Untouched wildernes of Lapland

Untouched wildernes of Lapland

I once read that “Finland lacks those dramatic must see attractions but is one big attraction itself”. Agreed. We don’t have the tallest buildings, greatest mountain ranges, highest waterfalls or even strangest wild life, but Finland is one big national park of the world, because of all the untouched land. Nowadays I live in Tampere city, but I still enjoy long walks in Pyynikki where I can see red squirrels living in peace with humans. And I’m only one hour away from Helvetinjärvi national park’s beautiful gorge lake which was formed by an earthquake millions of years ago.

Peaceful summer days

Peaceful summer days

I welcome you to the land of thousand lakes!

Amazing sunsets

Amazing sunsets

Here you can find more information about Finnish nature and national parks in English.