In commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Article by Terhi Ilosaari

You turn onto a path that can barely be distinguished from the terrain, leading you into a mystical old forest. Your ride carries you up high, above the scratchy brushwood. You admire the dark scent of autumn, while your horse bows his head to fumble for hay. You marvel at the effortlessly rambling animal as well as the landscape all around you. Somewhere in the distance you can already see a sandy beach and a lean-to, waiting for you to take a break. You’re no stranger to hiking, but taking in the outdoors on horseback is a completely new experience for you.

In Finland, North Karelia is famous for its national landscape seen from Koli, Karelian hospitality, many different varieties of pies and the lyrical Eastern dialect. However, many would be surprised at the number of stables that warmly welcome new riders. If you’ve always thought that riding on horseback in the forest requires many years of practice and circling around a paddock for hours on end, you’ll be pleased to hear that’s not the case! We have listed seven horse riding stables in the North Karelia area, all of which offer forest rides for beginners as well as multi-day horse treks for the more experienced. Most of the stables work together and also offer nights in each other’s cosy lodgings.

1. ElämysMantsi, Ilomantsi

In Finland’s easternmost municipality of Ilomantsi, there is an idyllic country farm whose horses are members of one big farm family including dogs, cats, sheep, rabbits and hens, all living happily alongside one other.

Potential visitors would be pleased to know that most of this stable’s trips are off-road. Relaxed cross country lessons are not merely adapted for, but actually designed for novice riders. Experienced horsemen and women can take part in longer excursions, which may involve spending the night in the woods and riding on the shores of Lake Koitere with its hundred islands, while glancing over at Patvinsuo National Park across the water.

ElamysMantsi.fi

2. Kuivala Icelandic Horse Stables (Kuivalan islanninhevostalli), Vuonislahti

On one of Kuivala Stables’ trips, on the shores of Pielinen

You can already sense how well looked after the farm is when entering the courtyard. This radiates from the main building, which dates back to the 19th century, as well as the dappled chickens and nine Icelandic horses.

All excursions from Kuivala farm venture into the countryside, often wandering up to the shores of Lake Pielinen, which are part of the national landscape. Riders going on these trips are required not only to have mastered the basics of riding but must also know how to respect the surrounding nature.

Those without a car or horse will be pleased to know that you can also get to Kuivala farm by train.

Kuivala.fi

3. Kiies Farm (Kiieksen tila), Nurmes

Rabbits, dogs, cats, goats, sheep, pigs, cows, ponies and, of course, horses, can all be found frolicking on Kiies farm. Finnish horses lead treks on forest trails, in impressive wooded fell landscapes. While the elevation changes might not be daunting for the experienced rider, they do make these trips unsuitable for first-timers.

Experienced riders also have a chance to trot briskly and gallop in certain sections if they so wish. Only two riders are taken on a tour at a time – what could be more luxurious than that!

Kiies Farm on Facebook

4. Paimentupa, Koli

With Koli’s Paimentupa, even first-time riders get to go on a cross country trip. And this is not just any trip, but one that takes place in one of our most stunning national parks. It follows the Kaski trail and goes through the home turf of the Eastern Finncattle. Antti Huttunen of Retkipaikka wrote about his Paimentupa trip:

“The horses found a solid foothold for every step. It was great to witness the precise work of these noble animals. On the way back, further away from the national park, we stopped by another highlight of the trail. We had come to a place where there really was magic: a spruce forest that seemed to be from a fairytale. Spread out at the foot of the handsome young trees was a glowing carpet of moss. A few blueberry sprigs and some May lilies poked out, but otherwise the moss mat continued through the whole forest”.

Paimentupa.fi/en/

5. Heiskalan Hoppala, Liperi

Gustur, Ófeigur, Gaefa, Raudskjona, Nattfari, Teitur aka Töltti-Teppo and many other maned charmers take their riders on trips lasting up to several nights. On Hoppala’s trips, nature is savoured with all the senses, focusing on holistic well-being. Groups are organised by terrain type and rider ability, so riders of all levels can enjoy the experience of touring. After dismounting from our saddles, our rumbling stomachs were quietened with campfire delicacies prepared by our guide and our minds were soothed with forest mindfulness exercises. On treks, riders spend the night in an army tent while the horses rest in temporary fencing.

What if the whole family wants to go on a riding trip? With Heiskala’s Hoppala, a group can also ride off-road, with one on the back of a Finnish horse, another on a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh, and a third person on the back of a gentle Icelandic horse.

Heiskalanhoppala.fi

6. Teija’s lodgings and countryside stables (Teijan Talli)

During the autumn at Teija’s Stables, you can observe signs of the season changing: flocks of migratory birds and wonderful shades of autumn, from the back of a horse on a real western saddle. In winter, glistening snow and the silence of the forest paths embrace the rider, snow crunches rhythmically under hooves in the background.

The stables are home to gentle and sure-footed Finnish and Norwegian fjord horses, who have been trained primarily for cross country riding. An alternative to a forest trip is the stables’ Refresh & Empower programme – focused training for those who want to practice mindfulness and interaction with horses, in the surroundings of nature.

Teijanmajoitusjamaastotalli.com

7. Hepovaara Wellness Farm (Hepovaaran hyvinvointitila), Kitee

Mira of Hepovaara Wellness Farm
You can also meet a mini pig at Hepovaara’s Wellness Farm

The people and animals of Hepovaara Wellness Farm are living examples of their own values: presence, stillness and well-being. In addition to field lessons for beginners and more demanding treks for the experienced, you can also come to the farm to get over a fear of horses. Most importantly, the treks allow you to enjoy nature and interaction with Icelandic horses.

Hepovaara.com/en/

Have you already decided on your dream tour?

Tips for your dream trip to North Karelia

Do you dream of adventuring in the rugged nature of Eastern Finland, with its landscape full of contrasts, while spending nights in cosy guesthouses? Koli’s sculptural snowy trees, Pielinen’s majestic waves, the shimmering autumn colors of Ruunaa and peaceful hiking trails in the wilderness are all waiting for you. You can also find inspiration for your trip on VisitKarelia’s website!

See also

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse tour is a full service cross-country ski tour in North Karelia

The Photographic Playground of North Karelia – Outokumpu

Koli National Park

Translation by Becky Hastings

In commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Article by Terhi Ilosaari

On my day of departure, Southern Finland had been released from the grips of winter. The road had thawed and was watery all the way to Kuopio. Then along came a snowstorm. The landscape was completely white, nothing but dusty clouds of white. On arrival at The Puukarin Pysäkki Guesthouse, relief set in – it’s winter in Valtimo. Although I had managed to get there in one piece, my car got stuck in a snowbank. I got to know the members of our three-day Guesthouse to Guesthouse ski tour group as well as the hosts during our evening exercise session in the snow. We pushed the car back onto the road.

Puukarin Pysäkki’s granary accommodation

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse tour is a full service cross-country ski tour in North Karelia with daily skiing distances averaging 25km. However, we forgot all about the upcoming trip as the guesthouse hostess Anni delighted us with her Karelian food and hilarious tales. Bowls and baskets were passed around the table, each raw ingredient and dish with its own story.

Puukarin Pysäkki’s bread oven and the old landlady’s traditional rye bread

‘Remember, there’s no rush with the skiing’, the hostess calls out as we roll to our beds with full tummies. Outside the window, so much snow was falling that the yard lights were covered under a thick blanket.

From Puukarin Pysäkki to Laitalan Loma

Puukarin Pysäkki’s host showed us the day’s route. A little worried, we asked what colour signs we should follow and how to find the right track.

‘There’s only one track, and I’m about to go ahead of you and make it’, he reassured us.

And so it was. We, the privileged few, got a fresh, unspoiled track made especially for us.

The route mainly went through fields that were sleeping under diamond-encrusted snow, low-lying and leisurely. You don’t need to know any special skiing techniques or even have downhill-skied. It’s enough if you can stay upright on your skis. The adventurer in me wanted to go off-track, but I soon realised that there’s over a metre of snow and it’s really soft and easy to sink into! On this tour you can use almost any type of ski. Poles should have a slightly bigger basket than usual.

Lost, but in a good way

Skiing at a slow, easy pace, enraptured by the snow and warmed by the sun, it’s easy for your thoughts to wander off into the unknown. I forgot who and where I was. It was only the first day of skiing and I had already lost track of the days of the week and where I was on this planet.

Our group skied unhurriedly in small, 2-3 person groups. After the halfway point, a small cute kota (type of Lappish hut) emerged from the edge of the field. When we got there, we all opened our lunchboxes with delight. Hollola’s skiing demons were already jumping back onto the track, as the last group could just be seen waving from the other side of the field.

Perfection at the kota

‘Everything is as perfect as it can be’, sighed one group member during the lunch break. Another followed with: ‘Even as a pessimist I can’t seem to find anything wrong’.

Everyone started talking about an abandoned house on the riverbank that they had been admiring along the way 

One person pondered out loud how the children would have travelled to school, another speculated how much property tax one pays, the third person thought about who had built the house and cleared the plot when the house had to be vacated, the fourth wondered why there was no barn. The fifth person just said ‘what a beautiful house!’

I wondered how much it would cost to rent the house for a whole summer, how much it would need to be heated in the summer, how many mice would need to be caught and would it be an endless work camp or would I have time to write alongside being the house’s caretaker?

To ski or paddle?

Alongside the route flows the river Karhujoki, which means that you can do the same trip by kayak or canoe in the summer. The gentle silence of Karhujoki is interrupted by the Neitivirta rapids, in which the cruel tax collector Simo Hurtta lost his maiden. ‘What of the wretched girl, but there went a good saddle’, the mean taxman is claimed to have said.

Our ski track-making machine, luxuriously in private use

With lunch in our bellies, the journey to our destination flew by without us noticing. We had clocked up about twenty kilometres on skis. In the yard I felt a moment of dismay… where had I left my belongings! In recent weeks, I had been hiking with my sled and rucksack, unpacking and packing, drying my sleeping bag and hammock. I sighed with relief when I remembered that my luggage had been transported by car to the destination hours before me.

Ski’s resting in Laitalan Loma’s yard

At the door of the guesthouse, our hostess Henna called us to come inside. The coffee was hot and karelian pies with egg butter were warm. This was followed by pancakes and three different types of jam.

Taken care of by a cranky old woman

Henna, the hostess of the second house told us the following:

‘Laitala farm was originally my in-laws’ dairy farm. It’s where my husband and I spent all our weekends. Leaving to return to the daily grind in Kuopio was always difficult. Suddenly one day, the in-laws suggested that it was time to hand down the farm to the next generation and soon we were in the yard with our moving trucks. As I sat on those steps, a curlew sang and I thought: I don’t need to go anywhere else anymore.’

Our minds were already travelling to the next guesthouse. After the first day on fields it was nice to weave in and out in the shelter of the forests. The track sloped up and down in parts, but was still easy to ski. Gentle snowfall softened the rest of the sounds in the landscape. The very thought of ‘ski-track rage’ made me almost giggle hysterically.

The Rhythm of the Track

As I was preparing to leave, I contemplated with friends who are as greedy for endurance exercise as I am, if this kind of trip was really my thing. Should I go and jog an extra circuit in the morning or keep skiing a bit further down the track in the evening? The atmosphere on this laidback trip is different. The world became meditative. Despite my hesitation, I slotted right into the daily pace: breakfast at 9, lunch into the backpack, bags to transportation, track, new guesthouse, afternoon coffee and treats, sauna, dinner at the guesthouse with stories and then slipped into unconsciousness.

A coffee break with real locals

Hulkkola farm could be seen from the edge of the field. Raija and Aimo invited us in for the halfway coffee. Sat around the kitchen table, with cardamom buns in our mouths, we listened to the story of the house, which although unique is also similar to that of many other houses we had admired on our journey.

Parents or grandparents planned the house using matchboxes. Modern architects would question how well these sorts of blueprints worked, but the house was built for oneself and so it was known exactly what was needed. When handed down to the next generation, electricity, children and running water inside were added. People got on with life. Children went out into the world, and then there was no-one to continue the farm.

The last cow was led out from the cowshed and now the house was regularly being heated only using the bread oven, evenly, in the quietening landscape. We were comforted by log walls and a stunning landscape. At the same time, somewhere in the world, someone is bumping into someone else against their will in a cramped metro. How can one send a package of this space and peacefulness to those who need it the most?

How many long to get to know normal local life, rather than engage in the usual tourism? This is now it. Genuine and ordinary. The cottage table and cardamom buns straight out of the oven next to it. A host, who was born in this very house.

A miserable blizzard

In the afternoon the snowfall was more intense. The track was wet and soft, the landscape white from top to bottom. Ahead of us was the final spurt. Four kilometres to Viemen lake on top of the 20 that we had already skied. The snow spa massaged our faces without asking. Water that had risen above the ice made the snow stick to the bottom of the skis. Today we were working hard to reach our destination. I added skins to my skis to prevent clods of snow sticking to the bottom. I think with horror about how tough the rest of the route is for those who don’t have a plan B in their rucksacks.

My thoughts turned from the lake ice to the next guesthouse, of which I only knew the name: Pihlajapuu, run by entrepeneurs Äksyt Ämmät. This kind of trip was a lot of fun after all! In the afternoons we got to open a completely new present, the door of a new guesthouse. The present was always pleasant and delectable, but also new and surprising. The two first guesthouses exuded old wisdom from their solid log walls, but with this third one you can immediately sense fun and a touch of saffron right on the doorstep.

With our coffee we got to sample kukkonen, baked rounds golden with egg butter. Talk around the table focused on the ghastliness of the weather and comparing ski waxes. I suspect new skin-based skis are going to make it on the shopping lists of many.

Gentle steam and a cranky woman

At this guesthouse, you can book a massage if you wish. Blissed out, sauna’d and massaged skiers arrived at the buffet table. While we had been in the sauna, Minna the host had prepared flame-blazed salmon, and the chef had braised beets in the oven. But before eating, we received a splash of Kiteen Kirkas, the famous distilled spirit from the hostess’s home county.

Minna told us that in the beginning, permission had to be sought from 90 landowners along the ski route, and now it had gone up to 220. As Minna told her stories of seeking and asking for permission we saw small flashes of the cranky woman that her business was named after (Äksyt Ämmät means cranky old women), but otherwise the lady of the house was of a very good disposition.

Guesthouse Pihlajapuu dessert

Bomba’s Tracks

There was a small hamlet in Nurmes, where names were briskly collected on a list. The village wanted its own school. A trusted man was sent on his skis to deliver the message, with the name list in his pocket. On the way the skier sank into a ditch, but at the last minute saved the inky list from a soggy end. The village got its school.

In Bomba’s yard, leaving for the final day of skiing

Winter arrived this year in Northern Karelia later than usual. Lakes did not form a proper layer of ice, before snow started to fall. That’s why the lakes are now full of puddles. The last day of skiing to the fourth guesthouse was mostly on Lake Pielinen. One of our group asked if we could move our route onto Bomba’s tracks in Nurmes. It was agreed. We managed to avoid the same fate as the school hero and got to ski with dry feet.

Majatalo Pihlajapuu, previously a village school. The classroom invites you to stay a while longer.

The quiet, one-way track switched to the back of a taxi with a chatty taxi driver and then to wide tracks that were in very good condition. The snowstorm from the previous day had calmed down. Birds tested their voices as if to ask: can we start to sing our spring song yet?

Along Lake Pielinen

For the last stretch to the guesthouse, we moved along a track just made for us, in Pielinen’s peaceful snow flurries, each person going at their own pace.

Männikkölä Cottage´s vatruska rounds in a basket

It felt quite strange to ski right there, on Finland’s fourth largest lake. Only a stone’s throw south was Koli’s shore. If on that shore a group of good people hadn’t offered my father a boat ride over the lake, my father wouldn’t have got to school, or ended up getting an education in Joensuu, or met my mother. If that group of partygoers hadn’t taken my penniless future father on board, maybe I wouldn’t exist.

The track ends in a courtyard of red houses. Red ochre paint could be seen here and there amongst the snowdrifts. All the buildings were buried under the snow. This would be a good place to hibernate like a moomin. I might just stay here.

A skier who has skied for 30 years on Lapland’s ski-tracks sighs:

‘There’s too much of everything in Lapland! I can’t relax, because I want to take part in everything from ski boot dances to evening shows and in between go do the rounds on all the tracks. This is something completely special. Here I can really relax.

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse route in a nutshell

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse is a full service cross country ski tour. The package includes overnights in four guesthouses full board, saunas, tracks made especially for the group, luggage transfers between accommodation and trip information.

Food is mostly organic and local and of the region.

The route goes from Valtimo’s Puukarin Pysäkki Majatalo in Pohjois Karjala to Salmenkyla in Nurmes on the shores of Lake Pielinen. Daily distances are about 25km. There are three skiing days, but you can of course extend your holiday at either end. In  the summer, you can do the route by paddling or by bike. Dogs are also welcome on the ski tracks. Even though the journey might sound long, a basic level skier can manage it on pretty much any kind of ski – you have the whole day and the only things on the programme in addition to skiing is sauna and meals.

The Ski Tour Package is brought to you by Northern Karelian entrepreneurs working in close cooperation. Read more and book your own trip here!

From Guesthouse to Guesthouse Tour accommodation:

Majatalo Puukarin Pysäkki

Kajaanintie 844, 75700 Valtimo

Laitalan Lomat

Laitalantie 85, 75710 Karhunpää

Majatalo Pihlajapuu

Salmenkyläntie 81, 75500 Nurmes

Männikkölän Pirtti (in Finnish)

Pellikanlahdentie 1, 75530 Nurmes

Translation by Becky Hastings

View from Iivaara fell

Hiking up north in Finland if always fun – but it’s even better than usual during the fall. Great brisk weather, no mosquitoes, safe environment – you can lose yourself for hours on end… in a good way. Join me this time as we hike up Iivaara fell, and enjoy the best hiking weather of the year in picturesque Koillismaa – North-East Finland.

Iivaara peak on the map (Sijainti: N=7300404.330, E=622387.834 (ETRS-TM35FIN))
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More hiking videos: Youtube / Take a hike with Mika Viitanen
More hiking in Finnish language: Youtube / Taarna
Parking spot directions: Google Maps
More information on the location: nationalparks.fi/iivaara