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

In commercial cooperation with Visit Raseborg

Article by Mika Puskala

The 46-kilometre long Front Line Route in Raseborg is an interesting, beautiful and also thought-provoking cycling route which starts from and ends in Ekenäs. The adventure awaits only a train ride away for example from Helsinki. History of the war is still present in many places along the route in the pinewood forests, which makes it so special. Read here about our experiences from the route when we took it at the end of July.

Circular route, 46 km (Google Maps)
Duration 6 hrs.
Start and finish coordinates on a map
An intermediate route. For those not accustomed to cycling long distances on roads, the route might feel hard.

The centre of Ekenäs is quite lovely. The town was established way back in the 16th century, so expect to find ancient streets and idyllic courtyards adorned with apple trees. You can easily imagine hatters and clockmakers hard at work while the gentlefolk were taking their daily stroll.

The Front Line Route combined with lodging for a night or two in the town centre will give you a nice little mini-holiday. But it’s also a perfect destination for a day trip, if you come from Helsinki for instance.

I had rented us bikes from Carfield Bike Rental which has rental points all over the coastline. In Ekenäs, the bikes can be rented and picked up at Motel Marine. Early in the morning, we park our car on the Raippatori Market, check the tyre pressures and hop on our bikes. The first leg on our route rolls along the highway no. 25 on the north side of the town. Google Maps guides us to the start of the route and along it. Following the route is easy, because there are not many different roads and turns on the way.

The Empress Dagmar’s spring and the beautiful Vitsand 

We are speeding along the first few kilometres from Ekenäs, on a combined cycle- and walking track, all the way to the crossroads of the Prästkullantie road. After that, we have to ride about a kilometre with other traffic until we turn to the Leksvallintie road. There is almost no other traffic. We stop to pick some raspberries by the roadside and enjoy the peaceful countryside. The tarmac is in good condition, and soon we arrive at the parking area of the Dagmar Park.

The nature conservation area of the Dagmar Park is located about 8 kilometres from the centre of Raseborg (Ekenäs). There’s plenty of parking space for cars, and if you arrive by bicycle, you have a chance to get a little closer to the spring itself. The parking area is clearly marked, and the signs and directions on the region are exemplary.

Finland celebrated its 100 years of independence in 2017. The nature conservation area resides on the land owned by Fiskars Company, who donated it on the same year to Metsähallitus to be maintained for 100 years.

The dry pinewood forest continues down towards the sea and turns into a lush oasis on the way, as the groundwater springs through the Lohjanharju esker, forming a small, meandering stream. Spending a while in a stone pool, the water eventually runs into the sea. On the beautiful little beach, there is a small pier with a bench. An ideal place to spend a hot summer day, I would say.

The spring of Dagmar got its name from Princess Dagmar of Denmark who married the crown prince Alexander of Russia. Alexander and Dagmar made many trips to the Finnish archipelago on their yacht, usually mooring in the safety of Lähdelahti bay. The visits of the Emperor and Empress have been recorded on the memorial stone by the spring.

We walk back to our bikes and continue southwest along the Leksvallintie road. After a few kilometres, the road takes a turn to the left and to the beach of Vitsand. If you wish to take a more direct route, there is also a path from the Dagmar’s spring, leading straight to Vitsand.

The trail from the spring to Vitsand is a forest path, so it’s more comfortable to ride it with a bike that has little fattier tyres than normal. There doesn’t seem to be any specific instructions in Vitsand where to park one’s bike, so it’s  up to you if you want to challenge yourself or to take it easy: the trail is short but bumpy.

Nowadays, it is very hard to imagine, how the white, sandy beach of Vitsand used to be a stage for a fierce battle between British warships and Russian–Finnish troops and their gun battery on the opposite side, during the Crimean War in 1854-1856.

Our coastline is strategically very important, so it has seen blood spilled on many occasions throughout history.

After we return to the road, we continue a few kilometres along the Leksvallintie road, turning eventually to the road leading to the village of Skogby. The air is heavy with flying dust as we ride along the gravel road to a lovely wooden house called Villa Kosthåll. The house used to function as a mess hall and office of the Skogby sawmill as well as the residence of the sawmill’s founder, Mr. Mauritz Hisinger. Hisinger had a park built in the honour of Empress Dagmar, and he also acted as a host for the Emperor and Empress during their visit in 1888.

We spend a moment watching the sheep tending the courtyard lawn before riding northwest towards the village of Harparskog and a defence line named after the village.

The Bunker Museum and the impressive Irma 302

I think I have read my share of history, but at the same time, never really given any more thought to some of the events. One of the eras that I had apparently been totally oblivious to, was the lease of Hanko to the Soviet Union before the Continuation War in 1941-1944. When the Winter War (1939-1940) ended with the Moscow peace treaty in 1940, Finland had to give the whole of the Isthmus of Carelia to the Soviet Union and also lease them Hanko and its surrounding islands for 30 years.

The Soviet Union established a military base in Hanko with 27,000 troops and thousands of civilians. Altogether 40,000 people – four times as much as there were indigenous Finns. The so-called lace villas in the region received new residents, and Hanko became the “Riviera of the North”, with a strong competition for who got stationed there.

Obviously, Finland didn’t let her neighbour to roam on her back yard totally unprepared. Before the Continuation War, Finland had built a fortified defensive position along the border of the leased territory. By the end of May 1941, the Harparskog Line consisted of 46 concrete bunkers with a same amount of dugouts, 70 artillery sites and 113 machine gun nests. There was also a huge, several kilometres long anti-tank barrier built across the Hanko Peninsula. Parts of it are still visible, as we noticed on our cycling tour.

Those events seem to be far away in the past, especially in the middle of a warm summer day, but if you’re interested, you have a chance to look into the history in the bunker museum. The so-called Irma 302 was one of the tough concrete bunkers built on the temporary border. It has been since restored and opened for public. The armament of the bunker consists of a 45-millimetre anti-tank gun and a machine gun. The guns slide effortlessly on their well-oiled tracks, and the accuracy of the optical sights is still amazing. The smoke and sound effects take you back 80 years to experience what it was like to be one of the 16 soldiers manning the bunker. Available for groups visiting the bunker, the experience is both impressive and thought-provoking at the same time.

We continue about half a kilometre from the bunker towards the front line memorial, erected on a place where Marshal Mannerheim received the march-past of the troops in Hanko when the Soviet Union left the area. We pass by some private courtyards and ride to the memorial along a quiet village road. After enjoying our packed lunch, we get back on our bikes and move on.

The front line of the Hanko Peninsula was fixed all the way through the Continuation War, and both sides concentrating on defending their posts. Most of the battles were fought with the artillery, and where the front line was on land, it was trench warfare. The archipelago was a stage for more mobile battles. Eventually, the Soviets evacuated their base in Hanko, and the remainder of the troops left the town on December 3, 1941. On the very same morning, Finnish troops advanced into the empty town.

Hanko Front Museum

We get back on the highway and cycle a short distance to the Hanko Front Museum. I have seen the cannon on the museum courtyard flash by through our car window, but now it’s finally time to visit the museum itself. The permanent exhibition displays the events of 1939-1941 in detail with photographs, maps and various objects of the era. An old warning sign reminds the visitors that the border of the leased territory of Hanko was just a hundred metres away from the museum. The trenches surrounding the museum also provide quite an authentic feeling of those times, and they are also very exciting for the little ones visiting the museum. When we were there, children could also enjoy a pony ride on the museum grounds.

Read more about the war history of Hanko at Finland100.fi for example.

Back to the beginning

After having a cup of coffee at the Front Museum, we move on. We have two choices: either to go back the same way we came from or ride towards Hanko for a short while and then turn northwest. After all, as the idea is to take the circular route, we choose option no. 2. Riding through the villages of Öby and Vimenböle, we return on the Prästkullantie road and then back to Ekenäs, riding several kilometres alongside Lake Gennarbyviken. The lake was dammed from the bay for industrial purposes.

This leg is the most scenic of the whole route, reminding us about the Archipelago Trail and its stops. There’s little automobile traffic, and only a few other cyclists. We pass one walker who says a happy hello. One hill after another rolls by under our tyres. The lake shimmers as we make our way uphill, downhill, uphill and downhill again.

As this leg is practically gravelled all the way, we are happy to have fat tyres on our bikes. Rolling downhill is funny, but there are some treacherous grooves on the road which we have to negotiate carefully.

A white-tailed deer hops in front of us across the road. Three cranes are slowly moving on the field. We stop by the fieldside to eat our packed lunch, to be suspiciously watched upon by a proud steed from behind the fence. Our summer holiday is almost over, but we still have nine kilometres to go on tarmac. But in a landscape like this, it is no problem.

Read more:

Visit Raseborg – Front line Route

Visit Raseborg – Welcome to Raseborg

Visit Raseborg – Plan your stay

Translation Mikko Aslak Lemmetti

For first timers it might cause a minor headache to think what’s necessary and what’s not for a hiking trip. As in any hobby it takes time for one’s gear selection to reach the fragile stability of essential and convenience equipment, and truth be told there has been a number of times these gadgets have caused genuine laughs around camp fires. Check out these creative items our active hikers carry around!

A piece of a reindeer

Karoliina Säkö

“Irregularly shaped piece of a reindeer skin is a perfect sitting pad! I borrowed (as in: robbed) it from my mum, who originally purchased it from Lapland for a couple of euros from a souvenir shop’s sale corner if I remember correctly. Now a days it warms my bum rather nicely even when the temperatures are really freezing, and it also easily rolls neatly to be carried with.”

Princess canopy

Kati Soininen

“This princess canopy is a wonderful cover for mosquitoes in Finnish summer. I fasten it to a lean-in-shelter or a teepee with pins. To cover the buzzing noise of the insects I also have earplugs. Sweet, undisturbed dreams!”

Hiker’s stetson

Anssi Toivanen

“This stetson is made from actual jeans, the denim is from the 90’s. I found the pattern online, scaled to fit my head perfectly, printed on paper and cut the pieces from jeans. Missus sewed it all together. It’s hot as hell but definitely an eye catcher and you’ll recognize me anywhere! 😎👌”

Milk frother

Terhi Jaakkola

“Somethings are certain, like the fact, that I always enjoy my morning coffee with warm, frothed milk. On a one hapless trip everything had been according to Murphy’s law. I was exhausted and still looking for a good spot to spend a night and was a bit displeased hearing this weak machinery noise coming from somewhere. Could have been a power line or such, I thought. Later on I realized that it had been my poor frother that had buzzed out all of its energy in my backpack.”

Knives along the years

Juhani Kaalikoski

“I used the first two knives for 30 years. The first was a good tool for cutting wood or branches and the second for carving tooth picks.Now they serve mainly as dear keepsakes or relics. Now a days I rely on cheap expendable knives so that I wouldn’t worry or cry about losing them. It’s rather nonchalant to open conservative food cans with them. All that HiFi-bragging in the woods is just pointless.”

Vintage axe

Caj Koskinen

“I get funny looks from folks as I walk in public with my backpack and gear including my century-old axe. It genuinely is about 100 years old, ‘Billnäs 12.3., so called Kemi-model. According to folklore it’s the type of an axe this country was built with.”

Cosmetic purse as a trangia-cover

Marja Kares-Oksman

“My father was a Great Adventurer. I have inherited plenty of camping equipment from him, also my trangia-camping stove and its coverbag. My father had a habit of using this trangia also on an actual bonfire where it naturally became sooty. My mum, being the neat and tidy person she is, was worried about the rest of the camping gear getting dirty from it and gifted my father with this overly fabulous Yves Rocher cosmetic purse which is a surprisingly perfect cover bag for the trangia! It’s almost like tailor-made. Now having inherited it, regardless of the funny looks it gets, I carry it with pride and a twinkle in the eye!”

Plup -water bottle

Jonna Saari

“It is just a water bottle, but folks notice it every time. I’ve had it for about ten years now. I bought it during my studies when I wasn’t yet an active hiker at all. These bottles designed by Stefan Lindfors were sold for about a euro each and were nominated as the “most-useless-item of the year” if I remember correctly – even if a share of its profit was given for the reservation of the Baltic Sea. This sturdy bottle has stayed with me ever since and has been a faithful companion on all of my trips and hikes. “

Chopsticks

Kaija Ryytty

“Bamboo cutlery and chopsticks in a cute bag. Chopsticks are surprisingly handy for stirring, turning, poking and eating food. I use them for basically everything – for stirring coffee too – except for eating morning porridge. Bamboo is a light material so these won’t add extra weight to my backpack and they can be placed to hang outside of the sack too. I’ve used this set for already three years and originally purchased them online only due to their cute looks. They turned out to be an equipment that I carry with me wherever I go. First it was the spoon that was in heavy use, but then I realized how clever of a tool the chopsticks are. Now I actually use them also in my home kitchen too.”

Nip glass

Minna Jakosuo

“I carry this century-old nip glass with me for celebratory events during my hikes.”

Rechargeable camping-light

Petri Pihko

“One of my most loyal camping items, especially during long-distance hikes, canoeing trips and other adventures during gloomy autumn and winter hours, is this rechargeable light I found from Lidl a few years back. I found it only that once in that one specific store, so unfortunately I can’t tell anymore where to get them!

The blue shimmer should also work as an insect repellent, but in reality it just doesn’t happen. This is the only weakness of the light – otherwise it has been a wonderful item to any tent, hut or teepee. It gives enough lighting and the battery lasts rather well. I charge it with a portable usb-charger which serves my other gear as head torch and mobile phone too.”

Is there something goofy or clever you carry around in your backpack that not every other camper has? Please share your item and its story in the comments!

Stories collected by Karoliina Säkö.

Imagine the moment when you wake up in the morning, rested, and in the middle of nature. Wind is blowing delicately, and the fabric of the tent is accompanying its rhythm. You have slept well, and you are anticipating for your morning coffee. You open your tent and sit on the edge. You are wiggling your toes, seeing how wonderful nature looks like from above ground. How lovely is this!

With Tentsile, you can reach new heights when camping out – and it’s no wonder: this unconventional outdoor accommodation has become more and more popular among hikers and campers. Although Tentsile is not the lightest tent around, you can still feel weightless when setting it up wherever there are trees, whether it be in the wilderness or in  your backyard. A night spent in Tentsile feels like adventure everywhere.

Tentsile looks like a tent. You can sleep in it like you would do in a normal tent. The difference is that you set it up between trees, up in the air just like a hammock – only much tighter. The best thing about Tentsile is that you can set it up on a rocky beach or on a cliff with a view. This tent goes where no other tent can. No matter how uneven, sloped or full of rocks the terrain is – Tentsile hangs in the air above all that.

After a long and rewarding hiking day, the tent invites you in like a nest among the branches. What’s even better, you don’t have to sleep there alone as your friend can fit in nicely, too. You can stow your hiking gear, bike etc. under the tent where it will be sheltered from rain.

You are sitting on the edge of your tent, enjoying the evening snack, looking at the view, with a gentle breeze cooling down your weary legs. Maybe you can feel the undergrowth tickling your feet as you take the last sips of your evening tea?

It’s time to give your legs and your whole body the rest they need, comfortably and safely in the air, letting the sounds of nature lull you to sleep. In Tentsile, there is no pea under the camping mattress pressing your back. Just drift off to dream in a million-star hotel. Maybe in the wee hours of the morning, drops of rain drum the roof of your tent. If there’s no chance of rain, you can also use the tent without its outer layer, leaving just the inner mesh tent in place, and see all the stars.

It’s a new day. You are waking up slowly, smelling the wind and sitting on the edge of your tent. Do you see an open sea or lake, or maybe a vibrant-coloured marshland? Do you hear the singing of the cranes, splashing of the waves or a silent hum of the fells?

The feeling of urgency is gone. You ponder whether you should stay right here or continue on your journey. Tentsile is the perfect base camp for day trips. Wouldn’t it be great to set it up someplace nice and just go out on shorter hikes, carrying only a light backpack with what you need?

You can book a night in Tentsile for yourself and your friend at the North Gate of Nuuksio – just a short distance from Helsinki. The Salmijärvi region is a beautiful, forested place to enjoy the peace of nature and experience what it is like to spend a night in Tentsile. See the details of the accommodation and book your Tentsile night here.

Translation: Mikko Aslak Lemmetti

In partnership with Visit Raasepori

I mount the bike and let the lift pull me up the bare skiing slopes. On the summit I take my time to admire the landscapes in all directions while a fresh breeze clears my mind. For a while I consider tempting and versatile route options and finally choose the one speedy and curvy enough for me and my bike. Adrenalin spreads all around my body as I hit the trail downhill and exhilaration grows along the meters ridden.

Downhill mountain biking is a captivating way to enjoy speed, mountain biking, trails built on skiing slopes and nature. This sub-genre of traditional mountain biking brings riders to the slopes, where a wide range of routes serve speed seekers. The location is perfect for the activity in summer and autumn, when the slopes are empty of skiers.

In Påminne Bike Park, the downhill biking centre of Raasepori, also the beginners have the possibility to try the sport. Previous traditional mountain biking riding and handling experience is required as the sport asks a little skill. Proficient and open-minded rider will grasp the tips for technique and riding from a pro, when the basic handling of the bike is familiar.

Anders Pyy tells about biking centres routes and riding techniques for Marjo Ojala, who knows about traditional mountain biking and is now having introduction to downhill mountain biking.

What the downhill mountain biking actually is?

Downhill mountain biking has a reputation of an energetic and even a bit dangerous sport. The key principles are rather simple and the difficulty level of trails vary. Skiing lifts, which take skiers to the top of the hill in winter, serve also bike riders in the summer and autumn season.

Aders Pyy advices Marjo Ojala how to safely travel up the hill with the lift.
Ropes can be added to drag lifts, which are easier for the beginners to loosen from the bike on top of the hill.
Drag lift can be also placed between one’s legs when all the way to the top is travelled as standing on the bike.
The lift drags the rider onwards with a steady pace.
On the first meters of the climb pedalling can be done but during the rise one simply enjoys the ride without pedalling.
The climb was a little exciting for a first-timer, but was in reality easier than expected.
Cheerful mood and a smile on one’s face tell about the delight of being introduced to the sport.
On top of the slope one catches the strap and gently pulls towards oneself which releases the bike from the lift.

From the top of the hill one can choose from a generous variety of trails according to their preferences in the level of difficulty or trail map. In downhill mountain biking the objective is to ride down the marked trails with style and speed whilst paying attention to the curves, built platforms, hillocks, drops and other possible obstacles.

The expert in downhill mountain biking Anders “Andy” Pyy considers it possible for beginners to get a quick grasp of the sport even with little less experience if one has enthusiasm and time to be spent on the slopes.

– Regular mountain biking on more traditional trails is also good practice for downhill riders as technique and reaction rate will develope on smoother ground too, Pyy says.

Anders Pyy’s enthusiasm for downhill mountain biking is contagious. He developes versatile riding routes in Påminne Bike Park and welcomes all mountain bike riders in the Southern Finland to his centre.

Pyy himself has been fully concentrating in traditional mountain bike riding for already five years. His previous sport was Motocross. The reason for changing the league is simply the fact, that he finds downhill mountain biking way more fun.

Påminne Bike Park was bor from the passion of the active downhill mountain bike riders

Påminne Bike Park is the most southern slope centre in Finland and also Anders Pyy’s “homefield”. The place was practically engendered by the dream and devotion of the riders to create Påminne Bike Park THE place for downhill mountain bike riding in Finland.

New routes will be examined by foot when necessary.

According to Pyy in the future the aim is to further develop the route selection focusing on trails suitable for beginners as more riders would be warmly welcomed. The objective is also to get some rental gear and equipment for the visitors of the centre. Up until the end of October it has been possible to ride in Påminne Bike Park for two consecutive hours by paying the 20 euro entrance fee or by showing the season ticket. The centre has already been serving even up to about a hundred visitors every week indicating stable and growing interest towards the sport.

It’s fascinating to watch Anders Pyy’s pro-tricks at Påminne Bike Park.

Here’s how you’ll get on to it

Slopes at Påminne will open for downhill mountain bike riders after winter season.

Påminne is conveniently located within only about an hour’s drive from Helsinki through Inkoo and Karjaa. From Lohja the distance takes just half an hour and from Turku about one and half hours.

New riders are always warmly welcomed to the sport and slopes. The culture guides more experienced riders to look after beginners.

– Beginners are highly encouraged to have a chat with more experienced riders to ask for advice and tips, Pyy explains.

Anders Pyy’s motto is to boldly hit the slopes as learning by doing is definitely the best way. He is often there to be asked about the sport in general or to tell about techniques and tips in more detail. Ha may also give a little guidance or tell about the trails in Påminne. The lift crew is there to help beginners get familiar with the lift.

It’s the sense of freedom that lures one to the slopes with a bike

Pyy’s enthusiasm for downhill mountain biking is contagious. We concentrate on all his tips of how to get on top of the hill as we first grasp the handle bar at the bottom of the slope. Every driving tip is greeted with delight for it asks for a sharp eye, quick reaction skills and ability to perceive terrain to ride down the trails. New routes can of course also be first familiarized by foot when necessary.

The knowledge of the sport increases massively whilst riding down the slopes, as downhill mountain biking needs uninterrupted focus. It is easy to imagine someone already enjoying mountain biking to be carried away by the slopes too.

– The best part of the sport is the sense of freedom and the ability to go anywhere with your bike, Pyy says.

The second he finishes the sentence we see him agilely racing down even the most difficult slopes, almost as if his bike had wings. The smooth turns and accelerating bumps tell about years’ riding experience and never-ending enthusiasm.

Find Påminne Bike Park on map

Translation: Karoliina Säkö

Article by Onni Kojo

After Karhunkierros I continued my way north. The forgotten UKK route continues at the north end of Karhunkierros. This trail was almost non-existing, but it was fairly easy to find the markings on the trees. Very quiet, after meeting other hikers every day. I was not talking to other people that much. Finns are just so bad at small talk! But also because in these popular hiking routes, people tend to have own groups in which they travel.

I didn’t mind. I enjoyed walking alone as much as I enjoyed company. 

Beautiful old growth forests covered the fells that opened up in front of me. I was now in the region of Salla. Their slogan is – Salla – In the Middle of nowhere. I like that! It did feel like being in the middle of nowhere. The beauty of Lapland is very much in the sense of open space. 

When you get to Lapland, the nature starts to change around you. More old trees, different kinds of plants, more barren, but beautiful still. The Lapp huts along the way have remained even though the trail seems to be rarely used. I found myself in this hut between two fells, next to a small lake. Fireplace inside, pure drinkable water right next to it and still few berries to be eaten. This was perfection. It was now officially fall. My favorite season.

The nature roasted in to a golden-yellow glow. The forests of Salla were absolutely stunning! This season was a perfect timing for admiring them. I stopped often to wonder the different shades of orange and red while I was walking. Dead silent everywhere. I would meet a pack of reindeer or willow grouse every now and then. 

It was necessary to take more breaks as the ascents began to be longer and the fells higher. At one stop I startled. There was a dog behind me! For how long it had followed me, I didn’t know. It had a collar with antenna. It was some hunter’s dog. But where was the hunter?

Day was beautiful and not too cold. I admired the vast view of forests that continued beyond sight. The dog was still with me while I was sitting on this rock. We continued the journey together. Still no sight of the hunter. I tried to look a phone number on the collar, but the number was wrong. Well, maybe the antenna worked and we would meet the owner soon.

I stopped for lunch at this lean-to shelter. Not knowing what the dog could eat, I didn’t give any food. As a protest, I was barked at.

Soon we hit a dirt road. I knew that if the antenna worked, they would see from the gps and drive there shortly. After 2 minutes, a land cruiser raced next to me.

He was a bear hunter and he had seen from the gps where his dog was and told me that he knew from the movement that there were humans around. The guy had driven 40 km from the other side of the forest to that spot. He also said that it was a good thing that I didn’t give the dog any food, because otherwise they would learn to go after the hikers to give them food!

In the village of Salla I got more supplies and ate a huge, well-deserved pizza. Hanging around at the main street of the village was like from a movie. Guys drinking beer at a bench next to the grocery store, hitchhikers from Germany at the bus stop, grannies cycling along the street. It was a nice and sunny autumn evening. A lovely little town it was. I continued my way towards west now.

4 days I hiked these gravel roads to a place called Pyhä. For me, it was a familiar place as I had been working there the previous winter. Here, I would also have couple days off from the hike and I actually worked as a guide on these break days! I was welcomed with the Lappish hospitality from my dear manager at work. It was unreal to be indoors and have a bed after weeks of hiking!

I experienced this Lappish hospitality on those 4 days of gravel road hiking, too. This guy drove next to me with a transporter. He was a hunter. He was amazed. Why the hell I was walking here by myself! After we shared a laugh, he offered me his cottage to stay! He just said that I could go there and sleep! I didn’t get there that night before the dark. Anyways, people in northern Finland can be extremely hospitable. I had many other encounters like this in Lapland.

Pyhä is an old holy mountain of the forest Sami people that used to live on these lands. The word ‘Pyhä’ in Finnish, means ‘Holy’. This place is unique. You’ll find remarkably unique landscapes, old growth forests and silence from here. There is a national park that covers most of the area. Finland’s biggest gorge is here between the fells and one of the most beautiful waterfalls I know. Right next to the national park there is also skiing slopes, a small village and lots of activities packed in one small place. A perfect combination for everyone! It’s like Lapland in a nutshell.

Pyhä-Luosto national park’s logo features a Siberian jay. You see these birds here every day. These curious and pretty birds sure are fun creatures!

After hiking amongst many other visitors, who had come to see the fall colours, I headed to the town of Sodankylä. I walked by the driveway and from there took another 4 day gravel road hike to the west towards Ylläs.

Those days were one of the most boring ones of my life. There were just vast areas of semi natural forests and not much to see. One stop near Kittilä was nice though. This big lake you could see from the shore overlooking the landscape of fells.

My plans had worked quite well so far. I had stayed pretty much on that path that I had thought. There was just one problem – the winter was coming. 

There was already some wet snow pouring when I started hiking through yet another national park: Pallas–Ylläs. This national park is one of the oldest and most known in Finland. No doubt, the scenery is breathtaking. Here I met many other hikers and made new friends. After a few days of rain and wet snow, the weather turned beautiful. Crisp cold mornings and bright blue days. I enjoy those kinds of days.

Herds of reindeer would pass by every day. They start their mating time around this time of the year so it is good to be little bit cautious with them. At least with the stags.

These herds can be hundreds of individuals, sometimes running around the fells. One morning I got woken up by this huge herd as some of them have bells around their necks like sheep. They are a semi-domesticated species and all of them are always owned by someone even when they go around the wild every now and then. There are a lot of domesticated reindeer as well in the farms all around Lapland. 

They say that a white reindeer is for good luck. I saw one every day! From a distance though. I heard a story about how furious the stags can get during mating season. I was having lunch at this Lapp hut with few other hikers when this older guy told us a story that involved a reindeer antler, a carotid artery and lots of blood. I kept my distance.

Nice lunch discussions and encounters continued along the way. I remember this one dad who was hiking with her 5-year-old daughter. They were on a one-night hike and we had a chat at this yet another Lapp hut shelter. I told him about my journey. By now I had walked about 2000 km. He told me word to word ‘I doubt your mental health’. I laughed. But he was right as well. I might have gone mad by now, walking by myself for months. There were a few things that kept me sane. One was social media – (staying connected is almost too easy nowadays; I did also have days when I didn’t use it), the other was just staying on the course, so perseverance. I would meet new people all the time so I wasn’t really lonely. There were only a few times I felt loneliness, but I think that is good. In this hyper social world of ours we easily forget to self-reflect. It is very important to just be happy with yourself. The modern world easily distracts us to use our time on just looking on what other people do.

But yeah, to walk over 2000 km you have to be a bit crazy. In a good way!

To be honest, at the moment while I’m writing this in a studio apartment in Helsinki, I feel lonelier than when I was hiking alone. I would meet so many fantastic people along the way. The wilderness cabins would usually be full of people, sharing their adventures. People would gather around a fireplace and share their stories. Would that happen in a city? Just random people at a park for example just meeting and sharing stories about their days? 

There is something really familiar to us, when we meet new people while hiking in national parks or in the wilderness. We are so close to the things that humans are made for. Surviving in the wilderness and staying together as a tribe. 

I shared a wonderful evening with people all over Finland on the last day of the Ylläs – Hetta hike. To hear everyone’s craziest adventures was so much fun. You also learn so much from others while you share stories. We even saw pretty good northern lights that night.

That is one exceptional aspect about the open wilderness cabin culture. There is always another side of the coin, though. This culture is based on respecting the place and other visitors. That includes cleaning up after yourself and giving space to people who need the shelter most. This age-old rule is easily forgotten nowadays. Always respect the nature and others around you, always! We can still keep this culture alive and have these places, so we can share stories by the fire. It would be sad to see this go and have private cabins all around instead of the open ones, if we do not adhere to common rules!

In general though, during my journey, I met great people and almost every shelter and cabin that I visited was in good condition! Way to go Finland!

I heard news that there was already snowfall in the very north western part of the country. That’s where I was heading. I based my plan to the fact that last winter the snowfall was so late and that people had hiked up to Halti even at the beginning of October. It started to seem that it might be impossible. I didn’t change my plans. The snow might have melted.

I walked along the driveway towards Kilpisjärvi for days. I headed to the wilderness after three days. There was this dirt road leading to the wilderness area of Käsivarsi – ‘Käsivarren erämaa-alue’. From there I was to hike to Kilpisjärvi through the wilderness. After about 10 km walking the dirt road it was obvious that there was a lot of snow. The snow limit was in about 600 metres above sea level. I still continued, I didn’t want to quit. Mainly because my other option was pretty lame. To walk the along the road all the way to Kilpisjärvi, another 70 km or so.

I went to the first cabin at the end of the dirt road. I was a little depressed. I couldn’t hike up to Halti. The October gloom got more intense day by day. Nevertheless, I had an amazing adventure in the wilderness! The soft snow made it super hard to go through even with skis. At times the snow was down to my knees. At the first cabin I found some hard plastic and iron wire so I decided to make my own snowshoes. Surprisingly, after testing them, they worked!

I walked with my snowshoes about 7 km to the next hut. I was the most exhausted I have ever been. It was so heavy to walk in the snow. I had lunch and a cup coffee and decided to head back and plan another ending for my journey. There was no way I could walk in these conditions even if there would be melted ground after the next fell. I was beaten, but still so happy that I tried. It sure was an instructive and fun adventure!

A boring couple of days of walking by the road followed. I would just camp where ever I could find a spot. There were a lot of campfire places along the road and rivers. Fishermen use this road and these rivers during summertime and make campfires everywhere. It started snowing and the temperatures dropped even more. It was now officially winter here.

When I finally saw the Saana fell and the village of Kilpisjärvi, I jumped out of joy. This would be the last village before heading to Norway. I decided that I’d climb to Saana and then walk to Norway and to the Arctic sea. It was only 50 kilometres away!

This was the only area that is geologically considered to be a part of a mountain range in Finland. After hiking up to Saana I had visited almost all the different habitats found in this country. From the shores of the Baltic sea, through the fields and villages of the south, across the lake land and boreal forests, over the endless swamps and up the fells of Lapland, I had walked across the whole country! 2300 kilometres by now, to be exact. 

I wanted to finish the trip by going to Norway. I hadn’t swam or seen the sea for months, so I would end this at the mighty fjords of Norway. 

The very last day I walked from close to the Finnish border down to the fjord beach. It was one of those clear sunny days when the blue sky just opens and the universe just feels so vast. I felt good!

The feeling was also a bit melancholic, I would end my journey now. During that one day, the scenery changed from the arctic tundra into almost like the southern type of nature! Even the leaves were still orange and yellow, even though 30 km inland in Finland there were no leaves on the trees anymore. I was close to the sea though. The snowy cap mountains and sheep welcomed me to the village at the beach. Why is there sheep everywhere in Norway?

I have nothing greater to say after all this. Finland is a wonderful country and we must continue to care for it and its magnificent nature. Whoever reads this, remember, be sure to take some time off for yourself in life. Losing the track of time is the best way of charging your energies! Even a small amount of time is enough, you don’t have to hike 2000 km. Through this self-reflection, one also learns to be a better person to others and the nature around us.

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus

Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Read more:

Hike Finlandia: a hike from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea. Part 1

Hike Finlandia, part 2: Eastern Finland

Article by Onni Kojo

In this article I will be going more into the less known places of Eastern Finland.

The end of July was really warm. Hot even. The weather made hiking harder. Insects like mosquitoes and horse flies were annoying. I was now heading close to the eastern border of the country. Here, you can still find crystal clear lakes, untouched forests and endless mire lands. 

The downside with the seemingly never ending nature is that it has also been cultivated a lot. In North Karelia, 89% of the land area consists forests. Forestry companies own a prominent amount of them. Peat, or turf, is also a significant resource around here. I saw that as I was walking past those infinite fields on these hot summer days. By the way, if Finland had done the same with their swamps and turn all of them into peat fields, we could have a very plentiful source of fuel. Peat is harvested for fuel from these fields. 

It’s good that we didn’t.

Swamps are super important for the environment, since they are host to a range of plant life and a high level of humidity, hence plenty of insects. Now this might be uncomfortable when visiting swamp areas, but when you realize how many birds and reptiles there are because of the insects, you respect them much more. And because of the smaller animals, there is always a bigger animal coming after them.

In addition to biodiversity, mires are important carbon sinks.

I would be walking through endless swamps for weeks! But first, I had to visit some of my relatives. I had planned my route so that I could pay them a visit this summer. I also needed a bath so bad. I’m making a statement now. There is nothing more satisfying than sauna, a swim in a pure lake and to having a cold beverage after hiking a day in heat. Trust me. Or maybe there is, but this combo is surely very close to the ultimate satisfaction.

I had a weekend off from hiking. It is important to rest properly on such a long walk. I also needed to do laundry, as from now on it got harder and I really had to plan my stops and rest days. Where could I charge my phone and batteries, where could I do laundry and get more supplies? Up to this point, I could just visit friends and family, but after this I’d have to book a guest house every now and then.

After the July heat, the temperatures dropped tremendously. There was a cold north wind to all around Finland. These extreme weather changes are getting more and more common in Finland. Before, our climate has been fairly mild, at least in southern inland.

For me it was good though! The north wind kept the nasty insects away and it was nicer to walk than in the heat. I was so prepared for having to deal with millions of mosquitoes around here. I did encounter a few flying devils that I really hate, like the deer fly. Also it is notable, that in the very eastern part of North Karelia, close to the border, there are ticks that can carry diseases. That’s why they are one of the only dangerous creatures in Finnish nature. There is only one venomous snake in Finland, the common viper.

Equal growth pine forests and gray skies led my way to the next national park, Patvinsuo. Here, it is fascinating to see some age-old pines amongst the new growth ones. I hiked through vast open swamp areas to the lakes of the national parks. I found some nice beaches along the way and met other hikers. It was nice to talk with people. My social life took place only online on some days of the hike

I ate last of my Karelian pies (you only get the real ones in Karelia) and continued the journey north via ‘Karhunpolku’ – The ‘Bear trail’. This would lead me to the town of Kuhmo and from there I would take the Eastern border trail all the way up to Lapland.

At Karhunpolku, I didn’t meet any other hikers! Again, once out from the national park, there was no one else. The forest looked magical, full of white lichen, moss, pink blossoming heather and berry bushes of different colours.

Slowly, through the beautiful ridges cutting the swamps and forests, I made my way towards north. These trails would also have other kinds of shelters besides the huts and lean-to shelters: wilderness cabins. This culture of open wilderness cabins is one of a kind in the world. Some of them even have saunas! Absolutely brilliant for a tired hiker, or a country-cross skier in the wintertime!

These shelters always have a visitor’s book, where one should write about their visit. These journals were so much fun to read every night. I found notes from few other long distance hikers, even couple from one of my teachers at the wilderness guide course. One note was from this one guy who had done a big hike the previous summer (I met him earlier in the summer somewhere in the lake country). He had only written: ‘On my way to the North’. Pretty modest from a guy that hiked across the whole country!

These stories and encounters with people are worth writing down. Apart from these forgotten hiking trails, I met many people. I had many of confluences with interesting people. I heard stories that I would’ve never heard. People opened up to me in a very different way. I mean telling me, a stranger, about their lives. Maybe there was some kind of nostalgia to the old days, where there would be vagabonds and tramps all around the country. You stayed connected with the people because of this folk. 

Sometimes when I had to walk along the driveway, I felt like a rebel. Maybe little bit extremist, but why use fossil fuels, when you can just walk to places? There was other free riders and rebels along the way. Every time there was a biker or a long distance cyclist passing by, we shared this smile. These people know what freedom feels like.

One of the most interesting stories was from this old man and his wife who I met somewhere near Kuhmo. They were locals and had lived there all of their lives. This mosaic of old growth forest, lakes and swamps was, just 50 years ago, a true wilderness. Now, there was are a lot of clear cut forests in the area. Luckily there still are conservation areas in between of these more cultivated lands.

I was in the lands of storytelling. No wonder there would be people who like to share stories. From the notes in the visitor’s book, to the old guy at the market square of Kuhmo telling me about his life, I was having difficulties to write it all down. I felt like a 19th century explorer going around the wilderness collecting stories from times that were forgotten.

I mean, Finland’s epic, Kalevala, was collected from these lands. The vast area of White Karelia (Vienan Karjala in Finnish) spread from here far to the east to the Russian side of the border. Culturally, White Karelia also has three poetry villages on the Finnish side of Kainuu.

There was other culturally important places along the border too. A Traveller faces the relics of the wars around here. Old foxholes, bases, fortresses, some of which have been restored as a historic sites. There has always been war around these lands and I think it’s good to visit these places as we should never forget how horrible war is. 

While I was walking the Eastern border trail, I was for a few times, stopped by the Border Patrol. They were just keen on what I was doing, as they were no hikers around here. Metsähallitus (Finnish Forest Administration) had just stopped maintaining the trail. I worried that the campfire places would not have any firewood because of this. It would be harder to dry clothes and shoes after many days of hiking in the swamp areas! Luckily they were still somewhat serviced, maybe because the local day hikers or hunters would still be using them. I did actually need the campfires a few times because at the beginning of my two week journey at this trail, it was quite rainy. Also the trail was in some parts, in very bad condition. I would have to cross the creeks because the bridges would be broken down. I would have to walk in the swamp a few times because the boardwalks would not exist anymore.

It was good meeting with the Border Patrol because we both changed information like, what animals we’d seen, what was it like at the next campsite etc. Now to clarify a bit, the guards were driving with a jeep along the dirt roads, not hiking the trails like they used to. Still, nice guys that were amazed of my journey. 

Last time I talked with them, they half-jokingly stated that I’d have to put something red on my head, as the bear hunting season had just started and these lands and forests were full of hunters. I might get shot otherwise. It was only later, at this Wilderness Centre in Martinselkonen, I realized the Border Patrol was not joking. I talked with the owner of the centre. He said that if the hunters would not get the bear at one shot, which is highly likely, the bear would be extremely dangerous wounded. Not only the wounded bear, but the hunters running after it and shooting, while I’m there as well!

Later I heard a few gunshots here and there. Some of the dirt roads along the trail had pickup-trucks beside them and tents in the forest which the hunters used. I met few hunters as well. It was interesting to hear what they were doing, as this was a totally new world to me.

I’m not a hunter, so I’m not going to go into it. All I know, is that hunting and fishing are a big part of the Finnish outdoor life. To kill for trophies and for sport is in my opinion bad, but to hunt for game, for food, is just an old way of living.

Anyways, I was now in the land of lot of bears. I saw signs of them every day. Like ant nests dug, all the blueberries eaten (European brown bears love blueberries!), or I would just step on a pile of bear poop.

I didn’t see the king of the forest. They have a natural fear of humans and they could smell me miles away. There is bear watching tours you can book, if you want to see these mighty creatures! At Martinselkonen for example.

I saw other animals though. Moose would walk in the forest or crane (bird) would fly past me every now and then or make its very recognizable sound echoing in the open swamp areas. All kinds of forest grouses would hurtle from the bushes when I walked quietly by myself through the boreal forests. Some of these age old forests had hanging moss or beard lichen on the branches of the trees more than I had ever seen before. This is a clear sign that the air is super pure. This moss doesn’t grow if there is any pollution.

I would some mornings, be woken up by whooper swans. Their sound is loud and can be heard miles away because the lakes carry sound. These small ridges would cut the swamps and lakes. Little birds flew in all directions from the berry bushes on the ridge slopes. In addition to blueberries, lingonberries and crowberries grew everywhere. 

I diverged from the trail a bit to get supplies. There was only one village with a little country store around here. Ala-Vuokki store had a post office, bar and a gas station in the same building. Very typical to have all the services in one place in these remote areas. The store owner was interested of my journey and offered me coffee and pastry! I continued to the trail the same day. Days were getting shorter and nights darker.

A few times I heard hunting dogs barking or the forest machine would break the feeling of being in the wilderness. Otherwise, I still walked mostly on magical lands. No wonder these forests and lakes were attached to the age old storytelling lands. And did I already say that I didn’t meet any other hikers along these hiking trails? There were couple of days that I didn’t see any other human being!

After the long eastern border adventure, I made my way to Finland’s latest national park – Hossa. The contrast was huge. Suddenly there was all these newly made trails and huts. People hiking along the turquoise waters of Hossa or mountain biking next to these magnificent cliffs. 

I had a resting day in the town of Kuusamo. From here I would continue to one of the most known hikes in Finland – Karhunkierros. 

Before this, it had been relatively easy to hike, at least in terms of altitude differences. Finland is pretty flat country. So until here, I would not have to ascend more than sixty meters or so! But here, it was crazy! Climbing up and down these hills was brutal. With a backpack full of one weeks supplies, anyways.

The scenery changed more to the northern kind. Gorgeous sceneries, big rivers and cliffs. I also saw little bit of northern lights the first night. Already! The days got even shorter and the leaves of the trees would turn to yellow, orange and red. By now, I really had to try and wake up early because I had to use the daytime for hiking. Summertime was easy – it didn’t really matter what time I was walking since there would be enough light even during night time. 

I started to see more northern species like the Siberian jay and reindeer! I was now truly in north. I felt so good. I had hiked through the endless swamps all the way to up the north, by myself!

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus

Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Read more:

Hike Finlandia: a hike from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea. Part 1

Article by Onni Kojo

I travel and explore nature, history and culture. I am interested in the relationship between man and nature. During the summer and autumn of 2019, I hiked from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea in northern Norway.

For a long time, I had this need to connect with the outdoor world again. For our generation, the human world is so much different than for any of the other generations before us. Nature, on the other hand, is always perfect with it’s dangers and beauty.

I had this idea of a big hike. Maybe I felt like I needed a break from this busy world of ours, or maybe just for the pure adventure. Many people share this same urge to explore. But to have the time for all of that is just so hard in this modern life. It’s also scary. Just to leave everything and go abroad by yourself.

Of course this hike would include visiting a lot of culturally important places and meeting new people, things that I really enjoyed as well. But this adventure would be more about the nature than my previous travels.

Big hike of a lifetime. There are those routes that take months to walk. Like Pacific Crest Trail in the US or Camino de Santiago in Spain. But here in Northern Europe there really is no such a route. Just few longer hiking routes amongst the hundreds of shorter ones. That is why I decided to plan the route myself and have as much different places along the way as possible.

I’m not the only one who has done a hike across Finland. There are few other people, even couple of people who I saw along the way, that have done a similar hike than mine. Some of these people might want to keep themselves. Who knows how many other big adventurers there are!

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus
Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Hike Finlandia, part 1

The Baltic Sea opened up in front of me. The breeze from the sea was warm, the day was sunny and bright. Few tourists were by the sea, enjoying the day. Polished by the glaciers from ice-age, these cliffs were smooth, gently curving into the depths. This point was the southernmost point of coastal Finland.

My backpack weighted about 25 kilos. I had a wide grin on my face as I dipped my toes into the salty water and then put my hiking boots on. I felt free for the first time in ages.

My plan was to hike all the way up to the northern part of this country. To the highest peak in the north western part of it, to be exact. I had little bit less than 4 months to do this. I had planned this hike the whole spring as I was studying to become a nature – and wilderness-guide. So for me, this was also a continuation to my studies. I wanted to see what it was really like out there. What kind of secret places I would find? How many species in the nature would I remember from my studies, how many new I would learn? Would I survive by myself hiking the endless forest? What kind of difficulties would I encounter and what kind of people would I meet. I was eager to travel and explore.

For me it was easy to travel by myself, as I had been backpacking around the word much of my adult life. But this was a whole other level. I would walkNo cars, no train, no bicycle, no boat. Just hike.

Sunny and windy day continued and I started walking. The cape of Tulliniemi is a conservation area with couple of nature trails. The day hikers looked at me and my backpack curiously. Beautiful groves and pine forests covered this cape. It didn’t look like any other place I would visit during this hike. This was the only place that had that kind of southern temperate nature. I would soon be walking in endless boreal forests and swamps.

As the first day folded into the night (It didn’t really, the sun just went close to the horizon for a bit), I was exhausted. I had first walked into the southernmost point and then started the actual hike. I already had a blister on my foot. First day of any hike, is always the hardest. I hadn’t hiked in ages, because I was studying and working before this. My backpack was way too heavy. The day was hot.

I sat down and took my hiking shoes off. I was close to the beach I was going to camp for that night. I saw a stick. A branch of a pine tree. I took it, cut it half by kicking it. I hated it. It was crooked, not cool enough. But I needed a walking stick. It really helped me to get there the rest of the way. I had walked 40 km that day and it was almost midnight. Tired, but still happy. I made it even when my feet hurt so badly.

The next morning I dipped myself into the water. The air smelled salty. It was a hot and sunny morning. I felt like I was somewhere in the Mediterranean. This would be the last time I would feel and smell and hear the ocean, for months to come.

The days went by and walking got easier. I had marked down places worth to visit and good spots to camp from the map. I used ‘Maastokartat’-app on the phone. Here in the south I would have internet access almost anywhere, but in the north I would need to download the maps on the phone or then just buy a map. Anyways, I had a general plan of my route and all the camping sites, lean-to shelters and ‘kotas’ marked in the maps on my phone.

It was fairly easy to navigate with the app. At least here in the south. I just enjoyed the summer days and walked along country roads and forest tracks.

So the first bit of my hike was the nature trail and then the streets of Hanko. Very nice town by the way, Finland’s most sunny town, they say. There was no hiking routes around here. But luckily, Finland is full of forest roads, because of the forestry and logging industry.

The scenery changed all the time from the nice country estates with horse stables, to the mixed forests and then into clear cut forests (which there is a lot in the south). Here and there, there would be a small conservation area with a fire place in it, or just a nice beach or shelter to camp for the night. Most of the places were quite good. And they were free to use because of our everyman’s rights. I would see a white-tailed deer every day, as this introduced species has been very successful in southern part of the country.

Now, there was also some problems with everyman’s rights. In the town of Karjalohja for example, it was not allowed to camp on the public beach. I went into the nearby forest instead, and checked from the map that it wasn’t near any residence. This is the law, you are allowed to camp for a short period of a time as long as it is not near anyone’s property nor causing any disturbance.

But most of the evenings, I would easily find a place to camp. I had a tent with me, but I also used the shelters. The tent was better option in midsummer though, because of the insects. As I would go further inland and close to swamps, there would be way more mosquitos. But I will go into that later on.

So, it’s fairly easy to find places to camp for the night anywhere in Finland. Just need to know the rules that apply for the everyman’s rights and have general respect for the places and nature where you are visiting. Leave no trace, don’t set up a fire if there is a forest fire warning, don’t disturb others or the nature and don’t destroy any living trees or plants. In exchange, you can pick up the berries and mushrooms, camp, and roam freely! Now this habit of respecting the area and freedom to roam should be common knowledge, but unfortunately it’s not.

The next area after the countryside, was the national park of Liesjärvi. From there, I would use the Ilvesreitti trails into the lake country.

Liesjärvi is convenient and nice national park, as it is quite short a way from Helsinki. Because of the easy access, there would be a lot of visitors. It’s good that people come and charge their energies in the nature, and outdoors is a healthy new trend. But. Unfortunately the side effects of this growing number of visitors, is rubbish left on the fire places, food waste on the river next to the camp sites, people throwing every single piece of rubbish into the bonfire.

I do not know where this habit came from. Cardboard and paper is usually ok to burn, but anything else is really easy to just take with you and recycle at home. There is nothing nastier, than someone burning plastic and the next moment, kids around the fire place roasting marshmallows.

Why would you have the energy and willpower to travel into a certain natural place, and then leave your rubbish and food waste there. It does not belong in that place. It is ok to visit. To feel, smell, hear and see the pure nature. And then just leave with everything you had with you. Including your dog, who was on the leash for the whole time. Wasn’t it?

Anyways, there is clearly lot of advisory to be done for the hikers, tourists, any visitors really. Everyone who visits the nature of Finland, should know, what the common rules are. Without them, all this free roaming is in danger.

The national park had clear hiking routes marked with various colours, depending on what kind of a hike you wanted to do. I was following the route that was marked with a head of a lynx. ‘Ilvesreitti’ means ‘The lynx route’. This web of routes stretches hundreds of kilometres around the Häme region, about an hour drive from Helsinki. There is also an old heritage farm in the national park called ‘Kortenniemi’ that is worth visiting! I went there also and got a free presentation as there was a local guide doing a tour with visitors.

Besides the national park, there was literally no one on these routes. Some fire places along the way had day visitors, as they were usually close to the roads and had easy access. Some camping sites were barely used. As the route went to another municipality, it changed in its condition and scenery. Sometimes it would be just bush that was still marked with yellow signs hanging from the trees. Sometimes it was a dirt road, sometimes a nice path in a magical moss covered forest.

The reason for this alternating condition of the trail was because it went through different municipalities. When the trail is not entirely in one region or park, its condition varies. Some towns make an effort maintaining outdoor services, some don’t. Either it’s because of budget, or some places have just been forgotten. Seriously. I was surprised how many people there is, if the area is a national park. But there might be a beautiful conservation area nearby that has all the same services, but is nearly never used.

One of these places worth mentioning was Heinisuo. A swamp area close to Hämeenlinna. It was basically like mini version of the Torronsuo national park which is the biggest preserved swamp area in southern Finland. There I met first grouses and snakes during my hike. And not a single person.

Soon, I encountered another problem with the rights to roam. There was a field, rye field if I remember correctly. I had looked from the map, that if I went from the dirt road into the forest and went little bit along this field, it would be a smart route. The field was first just hay and it was not that wide. But then it changed. It was someone’s rye field. Now, to walk in fields where there is something growing is prohibited. I made a mistake with my route. Luckily there was tractor tracks where I reckon it was ok to walk the 100 meters to the other side. Still, I kind of broke the law.

Also, some maps are older and might not have all the tracks, routes, fields or clear cut forests marked into them. All hikers and travellers should know this.

Anyways, the Maastokartat-app worked very well. 10 days had passed from the start of the hike when I reached to town of Hämeenlinna. I would have a day off here, have a shower and go buy more food.

You could be thinking by now, how I managed to take care of the hygiene, what kind of food I would carry with me, how I would succeed generally. Like mentally and physically.

The thing is, while hiking, you have to let go of some standards. Especially in places where there is no modern comforts. Swimming in the lake every day for a week is enough to stay clean, before you get the chance to go into a sauna or shower. Luckily, Finland is full of lakes and public saunas!

For the clothing. Using materials like wool, that don’t need washing all the time, is good. Other hygiene, like I said: Wash your teeth and face, brush your hair, like you would do every day. But it’s really not necessary to have a daily shower. I was fine just going swimming every day and have a proper shower at least once a week.

Food supply was easy to take care while just hiking from town to town in the south, but further along the way it got harder. I would just go into the shops in almost every town and by fresh food and also go in cafes and restaurants. But I would also be on budget and when hiking in national parks and far from any villages, I would need lots of lightweight, mostly dry food that does not rot. At least in the summertime when the temperatures are not the same than in your freezer.

For the boredom, I listened audio books. That was only for the long days when I would be walking roads that went in the same looking scenery. Like these semi natural forests, which there is more than enough in Southern Finland.

But I was bored for a very little time as there was always something new to encounter. Was it a deer walking in the forest or a butterfly that I was trying to figure out which species it was. Or a villager passing by with a bicycle and talking with me, asking questions about my travels. There was always a new kind of atmosphere and landscape after every turn on the roads. It never really got boring. Sometimes it was just nice to listen to music and feel the breeze on your face as I was walking alongside a lake. Sometimes I would just listen to what birds I would recognize were singing. (I didn’t recognize many, it would take a lifetime to know all the Northern European species singing in the early summer choir)

To walk every day tens of kilometres with a heavy backpack, it takes a lot of mental strengths. ‘Sisu’ as we would say in Finnish. Everyone who has climbed a mountain or been on a weeklong hike in a challenging terrain for example, knows what I’m talking about. You are just not quitting.

Now for the physical endurance, obviously training is essential. I did try to get as fit as possible before the hike. But the most important part is just to take care of yourself. I did rest properly and avoided taking risks like climbing cliffs with heavy backpack.

Only thing I didn’t do during the first days of the hike was stretching properly. That I got to know after about a week. My right knee was hurting really bad. I tried to massage it. Didn’t work. It was only after I started stretching properly every morning and evening, that the pain was gone. I might have been pushing myself too much the first days of the hike. I was so eager to just go.

I also have to say that nutrition is very important. Your body needs so much energy while hiking. Lots of carbs and good fats. Good fats are also essential for the joints. I also picked some wild herbs for my lunches and dinners like fireweed and nettles. I’m pretty sure that they helped for the pain in the joints also. Later in the summertime there would be a source of vitamins in all the forests as the berries would grow.

So, naturally, the nature would be my chemist and nutritionist along the way!

Well rested day in Hämeenlinna and the adventure continued! The Häme region has always been the gateway to inland Finland. The lake country starts here. Lakes continue as far as the eye can see. You can hike up to hills that cut this landscape. It’s a maze of swamps, lakes, forests and rivers.

This area has lots of history with its castles, iron-age fort hills, churches, old towns and holy places in the nature. Like sacred groves for example. I was to visit few of these old sacred places, but further inland, as I had already visited in many places around Hämeenlinna before. There was lot of other interesting places to come, and I had planned my route so that I could visit as many new places as possible before winter.

My next destination was to hike to Evo-region. This hiking area is very popular combination of trails and camp sites. Not a national park, but a huge area consisting many little pieces of conservation areas. Here you can find animals like beavers, moose and flying squirrels. You can also find some of the oldest forests in southern Finland. These age old forests are in my opinion the most interesting of all places. There is just a different kind of feeling in them.

I didn’t see any beavers, moose or flying squirrels. But I did see a lot of beaver damns, lodges and other signs. I also started to see more of the ordinary species like common goldeneye and other water birds, frogs, squirrels, rabbits and hawks. The kind of animals you usually see and hear in Finnish forest.

First month of the summer is usually rainy. This year it seemed like the rain poured all at once, at the beginning of July. I was walking on the tracks of Evo and got a bit lost. Downpour, lots of water everywhere. There was a beaver dam and the trail went besides it. I somehow passed it and instead went next to a creek that was about 3 meters wide. Two birch branches crossed the stream. Of course, I had to try and walk to the other side. Rain, slippery surface and heavy backpack was not a good combo. I was in the creek to the waist.

Fortunately I had covered my phone in my pocket so it didn’t get wet. Be sure to always wear a waterproof case for your phone if you are hiking! For me the phone was extra important because of the maps in it.

Also, another rule if you get wet: always have dry clothes in a dry bag. And don’t worry, the next fire place is usually not far away. I changed my clothes and shoes (Yea I had two of them) in this lean-to shelter and ate some chocolate. Dry clothes, shelter and food, that is the only thing what we really need.

The lake country

From Evo, it’s not a long way to lake Päijänne. This is the second largest lake in Finland. I remember camping at the shores of the lake, after a long day of hiking from Evo. There was again, white-tailed deer. Actually two of them, chasing each other at the beach. It was a nice summer night, and I was thrilled that I got there. Big lakes have unique atmosphere. You could easily travel through half of the country just by using waterways! Now, thinking back into it, I should’ve definitely do a kayak or boat section of this journey at the lake country. So if you happen to be in the lake country of Finland in the summertime, hire a water vessel of your style and explore.

My plan was to just use the roads and various paths that go in the forests. The problem was though, that this area is full of people’s summer cottages and houses. The lake country is sometimes referred as the ‘cottage country’. I mean, there is half a million leisure homes in Finland! One for every five people. Every family has one, or everyone knows someone who has a second home somewhere outside cities.

Anyhow, Päijänne has a national park. It’s mostly islands, but there is a ridge going through the other side of the lake. I walked along it to the other side and beyond, towards Central Finland and Savo.

Here I had to walk little while by the roadway. Then back to the endless little country roads that go crisscross everywhere. Finland has definitely been efficient in using its forests. That is why these little roads go everywhere. They are also one reason that there is no big forest fires: these little roads cut the fire and make lot of places easy to access and put out the fire.

I continued to Kammiovuori in Sysmä. This hill was the highest point of lake Päijänne. The view was just amazing. I remember having morning coffee on top of the hill, pine tree forests as far as the eye can see, clear blue sky reflecting on hundreds of lakes. Common loon doing it’s call somewhere on the lakes, the sound echoing between the hills.

I didn’t have to travel many days when I was in another view point to the lakes. Neitvuori. This was middle of lake Saimaa, the biggest lake in Finland.

There was not really any good routes to hike in the lake country. There is few other national parks here but they are better to be visited by kayak or canoe. I was focusing on the small conservation areas or old sacred hills where I could see the view. These hills usually had interesting history too, as they’ve been used as a sacrificial sites or hillforts. This one, Neitvuori, was known to be used as a deer hunting spot. People would surround packs of deer towards the top of the hill and the deer would get stuck on the cliffs or drop. This hunting style made these kinds of hills very important.

If the rock or cliff had some kind of shape of an animal or human, it would be a sacred place. Sometimes just the location would made a specific place important. One of these was Sulkava hillfort. Finland has hundreds of pre-history fort hills. These places are usually protected by the law or have been hard to access during times, so they tend to have more diverse nature!

I was now in Savo region. People seemed little bit easy going then in the busy south. Beautiful landscapes opened up after every little hill as I was walking the countryside. A lot of cows around here. Every now and then I would walk pass a dairy farm. Then another lake and another farm, between of them, forests of course.

It was a nice and sunny after the beginning of July rain. Butterflies were everywhere alongside these country roads. Flowers and wild herbs almost at the peak of growing season, giving life to every little living thing flying around them. For me as well, as I sometimes picked a dandelion or some fireweed to spice up my lunches. Fireweed by the way, is ‘Maitohorsma’ in Finnish in which the first word ‘maito’ means milk. The name comes from a belief that it increases cow’s milk production. Because of this feature, it is preferably added to the cattle feed. Finnish milk products are said to be really good quality!

Moving on. I left the cows and continued towards east. There was one more town before I would go the region of Karelia. Savonlinna. This place is definitely worth visiting. It’s like the lake country packed in one little town! Surrounded by the lakes from all directions, this town has a medieval castle and an old town, and of course Tori – a really good market (where I ate so much it was hard to continue my journey).

July continued with pretty nice weather, even some super hot days. Luckily I was in the lake country, where I could go swimming every day. I didn’t encounter a lot of other hikers or even animals during this time. Didn’t get to see the Saimaa ringed seal – species that only lives around here.

Like I stated before, this area is should’ve been explored by waterways. There is also inland water cruises during summer if you don’t want to navigate through the lake maze by yourself.

So if you like water, beaches, castles, history and nature – lake country Finland is the place to be in summer!

After Savonlinna, I continued my hike towards the eastern part of the country. 

The most loved delicacies in Finland are unquestionably open fire pancakes. They are not just any pancakes, they are plättys. To enjoy your openfire plättys in the best possible way, you should have good company and plenty of time – no one should prepare or eat plättys alone or in a hurry. It’s just not right. We’ll show you how it’s done.

To make best possible plättys, start by taking a stroll in the nature with at least one good friend. Enjoy the fresh air of the forest, listen to the silence. Pay attention to all the small details: the colors of the moss, the shapes of the trees, the ambiance surrounding you. Can you smell how pure the nature is? Take a good walk: the more you walk in the nature, the better your plättys will taste. This works really well especially when the weather is a bit misty, cold or even snowy or rainy.

One good thing about plättys is that you can prepare the dough at home and just take it with you in a bottle. This makes it very easy to start baking plättys after your refreshing stroll in the surrounding nature.

What you need:

5 dl of milk
2 fresh eggs
1 teaspoon of salt and sugar
2 dl of wheat flour
2 table spoons of oil

To prepare the dough, just mix everything together and let it rest for at least half an hour. That’s it!

You need also:

Matches and a knife
Firewood
A frying pan and a spatula
Frying oil
Strawberry or raspberry jam

Finding a good campfire spot is relatively easy in Finland. Now remember, even if one is allowed to enjoy our beautiful nature rather freely, making a campfire is not an everyman’s right. This is why you should always find an actual campfire spot to prepare your plättys. In national parks there are plenty of good and ready-to-go spots that even have firewood waiting for you! When visiting Helsinki, the nearest national parks are Nuuksio and Sipoonkorpi – both less than an hour’s drive away from the city center and also accessible by public transport.

A typical Finnish campfire spot in Nuuksio national park. There’s firewood in the shed.
With the bucket one can get water from the lake to put out the campfire before leaving.

Now, it’s time to make a fire. I hope you brought some matches and a puukko knife with you? Take some firewood from the shed and use your knife (be careful!) to carve little pieces of wood that are easy to kindle. Light the fire and wait for a bit so that the campfire is burning well and ready to prepare some delicious food.

Take your frying pan and put a dash of oil on it. Place it above the fire and let it get hot.

Now it’s time to fry the first plätty. Pour some oil and then some dough from the bottle on the hot pan – not too much, plättys are supposed to be quite thin. Wait for a minute or two and try turning it. Now, don’t worry – the first plätty always goes wrong and looks hideous. This is an essential part of the tradition. The good news is that it still tastes really good!

Maybe the second one turns better, or the third one at least. Fry each plätty one or two minutes each side and add some oil to the pan every now and then.

When you run out of dough it’s time to eat! Some people put sugar on their plättys, others eat plättys covered with strawberry jam. Raspberry jam is also a good choice! One can use fingers or a plate and a fork for example. And, if you’re really, really well prepared, you might even have some whipped cream or ice cream to put on your plättys!

After finishing meal, please make sure that you leave the campfire spot nice and clean. Should there be any rubbish, put it in a garbage can (if there is one) or pack it in a plastic bag and bring it with you away from the nature. Also, if there’s no-one else, put out the campfire before leaving. Let’s be thoughtful and keep our beautiful nature clean!

Enjoy plättys with us – let’s prepare them together!

Did all this sound a bit complicated? No worries. You can book a plätty experience and we’ll teach you how to make them! Come with us to the beautiful national park of Nuuksio, right next to Helsinki, and enjoy the prepapring of plättys as well as the surrounding nature.