This is what it’s like to walk through the winter forest trails in Koli national park

Deep in the forests of Eastern Finland, there lies a peaceful and unspoiled place. Here, one can find snow that goes knee deep and frozen trees that tower all around. It is totally quiet here, and it is possible to be in harmony with nature while walking through these woods.

This place is Koli National park, and last winter I was lucky enough to explore this snowy realm. I have put together a 12-photo album of this adventure as I make my way to the Ukko-Koli, where one can see one of the most spectacular views in all of Finland. The hiking trail is the forest walk which can be taken from the Koli village (Kolinkylä) to the lookout at Ukko-Koli, overlooking lake Pielinen.

The first thing I was greeted with was fluffy snow peacefully adorning the branches of the many trees. Old spruces and birches grow in these protected forests.

I was sinking knee-deep into the snow with every step, but it made for a more memorable adventure.

There is no better place to be mindful of the surroundings and enjoy the delicacy of nature. Koli has inspired artists for centuries.

A lonely sign could be found along the hiking trail, guiding the way through these mysterious white forests.

‘The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.’ – John Muir

Walking through these peaceful landscapes was indeed very calming and relaxing for the mind.

The walk is also about the little things, such as the fresh cold air.

With every passing minute on the walk, the views get better and better. Even a ski area can be found here.

Then, at last, I reached the summit, where the iconic ‘National view of Finland’ can be found. It was an unforgettable sight. The lake Pielinen lies ice-covered in the distance, as misty clouds cast their shroud over some of the frozen pine woods.

Once, long ago, great glaciers shaped these landscapes. Back then, the land was permanently frozen under glacial ice caps which didn’t melt for thousands of years.

Some of the greatest trees can be found here. They span from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts in what is known as the Main Taiga, the world’s largest ecosystem.

On the way back down, I found a traditional cozy winter cottage with its gates lying open in welcome.

And finally back again at my homely accommodation, Kolin Ryynänen, a traditional wooden lodge.

Short hiking route in Jyppyrä hill offers a complete view towards the great fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park

➡ 1 km nature trail
⚫⚫⚪ Moderate: steep hill side
🔥 Shelter with a campfire spot
📌 Lapland Visitor Center address: Peuratie 15, Enontekiö

In the village Hetta in Enontekiö there is a nice walking route up the hill Jyppyrä for a day trip if you are in the area. The route starts from the yard of the Fell Lapland Visitor Centre which is located just a few minutes walk from the center of Hetta.

In winter this route is beautiful and an easy choice if the snow is too soft and deep for other places. You can also rent snow shoes from the visitor center and try out this fun activity!

The route is not too long, around one kilometer, but it is really steep, so you have to make some effort. But the view up the hill is really worth it. You will be able to see all the way towards the great fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park and the snowy trees look amazing!

Up on the highest point there is a traditional open shelter with a campfire spot, and it is possible to grill food there. At the entrance there is a lookout, but if you climb a little bit more and go behind the kota-shelter, you will get an even better view.

The day is short in Lapland during the winter, but the colors of the polar night are amazing. And what could be better than to climb high to watch a beautiful sunset?

The best winter days are ahead now that the spring comes with the sunny days!

“Only the birch trees gave away the fact that we weren’t in the Greek archipelago” – a hike at Iso-Melkutin lake

“What an unbelievable place”, enthused my mountain-biking obsessed colleague, when he heard that we were doing on a Digitrail-tour around Iso-Melkutin lake. A moment later he pedalled back to ask, ‘So you’re going on a digi-what? The app could have easily been sold to him, even though it’s free from the app store.

My colleague’s statement clearly came from the heart. Further investigation showed that he was quite right: About an hour and a half’s drive from Helsinki, right next to Räyskälä airfield, is said to be one of Finland’s hiking gems: the Melkutin backwoods with its protected ridges and beaches, and the crystal clear Iso-Melkutin lake.

But would I go so far as to call it unbelievable?

The village of Räyskälä seemed quite lively, even though it felt like travelling back a few decades. The old buildings were built in an even more traditional way than the traditional ones right next to the main road, and the village shop was from the same period. In the corner of the field was a potato pit. It was now a café, which would be open until three o’clock. We could definitely make it there for a visit, as it was still only morning.

The starting point for Loppi’s Digitrail route is at the western corner of Räyskälä airfield, next to the road called Tauluntie. The large car park was full, even though the summer had already made an exit. There were your usual enthusiasts with tents on their backs, mountain bikers, divers (?!) and then us, who paid no attention to the large signposts pointing in all directions. We were now relying on our mobile phones.

From the Digitrail app’s three options, we chose the middle one, which was approximately seven kilometres long and classified as medium in terms of difficulty. The theme of the route was Lake Iso-Melkutin, its origins and the flora of the area. As we progressed along the route, bite-sized chunks of information about the nature types found on ridges popped up on our mobile phone display, from typical plants to rarer features of the area. The most interesting was was the theory surrounding the origins of the lake that was at the centre of it all.

According to the map, the route is shaped like a balloon; at the beginning and the end of the trail we journey out and back along the same path for about a kilometre, and the rest is around the lake. If we forget to follow our progress on the screen, the GPS stops working or the satellite dies, getting lost in the vicinity of the lake would be quite difficult.

Of the three aforementioned risks is the only one that’s likely is the first one, as the locator is accurate and monitors all progress on the map without any delay. The graphics on the map are simple, the app is easy to use and is full of interesting possibilities. The map, sorry, the phone, can be held in the hand either in the direction of travel or you can fix the locator to move with the map. And, best of all, if the hiker gets lost on the route, the app remarks politely:

“Don’t get lost! It looks like you walked past the path. A little adventure won’t hurt as long as you don’t get lost. ”

Digitrail application

The highlight of the trail awaited further along, but the start of the trail was already calming our restless minds. We step into the light-filled, gently rolling terrain of dry coniferous forests….

And then dove deeper into a young spruce forest…

We wove between swampy ponds and the lake. The path is narrow at the start, but widens as we go along.

And thank goodness it does get wider; as this is where we come to the edge of Iso-Melkutin lake. My colleague was right: the view is not from this country. The lake shimmered vivid and bright with visibility several metres in depth. Only birch trees on the beach revealed that we hadn’t gotten lost with our mobile phones in the Greek archipelago.

On the shadow side of the lake the colour was close to a dark emerald. Such clear, humus-free lakes are rare in our country. There are more of them in the north, but in the south they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

The shore of Iso-Melkutin is mostly unbuilt – thanks to the shore protection program – and the mostly sandy and gravel-based. You can swim almost anywhere, although the best spots are on the northern shore of the lake. The official bathing places along the route can be found on the eastern and western ends of the lake. The first of these is also equipped with two lean-tos, a campfire site and a dry toilet.

According to divers, there are piles of rocks at the bottom of the lake as well as an underwater ridge. The lake is said to have formed during the melting phase of the last glacial period, when huge ice blocks were buried inside the glacial sand. When they melted, they created big pits in which water was left behind. The deepest part of Iso-Melkutin lake is 27 meters.

Another result of the ice-age is the esker ridge, which gives the lake its peculiar shape. The ridge pushes to the surface at three points to form long and narrow capes. The western-most ridge almost separates Iso-Melkutin lake from Vähä-Melkutin lake. The strait left in between, at only a few meters wide, is ceremoniously crossed via the Samoyed Bridge.

The middle point, the couple of hundred metre-long and approximately fifty metre-wide Nappilahdennokka peninsula, almost separates Nappilahti bay from the lake. The peninsula was not on our route, but we just had to go there. The application also understood what the hiker needs, and didn’t suddenly shout at us for taking a detour.

At the eastern end of the lake, we came across a third peninsula, Tokholmannokka: half a kilometre long and narrower than the previous ones, reaching almost to the opposite shore. It’s hard for the human mind to resist these formations, so we detoured here too. A snag had snapped conveniently fallen right next to the path, forming a bench parallel to the headland. We sat for a moment and sighed in both directions. On the opposite shore, there were still two nameless peninsulas. Let’s see if we actually do make it to the potato pit for coffee.

Luckily, on the opposite shore, our route took us to the top of the headland, so we followed along. The narrow ridge turned out to be a base for divers and a hiker’s paradise. The adjacent Melkuttimentie road makes it easier for divers to get their equipment near the water and also makes it possible for the smallest hikers to get up on their own steam. At the tip of the peninsula a lean-to with seating platforms has been built along with a campfire site and dry toilets. And did I already mention, the scenery is spectacular!

Next to the lean-to there are steps down to the lake that have been built by volunteering divers.

As the route continues, the lake mostly stays at least in your peripheral vision. Occasionally we deviate from the immediate shore, sometimes looking at the lake from above. There are plenty of hills on the trail’s western side, but none of them so steep as to make the hike impossible if you were of average fitness. You do however have to raise your knees over rocks dotted along the path and over thick roots. For this reason I wouldn’t do this trail by mountain bike, but about twenty mountain bikers who crossed our paths were clearly of a different opinion.

On the north side of the lake, the trail follows steep and dry slopes typical of the area. Snow disappears from these areas early in the spring, giving room for unique plant varieties. On this slope, you can find the rare and therefore protected, Pasqueflower with its blue buds, which has been named the official flower of the Kanta-Häme region.

At the end of the lake tour, the path widens, eventually filling the whole hill. We were approaching the lake’s other swimming beach, which has attracted people for centuries. And it is no wonder, because its bottom is pure gold … sand, and it continues as far as the eye can see.

Three o’clock came and went, and we were still sitting on the lakeshore. We missed our coffee, but nevermind, we will definitely be coming back!

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

*DigiTrail is a mobile application that works in nature like a navigator and thus lowers the threshold to explore nature areas. The application guides the traveller in the woods, shows nearby services and attractions. In addition, it provides interesting information, for example, about the history of the region and can be used to activate its users with different themes, such as forest related sports and cultural content.

Article: Heli Heikkilä

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Becky Hastings


The Ice Age sculpted the spectacular Lohjanharju Esker and made it the top destination for modern-day backpackers

In Lohja, less than an hour drive from Helsinki, rises the majestic Lohjanharju Esker. It is the perfect location to enjoy what nature has to offer. It’s right by the city, and the trails are easy.

Several marked outdoor trails criss-cross the Lohjanharju Esker. Their lengths are from 1 to 6.5 kilometres, and they are accessible with prams as well. Amongst these wide trails there are many smaller ones that will lead the traveller to the mystic forests and to the land of the fairies. Although the esker is a fascinating destination all year round, in winter the trails will become skiing tracks where walking is prohibited.

A natural starting point for a trip to the esker is by the Neidonkeidas Swimming Hall (Address: Runokatu 1). If you come from the centre of Lohja, it is recommended that you take the path that starts from the Kasarminkatu Street, goes up the hill and joins the other trails running parallel to the slope. If you come by car, you can leave it at the parking lot of the swimming hall. There is a stairway beside the swimming hall leading down to the trail.

It is one Sunday in December. I am standing on top of the esker. The ground is still free of snow, but the sky is covered in clouds. There’s still some light at noon. I can hear the noises carrying from the city, and I look around me. I have come here to investigate the tracks of the last Ice Age, and I wonder how the landscape looked back then, almost 10 000 years ago. I still hear the noise, but now it is different. Where a moment ago the rooftops of the city were, now are the swelling waves of the ancient Yoldia Sea.

Behind me, the glacier stretches further than the eye can see. The rivers that are born deep under the ice are transporting massive amounts of sand and gravel, which will slowly accumulate into a border moraine. That long mound runs hundreds of kilometres, following the edge of the glacier, and reaching from Hanko to Lohja and via Lahti, all the way to Eastern Finland.

This ancient landscape is clear in my mind when I start my journey on the trails of the esker. At first, the forest around me is open. Tall and robust pine trees reach up to the sky, and their tough bark spells dignity. I am walking the path downhill. I can spot colourful old wooden houses between the trees. Further away, there is the glimmering Lake Lohjanjärvi, spotted with small islands.

For a while, I follow the wide outdoor trail, but soon I choose a narrower path. At the bottom parts of the esker, dense spruce trees create a dusky effect.

As I go along, I notice the large rocks appearing here and there between the trees. Compared to these rocks, the trees are youngsters, albeit hundreds of years old themselves. These rocks are called erratics, and they are testament to the unimaginable forces which were at play during the Ice Age. Along its way, the moving ice sheet chipped off enormous boulders and carried them even hundreds of kilometres away.

I stop beside one of these boulders to stroke the moss growing on it. The moss is like goblin’s hair. With a little more imagination, I can discern a wrinkly face on the rock. Actually the wrinkles are a result of the Ice Age, too. Along with the larger rocks, the ice also carried smaller pebbles and stones that grinded on the larger ones and created these creases.

I walk alongside the esker for about 2 kilometres to the nature preservation area of Neitsytlinna to find a strange, tall mound. It is made of sand and moraine, but how, no-one has been able to tell. I climb up the steep slope and stop again to gaze at the scenery. The slope feels even steeper going down, and I almost lose my foothold. The mound is surrounded by erratics and smaller stones that have been honed smooth by the waves of the Yoldia Sea. Here is an ancient shore, now covered by forests, mosses and lichens. I feel like being at a geological art exhibit when I stand in the shadow of a giant, rugged boulder.

As I am ready to return, I will choose the paths higher up the esker. They will run in the open pinewood forests. I start to look for a suitable place to have my break. Can’t go backpacking without some lunch, can you! At the upper part of the esker, roughly halfway to the trail, there is a picnic table and a campfire site. I will not stay there, though, for I spot a fallen tree a short distance away. It is so inviting that I will sit on the trunk, take out my thermos, pour myself some tea and grab a sandwich.

It’s getting darker, when I return back to the place I started from, at the swimming hall. Today, the Sun didn’t favour me with his presence, but when the skies are clear, it is nice to time your trip to the esker so that you can come back just before the sunset. That way you can have the icing on your esker cake by looking at the breath-taking evening sky spreading above the lake.

Article and photos: Kukka Kyrö

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

See also:

The stunning Liessaari Island in Lohja

Visit Lohja

A journey into the past: Digitrail leads you to the best parts of Aulanko

The story of Hämeenlinna’s Aulanko started at the end of the 1800s, when the outstandingly rich colonel and weapons manufacturer Hugo Standertskjöld wanted to return to his home region, acquired a summer villa and then tried to make an impression on a Polish countess with his estate.

An English-style country park was created in the surroundings of the manor house and around it a distinguished forest park. Foreign plants were brought to the area, a pond was excavated and pavilions, a granite fort and a lookout tower were built.

In spite of his efforts, Standertskjöld remained a bachelor. He was known for his hospitality amongst high society who used Aulanko’s playing fields as well as towards ordinary people. The park was open to everyone, and the country’s first information signs guided people towards the most important spots.

But we decided to ignore all the signs and let our mobile phones guide us.

From the three Digitrail* options, we chose the medium length, six kilometre route, which circles Aulanko’s nature reserve. The theme of the trail is the history of Colonel Hugo Standertskjöldin’s forest park. The shorter route goes through the middle part of the park taking in the most important sights, and the longest leads north and around Aulankojärvi lake.

I managed to convince my two teenage sons to join me and they promised to take care of navigation. ‘Hurry up!’ shouted one and then he shot ahead. The rest of us followed, laughing, wondering how far he would get until he realised that he was on the wrong path. The blue locator dot was merciless and guided him back before he had even reached the edge of the forest. The second boy later received the same treatment, after he had started opening up to us about how he was getting on (the best thing about hiking with a teenager), his distraction quickly leading us off route.

The trail starts from the Aulanko hiking lodge parking place, follows the ski track and immediately curves around towards Aulanko lake. On the other side, it rises steeply towards Aulankovuori hill. On both sides we are shown old forest specimens, nearly 200 year old spruces and equally handsome pines, linden trees, maples trees, ashes and elms…

In Aulanko there are over 140 species of trees and shrubs. Almost all of Finland’s naturally occurring hardwood species, groves of foreign tree species, trees with shapes that differ from the norm of their species, as well as overgrown secret gardens with the apple trees of paradise, can be found there.

It soon became apparent, that although the environment had richer soil, this kind of tree selection wouldn’t have flourished here without external help, passion and love for this Polish princess.

We continued our journey towards Aulanko lake, gently pushing towards Aulanko peninsular. We sat on the stone steps commissioned by Standertskjöld and we could easily have imagined cruise boats gliding towards the jetty with the most famous artists of the times on board, Sibelius and Leino. But no, we talked about the gloomy history and sacrificial stones of Lusikka peninsular which was opposite us.

A few hundred metres ahead, the trail made a stop up the hill. In a rock cave there lived an endearing bear family, created out of soapstone and placed there at the beginning of the century by sculptor Robert Stigell. This was said to describe the park owner’s longing for his own family.

Steps up going up Aulanko hill lead to the bear family. They’re not part of the tour, but we went up anyway. The views from the top of are breathtaking…

… and from the 33 metre lookout tower, iconic. The view is straight from a postcard, and from 2011 onwards made it onto a stamp.

But our journey had only just started. So we descended the steps, greeting those who pass and wondering out loud about the sculptures to each other in the middle of the forest, as we continued on our way.

After climbing a few a hundred metres up another hill, we had more to wonder about. A huge square shaped stone wall surrounded a natural meadow of approximately a hectare, which concealed within it the ruins of a square-shaped building.

We made a few guesses on what we were looking at, until the app revealed that the structure was a gunpowder magazine commissioned by the Russian army in 1860, which for safety reasons was far from the barracks and the town. The area is now a protected ancient relic.

We left the nature reserve for a moment and took a detour down a steep rocky path onto Aulanko road.

We continued the journey following the contours of the hill and noticed that we had come to an ancient shoreline. Around it almost 40 metre douglas firs swayed from their sheer height. The narrow forest roads which we crossed were also steeped in history, supported on the hill by low moss-covered stone banks. On the path we found a horseshoe, which couldn’t have fit the atmosphere better.

The trail twisted and turned and came back to Aulanko road. This time the sight was the manor house commissioned by Standertskjöld, with its granite tower, from which shots used to be fired, not for defence, but to celebrate the birthday or nameday of a guest or worker and sometimes just randomly. For decades, the ruins have been providing a venue for children’s theatre, which was probably part of the owner’s intention.

After the fort, we went onto a smaller path and from a distance passed the red brick Temple of Happiness that was built for the princess. It’s windows were framed with natural stones and used to have stained glass windows. According to the princess, this side of the Baltic sea was too cold, but hopefully she at least went to have a look at the park and its buildings.

After Molkkari hill we reached the shores of Joutsenlampi pond (Swan Pond). 300 men were needed to dig out an artificial pond in place of the swamp and transport earth from in front of the manor house to make two islands in Vanajavesi lake. A path framed by fifty species of trees and shrubs had been built around the pond and in its middle had been black swans brought all the way from Australia. There also used to be pheasants, from which some of our current wild pheasant population has its origins.

After Joutsenlampi we followed the linden-edged park road leading to the lookout tower for some of the way – the same path that cheerful members of high society once rattled up in their horse-drawn carriages, clinking their champagne glasses. It would have been a beautiful road to continue on, but the road leading into a rare rowan grove looked even more beautiful.

We leaned for a moment on the bridge that crossed the stone-lined creek, when two girls with their dogs stepped out of the Northern white cedar forest. They looked at us and shook their heads ‘What an unbelievable place, you have got to go there!’ The grove was their secret place. Duckboards dove into the shadows of the thick white cedar trees that had been planted before the war. Light filtered in and time stopped. The duckboards ended at the lookout tower platform, from which there was no view ahead of us. It was behind. The message for us seemed to be that the most important thing was not the destination, but the journey itself…

…. so we continued, as the evening was drawing in and we had to reach our destination regardless. We stopped along the way to see the rose pavilion built from vast romantic longing and cast a bitter glance over the other side of the Baltic sea. We descended from the forest park, going under the arch created by a young hackberry tree that had curved over the path and we bowed our respects to Hugo.

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

*DigiTrail is a mobile application that works in nature like a navigator and thus lowers the threshold to explore nature areas. The application guides the traveller in the woods, shows nearby services and attractions. In addition, it provides interesting information, for example, about the history of the region and can be used to activate its users with different themes, such as forest related sports and cultural content.

Article: Heli Heikkilä

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Becky Hastings

The stunning Liessaari Island in Lohja near Helsinki invites you to explore its nature trails and relax by the fire at a lean-to

Less than an hour’s drive from Helsinki, the city of Lohja offers you a good glimpse into the nature of Southern Finland. One of the most popular outdoor destinations in Lohja is the Liessaari Island. The magnificent nature trails of the island invite you to explore them in an easy way.

Few kilometres away from the centre of Lohja, there is a white wooden bridge stretching across the lake to the island of Liessaari. Loved by many, the bridge has appeared in thousands of photographs, and the long island, equally cherished as a local jewel, will offer you much to explore.

On the island, there is a special wellness trail, nature trail, beach and a lean-to. The Liessaari Island is a great place to visit with kids, and some of the trails are accessible even with prams.

If you are coming in from the centre of Lohja, you can hop on to the bus to Virkkala, and hop off at the Haikarinkatu bus stop. That leaves you a 1 km walk to the island. If you are travelling by car, you can park it on the parking lot just by the bridge. If you do not have your own car or if you want to go green, you can rent an electric car from the city of Lohja. Instructions in English are found at the bottom of the page. If it is summer and you are arriving by a boat, you can leave your boat on the guest pier of Villa Haikari a few hundred metres away.

I am strolling on a wooden bridge with a smile on my face. Although it’s November; said to be the darkest and gloomiest of all months here, the sky is completely clear today. The lake shimmers in the sun, and the reeds bask in the yellow light. Once I cross the bridge, I am greeted by the tall pine trees. Their roots extend like giant toes in the sandy soil. Right next to the pines there is a small metal fence with love locks and a sign that says “Beach of Love”.

I stop to study the map of a wellness trail. The trail goes around the island for 2,4 kilometres. The map is carved in a piece of wood and attached to a thick dead tree. Along the wellness trail there are several checkpoints that contain small tasks. The tasks provide a good and fun way for learning more about the nature of the island and the wellness experience nature bestows.

Unfortunately, the checkpoints are in Finnish, but if you have a local person with you, you can ask them to translate the instructions for you. The wellness trail is marked on the grounds with wooden Luonnontie tags which don’t stand out much. The wellness trail is partly shared with an old nature trail, which in turn is marked with blue pine cone signs. Be careful in places where the trails cross if you wish to stay on the right one. Don’t worry, though, because you will not get very lost even if you inadvertently take the wrong path.

The map guides me to start my journey at the wide trail on the east side of the island. Large black alders stretch their trunks and branches over the water. The city of Lohja is visible on the opposite shore: I can see the high-rises and the chimney-stacks of the factories.

The trail is bounded by decaying trunks covered with mesmerizingly green moss. When I walk further, I spot a steep slope on the left, and a rope leading up the slope. That’s one checkpoint along the wellness trail. The idea is to climb up the slope with the help of the rope, and come back down. The children love this task, and there’s no shame in trying it if you’re an adult, either! The rope task is a fun way to get your energy flowing for the rest of the trip!

Soon the trail starts to go uphill. Up on the cliffs, I find a large erratic; a remnant from the Ice Age. There is another checkpoint and a task that asks me to whisper my worries to the erratic. The erratic listens to my whispers silently and steadily as ever.

I glance over the Lake Lohjanjärvi, but I don’t want to rest longer yet. Soon, however, I have to. Just a few more turns further, and I find some wooden benches on the clifftop. Finally, I can take the load off my legs and have a cup of tea. There is something special in this place, something extremely relaxing. Right next to this place, lies one of the two discontinued granite quarries of the island. If you are not afraid of sheer drops, you can go and take a peek at the quarry, safely behind the balustrade.

I move on, enjoying the sunlight filtered through the trees. There’s something fascinating about the light in November. It is both golden and cold at the same time as it is both sharp and soft. The light creates deep shadows that accentuate the features of the landscape. The trees in the forests of Liessaari are also wonderful; unattended they grow in many places, stretching here and there, taking their own space and time.

I marvel the cliff face covered in thick, deep green moss, and lie down on a wooden platform built here beside the wellness trail. I look at the treetops and close my eyes for a while. I would have no trouble in falling asleep.

After I’ve moved on again, I come to a crossing where the wellness trail turns back to its origin. I don’t want to go back yet so I choose another trail that leads to a lean-to in the western part of the island. That will add almost 3 kilometres to my trip, but I am not in a hurry. The lean-to is located at the north shore, under a steep and rocky slope. A rope has been set there to help the climb up and down, and I use it gladly.

I can see smoke coming from the campfire site. There is a family there roasting sausages. The lean-to is a popular place for short weekend trips. I meet several people going to or coming from the lean-to. There’s a shed for the firewood on top of the hill. You might want to grab a few logs with you before you go to the lean-to. That way you can cut off an extra trip to the woodshed. Please put out the fire carefully when you leave if there’s no-one else at the lean-to after you.

On my way back I pace myself a little to beat the sun before it sets beyond the horizon. Still, I can’t help stopping every now and then to gaze at trees stripped bare by January. One particularly wonderful detail is a robust tree stump made look like a throne in the woods. I wonder, how long has it been there?

When I reach the point where I started, the sun shines barely on the sandy beach by the bridge. The temperature has fallen below zero; not much but enough to make my nose and cheeks tingle. I have spent a few hours in Liessaari, explored its forests and cliffs, and I feel totally happy and relaxed.

Article by Kukka Kyrö, translation by Mikko Lemmetti


This is what Wine in the Woods is like – The new wine tasting experience in Helsinki coming up next summer!

For wine enthusiasts the combination of food and wine is familiar. But is there even more to explore in the tastes of wines combining with other scents? That question Antti Huttunen, the founder of Finnish outdoor media Retkipaikka and co-creator of Back to Nature tv-series, wanted to examine more. He wanted to bring together two themes that are important to him: nature and wines. This is where the idea of a forest wine bar came from!

Even only 15 minutes in nature can make you feel relaxed.

Wine in the Woods starts in the Northern Gate of Nuuksio, an area right next to Nuuksio National Park. Nuuksio is the closest national park to the capital of Finland, Helsinki. It is easy to access even by local transport and it takes only around 45 minutes to jump from the busy metropolitan city to the calming nature and forests.

Karoliina Kaski, the guide of Wine in the Woods, welcomes our group in a lovely setting surrounded by countryside. We take a small walk around the historical buildings and take a look of the old stone stairs that once lead to the mansion of this area.

As we go deeper into the forest we start to connect our scents with the nature. Living in a busy city environment can make us nervous and disturb our minds, but nature can offer the opposite. It has been studied that only 15 minutes spent in nature can actually lower your blood pressure.

We take time for each sense to get attuned with the nature. How does the forest look like? What sounds do we hear, or, when we close our eyes, how does a small rock feel in our hands? It is incredible how strong our sense of touch will become if we close our vision and hearing!

After approximately 15 minutes we will enter deeper into the woods and will pass a wooden sign which tells us that we are now entering the nature’s own dining area: Wine in the Woods. We see the area with wooden benches with paddings, and sommalier Tero Pullinen, who welcomes everybody.

As a welcoming drink we get a glass of sparkling wine, which is also to calibrate our taste buds for the actual products of the wine tasting. There are five different red wines to taste and examine. Tero tells us about the wines and how they are connected with the nature.

Wines and Finnish woods have actually more in common that one would think at first! They both are living entireties and have many different layers. They are at constant change and when they meet each other you can find completely new sides from both wines and nature.

“The wines have a chance to return to nature, from where they have come, where everything is equal and where instead of strict restraint and control, constant change is present and embraced.”

We talk about our experiences and observations about the wines and nature. The atmosphere is comfortable and there is room for discussion. Even if one had no previous experience with wines or wine tastings, this nature’s surroundings will make this experience effortless.

The experience in nature with wines takes two hours. After the tasting the program itself is over, and everyone can choose how to continue their day. Maybe take a small hike in the National Park? Or, it is also possible to enjoy a forest themed menu, if one has reserved it in advance.

Wine in the Woods is a wine bar in the middle of forest and Antti explains how these several chosen spots in nature had to be presented to the authority in order to ask permission to serve spirits. In Finland the alcohol law is strict and you will need a permission for every place, restaurant or event that serves alcohol. Happily ever after the Wine in the Woods wine tasting got its permission and the next summers luxury outdoor experience is ready to happen!

Antti is happy for the positive feedback given by the test audience after the pilot-tasting. The Wine in the Woods experience is recommended for everyone who loves nature and wines. It is also a great opportunity if one wants to enjoy the nature but not necessarily in an exercising way.

“The taste and smell of a wine can take me into the middle of the forest, to some particular spots: under the shade of spruce branches, onto the warmth of the rocks, or amongst the lush foliage of the birch. I find this fascinating and want to give others the chance to experience the same – and a little more. I can’t wait to see what kind of experience we can offer you. Welcome!” -Antti Huttunen

If you are a nature lover who enjoys the tastes of wines or you want to experience something completely new, check out the web store here where you can reserve your place at the Wine in the Woods experience next summer! It is also available for group booking or you can purchase a Wine in the Woods giftcard!

Christmas in Finnish Lapland

After 3 months of being on student exchange, the time had come for me to embark on a long-awaited Christmas adventure to snowy Finnish Lapland. This experience is literally the polar opposite of what it’s like in my home country, sunny Australia. I was especially looking forward to the untouched nature and of course the elusive northern lights.

On the long bus journey, we stopped over at Santa’s village in Rovaniemi and walked across the arctic circle. It can’t get any more Christmas vibe than this!

After over 12 hours of being on a bus, my group finally arrived at the pine-tree filled winter wonderland that was Saariselkä. We were staying in a rustic wooden log cabin complete with a fireplace and sauna.

Picturesque log cabins are where you can expect to stay at in Lapland.

There was fluffy snow up to the knees everywhere. Being above the arctic circle, this time of year is the polar night, where the Sun does not rise for several weeks. However, there were about 3 to 4 hours each day with twilight conditions. Being an avid aurora-chaser, it makes for an ideal opportunity to catch a glimpse of the northern lights – if only the clouds stay away at night.

The local area around where I was staying… so pristine and natural.

Beyond searching for the elusive northern lights, this place was an amazing location for a wide variety of activities that I tried, including husky-sledding, snow-shoeing, skiing, sauna, ice-swimming and of course nature photography. It was especially great to meet some husky puppies. But more than anything, it’s a place to wind down and take in the quiet and fresh air of the nature on short walks. It was indeed one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.

I actually have a very funny story to tell about my phone whilst husky-sledding. After my turn on the sled was complete, I realised my new Finnish Nokia smartphone had fallen out of my pocket (duh!) and into the snow somewhere in the arctic wilderness.

Husky-sledding in the arctic.

After lunch, the tour guide and my friends decided to make a search party. Walking through the snowy wilderness in the fading light conditions at 2pm, there seemed to be little hope, but the untouched and silent nature was just surreal. Suddenly, at the very end of the journey we found just a tiny bit of the phone sticking out of the snow. It was basically a block of ice.

But it was still on! And to my great surprise — still at 75 percent battery. The next thing to do is typically Finnish — to take the phone to the sauna so the ice can melt.

And this plan worked! Because afterwards it was working perfectly fine.

Lapland with its photogenic forests.

On the first night, I was most eager to see the northern lights. There were good geomagnetic conditions for aurora, so it was promising. That’s until I stepped out of the warmth of the cabin to see that the sky was mostly full of cloud. Nevertheless, I went outside as there was a few gaps where I could see a star or two. After walking around the village and shooting photos without luck for over an hour in -10 degrees, it was time to head to bed.

Then I awoke suddenly to find my cabin-buddies announcing that the northern lights would be visible soon! Half-asleep, I looked out the window to see nothing. I thought the window was facing north, but it was actually facing south, a mistake that would bite me this night.

I managed to find my compass which pointed me north, and by the time I got outside, there was only a very faint polar light show, with cloud rolling in again. The others who reacted faster saw a much better show this night.

Finnish Lapland is one of the best places in the world to see the enchanting northern lights. Photocredit: Jonna Saari.

The next night, in even colder and windier conditions, more luck was on my side, but only for a good twenty minutes. The skies cleared briefly just at the right moment to see a band of aurora flickering overhead and down to the horizon. I managed to get this photo before it clouded over again.

No matter how many times I have seen the lights, or how impressive they have been, it is always immensely exciting!

A brief show of the northern lights in the forested fells of Lapland in the midst of the long polar night.

The next night had even better auroral conditions, but it was cloudy and snowing heavily so there was no point of going outside. The following (and final night) there was a few hours of clear skies in the early evening, but the auroral conditions were so weak that only those on the aurora tours managed to see them, and only briefly. Though I did hear of a couple who got engaged as soon as they saw them! That’s definitely a Christmas to remember for them. And for us, it was for sure an adventure to look back on!

The blue twilight hour falls relatively early in the afternoon at this time of year in Lapland.

Strömfors – Playground for Outdoor Lovers near Helsinki

Fancy paddling, supping, biking, climbing or yoga whilst enjoying old culture and nature? If you’re spending holidays near Helsinki, this is your place.

Only one hour drive from Helsinki, towards east, along the coast. After passing Loviisa you come across signs pointing to “Strömforsin ruukki“. Follow the signs and you end up to the most picturesque village, a true hidden gem that not even many Finns know about. It is like taking a time warp back to olden days. A time warp with all modern outdoor equipments you can dream of.

Strömfors is an idyllic old village. Perfect destination if you want culture, sights, nature and sports in one place. Photo: Kukka Kyrö

Photo: Joonas Talka

The cute little village of Strömfors is an old iron mill. Nowadays there is a hotel, cafes, artisan shops… and Strömfors Outdoor Factory.

Kayaking in the jungle

Strömfors has a variety of activities to offer with local guides. I personally recommend kayaking. The area is very unique, located in the delta of river Kymi (“Kymijoki”). There are many river branches to paddle. No roads, no houses, just water and bushy forest banks, teeming with all sorts of creatures. As a nature lover, I was in heaven! Rarely I get that WOW feeling so effortlessly and close to settlement, not having to drive hundreds of kilometres to reach the wilderness.

Photo: Kukka Kyrö

The islands are in fact nature reserves, hence there are no summer cottages on the banks as one would expect to see in southern Finland. We even saw an otter, normally a very shy animal to spot in the summertime. Also the delta next to Strömfors is fantastic for birding.

The roundtrip ends with a narrow jungle route.

You can paddle a short half an hour route around the islands closest to the iron mill, or take a longer 10 km round route to truly get the feeling of the surroundings, as I did. There is one point of extra physical work on the longer round route though – you need to carry the kayak over a dam.

Play with your favourite toys

The Strömfors area is known among climbers for some good rock walls. For the fans of trail running, there are nice trails, shorter and longer routes. You can also try fat biking here, but the longer routes are only for experienced bikers. All equipment and guidance you get from Strömfors Outdoor Factory.

Supping is one of the many activities you can try. These guys woke up at dawn to go for a paddle. Photo: Noora Säily.

After a hard days’ play, try some relaxing yoga and sauna – you will sleep like a baby in the old clay building from the 1800’s.

The Outdoor Factory yoga room is very zen. Soft, mindful yoga is taught here. Beginner friendly and relaxation guaranteed. Kuva: Karoliina Kaski.

Read more

Strömfors Outdoor Factory homepage

Must see! The Secret Jewel in the Crown of Helsinki – Rhododendron Park of Haaga

If you are in Helsinki in the beginning of June, you really need to go to Haaga. Or if we are honest, it is worth to come and watch from a distance.  Rhododendron park of Haaga is just unbelievable.

I still remember when I found this place for the first time. When approaching the park I felt a pleasant scent that kept intensifying with each step.  When I was in the park, I thought: “People do not believe that in Finland we could have such parks”.

I closed my eyes and opened them again. It was like another world. I do not remember ever seeing anything like it. The place was filled by so much beauty that I was overwhelmed. In every direction my eyes could see huge rhododendron bushes blooming all at the same time.

The park was built when the University of Helsinki plant breeding science department crossed rhododendron varieties in the 1970s.  Now the place is a secret jewel in the crown of Helsinki. The park is also internationally unique. As many as eight acres of the area has nowadays nearly 3,000 rhododendron species. Beside rhododendrons, there are a whole bunch of azaleas in the park. Most of the bushes is 2–5 meters high.

You really need to see this park. Pictures show just a small part of the beauty when coniferous forest greenery is painted with new purple, white and pink shades.

If you want to experience all this, you need to have a perfect timing. Rhododendrons bloom for a short time, usually in the first two weeks of June.

You can on a criss-crossing the park paths and boardwalks through the rhohos and have a close view. The park also has viewing platforms from which you can admire the floral splendor also from above.

What?
Astonishingly wonderful 8 hectare park full of rhododendrons

When?

Usually the best time is two first weeks of June

Where?
Laajasuontie 37. 200 meters from Huopalahti station between the roads Paatsamatie and Eliel Saarisen tie.