Stunning view with special effects – Helsinki in winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map – Uunisaari bridge

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

Information about Uunisaari can be found here.

Cycling in Porvoo’s National Urban Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk in Kokkola’s legendary old town, Neristan

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

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

Old city hall and Christmas tree

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

Old wooden buildings with Christmas lights

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

Restaurant in Neristan

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

Memorial of the skirmish of Halkokari

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

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

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

Sacred place for the Sámi people

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

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

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

Geological wonderland

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the National Park

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

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

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

Pyhä Visitor Centre

Map

A GLIMPSE OF MAGIC IN THE HEART OF HOSSA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wheelchair access to the shore of Huosilampi lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huosilampi’s disabled access shelter

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

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

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

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

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

The trail’s starting point is here on the map

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

Translated by Becky Hastings.

Torvisen maja – sanctuary for tired skiers in Luosto since 1957

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

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

How to get there?

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

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

Resting haven for 60 years

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

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

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

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

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Exceptional atmosphere and versatile menu

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

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

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

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

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

– reindeer-lingonberry pie

– lingonberry-fudge pie

– warm doughnuts, “munkki”

– pancakes (savoury and sweet)

– salmon sandwich

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

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

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

Torvisen maja on the map

An evening stroll in Porvoo’s national urban park

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Porvoo is the old town with is it’s pretty wooden and stone houses. However, a stone’s throw away from the narrow cobblestone streets, you can take a relaxing evening walk surrounded by nature. Looking at the city’s outdoor map, I noticed that I would end up under a kilometre away from Porvoo’s bus station, which is still very close to downtown.

Those who wish to break a sweat can opt for the longer route (it extends from Old Porvoo 10km South and 8km East), but I was more interested in exploring what the immediate landscapes had to offer.

I could have been lazy and chosen the even path from Porvoo’s riverside towards the south, from either side of the river. But I’ve always been drawn to looking at views from higher up,  so I walked over the bridge on the west bank and soon found an inviting path up to Näsi Hill.  It was still brimming with nature’s edible offerings, so I popped blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries in my mouth from the side of the path. Long live berry season and Everyman’s Rights.

From under the pine trees opened out a beautiful view of the evening sun illuminating Old Porvoo with its cathedral and the riverside houses reflected in the stilly calm Porvoo river. I wondered, what this landscape looks like in autumn, when the green of the trees has given way to yellow and other autumnal colours…

I walked from the slopes of Näsi hill onto the next path heading south and stopped every now and then to peer through the trees down to Porvoo river. Soon red warehouse buildings flashed between the pine branches. It was from this slope that Albert Edelfelt composed and drafted his painting, ‘View from Porvoo’s Näsi Hill’, the draft of which can be found at the Ateneum. The final painting lives at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

A little way along from the vantage point that was marked on the map, I could see almost all of Porvoo’s new city centre. I have to admit, it doesn’t quite have the same appeal as Old Porvoo’s vista. And so I turned back, towards the top of Näsi hill, where Näsi’s rock was waiting for me. There was something celebratory about this boulder hurled here by the ice age, especially while the sun’s rays hit it so gloriously. From behind this impressive rock, the buildings of Näsi manor’s courtyard revealed themselves.

My attention was next drawn to a beautiful yellow building, whose semicircular terrace would have had me stopping for evening tea, if there was such a thing on offer. Unfortunately there wasn’t, so Honkala (Furunäs) was quiet this evening. But it would have been nice to sit down and enjoy the view of the urban park…. The scenic restaurant’s history dates back to the beginning of the 1900s, when it was known by the name of Turisthyddan.

So then what? Just a few hundred metres away was a cemetery, where you could find, for example, Johan Ludvig Runeberg and his wife Fredrika’s grave, but I wanted to enjoy the evening sun’s final rays nearer the river. So down I went.

The forest trail descended behind Honkala from Näsi hill down to the side of Old Helsinki Road. Cars rarely passed on the road anymore and the tourist coaches had already left  the parking lot, which was by the bridge.

As I walked to the bridge, I stumbled across some living history. A few men and women were dressed in clothes from the 1800s. The travellers in their handsome clothes were not just on an ordinary evening walk, they were returning from a general rehearsal of a play about the 1809 Porvoo state elections.

On my return to the Old Porvoo side, immediately after the bridge, I turned into the street on the left heading towards Porvoo’s riverside. The silence of the river was arresting. Not one boat was on the move and there weren’t even any birds swimming around. Where were the kayakers, on such a perfect evening  for floating slowly down the river?

A few tourists sat along the riverbank and some locals crossed my path on their evening walk, with dogs and without. Behind the untamed reedbeds glimmered the national landscape, which included the manicured riverbank lawn with it’s flowerbeds, as well as Näsi hill from where I had just come.

On the other side of Porvoo river, I could make out the wooden railway station. Groomed park avenues with their silver willows are part of the more ‘park’- like  elements of the National Urban Park, and I could have continued my journey on this route beyond the river, but from here you can’t see Maari’s wetlands so well. Besides, a neat park avenue feels a little too tame for me, so I decided to deviate towards a slightly wilder looking path.

And so I ended up in the midst of a hefty army of stinging nettles on either side of the path… I honestly didn’t even notice at first,  as I was so entranced by the light in front, filling my vision with gold. These spinach substitutes shouldn’t, however, be ignored. They are, after all, excellent wild herbs that can be used in all kinds of dishes. So I hadn’t just come to Maari’s wetlands, but also a wild herb garden!

The path led me to a narrow, grey arched bridge, which took me closer to Linnamäki (Castle hill). The landscape in Maari’s bay has changed considerably over the centuries. In the 1100s, the bay was part of Porvoo river and served as a natural harbour. You wouldn’t necessarily guess that now, as the bay is fast becoming overgrown, a result of the land rising and also of nutrients and silt accumulating in in the river.

It’s hard to imagine what this looked like when Porvoo city was still young and had a tiny population. In the middle ages, you may also have come across a foreigner shopping in these parts. They could have been, for example, from Estonia. Smaller vessels were able to travel right up to here via Porvoo river, but larger sailing vessels had to be left further away from the river’s mouth.

The velvety surface of chocolate brown cattails were tempting to touch and you could smell the meadowsweet aroma in the warm humidity of the evening. A number of different wildflowers dotted the side of the path, as I continued forward, enraptured again by the view that opened out onto the cathedral. I wish I had a plant expert with me who could identify some of the rarer species amongst all this greenness.

I didn’t take the most direct route up to Linnamäki, but decided to take a small detour around to the left. The meadowsweet meadow was vast. Behind the pole fence I noticed a drinking trough. Could there be some landscaping sheep behind the fence? If there were, they had hidden themselves successfully somewhere amongst the meadowsweet and were lazily neglecting their summer work, for the meadow looked so untrodden.

While looking at the pole fence and  this kind of landscape, time somehow stood still. Such a sweet summer evening, fragrances floating in the air, dusk approaching: just as if I was in the countryside. You wouldn’t believe that here we were only about a kilometre from the centre of Porvoo.

However, I still had one climb left to do, and that was Linnamäki. The trees seemed to grow so densely, that I wasn’t sure would if there be much of a view, but hopefully something worth seeing anyway, A St John’s Cross (a looped square symbol) on the side of the path signalled something promising, that I was reaching a historical place.

Linnamäki (Castle Hill) has been part of forming Porvoo’s name. The city’s Swedish name, ‘Borgå’, means castle river. Now there wouldn’t be a castle river without a castle, which, in the middle ages, would have been right on top of this hill. Porvoo was so important by then that it was the third town to receive city status along with city rights in Finland in 1380, after Turku and Ulvila.

After the trail I still had to climb some steps and cross the moat, but I was already in what would have been the castle area in ancient times. You can sit on the narrow wooden bench here  to think deep thoughts, catch your breath or imagine what this all used to look like.

Views from the top of Linnamäki are limited; You can get a better view slightly lower down, on the slope facing downtown. Once upon a time the trees had been sparse enough for Albert Edelfelt to paint his work ‘From Linnamäki’, which, depicted Porvoo as seen from this point. The work is on show at Haiko Manor in the yellow lounge.

On Linnamäki it’s difficult to let your imagination run wild and immerse yourself in some kind of a castle romance, as there isn’t even a trace of the wooden log structures that once stood here in the middle ages. I walked around the location of the castle and wondered what had been in that pit. How high had the log castle been, what kind of equipment did it have, how many people lived there… History says, that there had already been a building here in Viking times (800-900s), but an official castle was built at a later date for defence. Reportedly the log castle itself was only in use for a few decades.

Before I left, I stopped and looked at the view again. This hill was smiling! The shallow pit formed its own kind of dimple. It was as if it too was enjoying the evening.

The most exciting thing on Linnamäki was this funny moat, which you could cross from both sides along a wooden bridge. I wonder if at the time a drawbridge or two went over it. Linnamäki is currently in such a wildly natural state, that it feels like only a matter of time until bushes and trees will sprout from the moat, foresting the landscape completely. In Linnamäki’s surroundings, around the smaller hill Pikkulinnamäki, a burial ground dating back to the Roman iron age had been found, as well as bronze jewellery. Linnamäki and its ancient monuments form a fine part of the National Urban Park.

Feeling content, I returned to the cathedral and back to Old Porvoo. My small outing around the park had been an atmospheric and leisurely end to the evening.

Porvoo’s National Urban Park: Maps and route advice

Map (Näsi’s rock)   ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6696091  E 425865

Map (Linnamäki) ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6696682  E 425741

The writer stayed at  Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast courtesy of VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.

Finding Santa’s Childhood Home

Everybody knows where Santa Claus a.k.a Father Christmas really lives right? It is not North Pole. Santa lives in Korvatunturi, Lapland! But if you’d fancy seeing what his childhood home looked like, you have to climb up the grand Levi fell in Kittilä. Or take a gondola straight up.

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Levi in the arctic night, kaamos as we call it. Photo: Mira Pyy

The talk about North Pole is just to cover the true story about Santa’s home. All of us Finns know it. Korvatunturi is a fell far far away in Urho Kekkonen National Park, very near the Russian border in Eastern Lapland. You actually need a special permit if you want to go there. In addition, it is 20 km from the nearest road so a bit of a hike by feet or skis. Santa chose well as there are not many nosy children snooping around before Christmas.

Santa’s childhood

In 2007 a movie was filmed called Christmas Story (Joulutarina, directed by Juha Wuolijoki). It tells a tale about a little boy Nicholas who later became Santa Claus. As a boy he lived in a cute little cottage high up on a fell.

Santa’s cottage. Rising up with the gondola you can see the rooftop of the cottage when nearing the top.

Guess what, the cottage filmed in the movie is still there! You can go visit it, if you find it. There are no signposts, you just have to know where to go.

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We came here by skis, me here with alpine skis, my friend with telemarks. Photo: Mira Pyy

The way to the cottage

It is situated on the southwest side of the fell, near the top, off piste, in between the gondola (World Cup and west pistes) and lift number 11 (south pistes).

In the winter you get there by snowshoeing, skinning up with skis, or the easiest option: by taking a gondola from the Levi ski resort up to the top, and descend down a bit, preferably by skis or snowshoes or you will sink in the snow up to your waist.

In the summer you get there by hiking up or by downhill biking (one track passes the cabin).

It is an adventure finding the cottage, plus a perfect place for a break, away from the piste lights. My friend Mira is admiring the view to the neighbouring fells Aakenus and Kätkätunturi.

The gondola starting point
Map pointing Santa’s cottage

Julma Ölkky’s (Cruel Canyon) rugged ring route, Ölökyn Ähkäsy

I scanned the Ölokyn Ähkäsy (this roughly translates as the Canyon Groan in local dialect) ring route on the map. It didn’t look too bad, only around 10 kilometres long. However, when I asked about the route at Hossa’s visitor centre and talked to people who had done it, all of them warned me that it was extremely tough and demanding. I needed to set aside at least 5-6 hours. Apparently there are great changes in elevation and lots of rocks and roots.

But I was willing to take on the challenge. I put on my hiking boots and backpack. In my backpack I had packed the minimum amount of gear: a camera with acouple of lenses, a couple of sausages, a sandwich and 2 bottles of water. It’s important to be careful on the route, as your mobile phone won’t pick up any signal apart from at the highest points.

As the crow flies, it’s about 5 kilometres along Ölökyn Ähkäsy to the Ölkynperä (Canyon rear) lean-to and back. Just by looking at the map you can tell that the views are going to be rugged and spectacular. After all, we are at  Julma Ölkky (Cruel Canyon), one of Finland’s three largest canyon lakes born of a large crack in the land. The others two are Iso Helvetinjärvi (Big Hell’s Lake) and the Toriseva canyon lakes in Virrat.

History and geology

The birth of the gorge took place more than 2 billion years ago. The canyon is a rift valley, which is caused by earthquakes or transitions in the ancient continents. Later the ice age honed the rift, but the traces are clearly visible on the vertical wall that towers almost 50 metres out of the lake. The canyon already looks quite impressive when viewing it on Google Earth.

The Toriseva canyon lakes and Helvetinkolu in Helvetinjärvi (Hell’s Lake) National Park were formed in the same way. This canyon formation process is however completely different to that of Oulanka’s canyon, where water and ice have carved the gorge from the bedrock.

Route

The trail starts from Julma Ölkky’s parking place, which is around a 20 minute drive from Hossa’s visitor centre. It must be said,  the road was not in the best condition. A little Fiat will hit its undercarriage, if you don’t drive carefully.

At the starting point there is a summer cafe, which had just gone into hibernation. It’s open until 31.8. When it’s open, you can explore Julma Ölkky on a guided boat tour.

I approached the circuit following the signposts, which take you counter-clockwise along a route marked with orange dots. I chose 10am as my departure time, as the sun was shining appropriately from the east, its light hitting the west shore. The canyon’s orientation is pretty much north to south for the whole length, which meant that for the final part of the journey the sun would be shining from the west and lighting up the canyon walls on the eastern shore.

Already half a mile in, the scenery was reminiscent of a fantasy film. I felt like calling Hollywood and asking them to come here and film a remake of Lord of the Rings.

On the outward journey, the path runs right along the edge of the rocks, so I ended up having to stop repeatedly to take pictures of scenes that were even more  impressive than the last. What a nuisance.

However, those with vertigo need not worry. You don’t have to go so close to the edge if you don’t want to. Just as I thought I had reached the best spot, a more spectacular view opened out before me a few minutes along. Every now and then I heard the sound of a waterfall. A number of waterfalls formed from streams flow out from the canyon walls and from some of them you can see rainbow colours in the evening sun.

Those who like climbing can scramble up the cavity called the Devil’s church, where you can find a guest book. This time I left the Devil in peace and continued my journey.

Approximately halfway to the lean-to, the canyon splits into two parts. The lake continues along the western gorge and the eastern depression, Sitkansola, is essentially swamp. The scenery certainly didn’t get any worse.

Finally I reached the lean-to at Ölkynperä, where I met 3 sausage barbecuers. I told them about Värikallio (Colour Rock), a few kilometres away, where you can see amazing rock paintings from thousands of years back. Together we agreed that you can find everything in Hossa, and that it had most definitely earned its new status as a National Park in honour of Finland’s 100th Year of independence.

After this, no more people crossed my path.

On the way back the terrain is more forested and some of it is quite far from the rock’s edge. It was this proportion that was full of steep climbs and descents. However, in a few places, I came across a viewing point. Julma Ölkky’s own ancient rock paintings are near the water’s edge, but they can be better seen by boat.

Summary

The Ölökyn Ähkäsy route is indeed challenging, but I still wouldn’t say that it’s a bad route, as long as you are in possession of good basic health and your legs function properly. I completed the trip with a few photos and breaks in a total of 4 hours, walking on my own. With a group, it would probably take 5-6 hours. And if you go the gym, it might be a good idea to do some extra squats!

I recommend wearing hiking boots to protect your ankles, but in good dry weather you will probably be fine in trainers. Doing the trek in autumn, I had to cross a few swampy areas that were a couple of metres wide, which would have meant my socks getting wet if I wasn’t wearing proper hiking boots.

I don’t recommend the route for children, unless they have a lot of hiking experience. Even my 67 year old father stayed behind at the cottage making food. Although this wasn’t due to his age, rather the knee surgery that he had a couple of months ago.

Making the most of digitalisation, I saved my route onto my mobile and in reality it works out at around 12km, with changes in elevation on top of that. From a scenery freak’s point of view, I must say that it’s an impressive canyon and totally underrated.

Perhaps when it becomes a National Park, awareness of this amazing place will grow. Even though more publicity does of course mean more use, which carries its own risks, it is still the kind of place where all Finns should be encouraged to come and marvel at their own natural wonders instead of jetting off to Gran Canaria. Lapland is of course Lapland, but you don’t always need to disappear beyond the arctic circle to see something unique. Highly recommended!

Map to Julma Ölkky’s car park | ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates NLat 7270314 ELon 607372

GoogleMaps: Julma-ölkyntie 82, Kuusamo

Map to the lean-to at Ölkynperä

This article was executed in cooperation with the municipality of Suomussalmi. The author stayed at Camping Hossan Lumo during the trip.

 

Sikosaari’s birdwatching tower and nature trail in Porvoo

Sikosaari (Pig Island) is situated in Porvoo river’s estuary, just over two kilometres from the centre of Porvoo. In the past, it has served urban dwellers as forestry land and pasture. The island is a part of Porvoo’s National Urban Park, which comprises a variety of significant historical areas and natural sites. The 1.5 kilometre nature path and a birdwatching tower can be found in the northeastern part of the island. Sikosaari’s name (Pig Island) isn’t as poetic as, say, Sulosaari (Grace Island), but don’t let that bother you. You won’t meet any pigs there either.

I did a cycling trip using the Jopo bike that Visit Porvoo provided. The beautiful winding route alongside Porvoo river takes you to the island on an easy, even path, and as you get closer to the island, the wetlands appear to continue as far as the eye can see. In the middle of the reeds there are only a few, narrow channels, along which you can travel by boat or canoe. The reedbeds would soon become overgrown if selected waterways were not kept open by humans.

I parked my bike for a moment, but only managed to spot a couple of flapping ducks having their evening swim. So much for birdwatching on this trip…

The raised road leading to the island delivered me to my destination effortlessly. But soon I had to brake, as the sign for the birdwatching tower indicated right. I parked my bike on the side of the road and started walking on the even path that crossed the coastal grove. Meadowsweet flowers wafted their scent in the air, raspberries jumped into my mouth with a little assistance, and there were only a moderate number of mosquitoes.

Sikosaari birdwatching tower is one of the highest in Porvoo, so I knew I would be able to see far. A few cables had been secured to the corners of the tower, probably to secure it in strong winds. I looked down to the duckboards leading to the tower and noticed a watery patch. Had I crossed on that partially submerged plank, my trainers would have gotten soaked.

As birdwatching towers tend to be by water, it would be sensible to take rubber boots in wetter weather. I hadn’t really thought about this, as it had been sunny and dry for many days. I removed my shoes on the rock and carried them with me as I took on a refreshing footbath on the way to the tower. Besides being cold, the water didn’t really feel like anything.

I climbed to the third level barefoot. From the birdwatching tower you can see clearly towards the centre of Porvoo, with Ruskis bird tower on the opposite shore, and Ekudden’s birdwatching tower near it, towards Stensböle. There is plenty of room here for birds to nest, as the movement of humans is limited in such dense reedbeds.

I wonder what this looked like 400-500 years ago? The reedbed was probably much smaller and the gulf’s waterways wider for boats, considering the land has also risen out of the sea since then.

Sikosaari belonged to the City of Porvoo as far back as the year 1602. In 1550, at the same time as Helsinki was founded, our then ruler, the Swedish King Gustav Vasa discontinued Porvoo’s city status. It had been founded in 1380 and was at that time Finland’s third oldest city. However in 1602, Porvoo got its city rights back from King Charles IX who, in the same year, donated land from Sikosaari to the city to complement an earlier donation from 1546.

After the tour of the birdwatching tower I hopped onto my bike and cycled a little further on the path. Sikosaari’s nature trail appeared only a couple of hundred metres along, so I parked my bike again. The wooden signposts for the trail have deteriorated over time, but the trail’s information board was in perfect condition with not so much as a smear.

On the departure point’s info board you can study Sikosaari’s history and familiarise yourself the nature trail in advance, with the help of the more detailed route map. The island’s forests have suffered extensive logging, but the situation was calmed by defining a protection zone around the coast. According to the info board the current woodland has been able to grow in peace for around 80 years. The nature trail’s history goes back to 1985 and from it you can explore forest as well as coastal ecology.

So into the woods! I was welcomed into the coniferous forest with the whine of a few mosquitoes, but they didn’t bother me as long as I kept moving… only when I came to a standstill. Alongside the nature trail, I spotted excellent looking mushroom and berry picking areas. There were plentiful wild blueberries on these clumps. However I didn’t investigate mushrooms any further. A mushroom trip is its own thing, which you need to be prepared for not only with a mushroom knife, but with more time.

Around the nature trail there were plenty of rocks in the shade of the fir trees. The grey granite gradually started to disappear under a green blanket. All kinds of different mosses grow on rocks along with who knows what else. Some delicate plants or even a tree could use a mossy boulder as a growing bed. On one rock, ferns grew out of its head like a coquettish hat decoration.

Another rock had a very rough, pockmarked surface. Even the colour of the stone was not just grey, but reddish hues could also be seen. This kind of rapakivi granite has been extracted since the beginning of the 1900s when Sikosaari was a quarry site, providing building materials for the urban dweller and his streets.

Sikosaari has been an abundant resource for many kinds of activities. The island’s clay was used in brick-construction, forests provided fuel and construction wood (until it was necessary to restrict logging), a pilot station was set up in 1802 and the island’s western part has served as a dock since the 1850s.

I walked forward on the path, full of the most awesome colourful moss carpet and arrived at some smooth rocks. Because the island doesn’t have a fire place or other picnic spots with benches and a table, this dry rock was a good place to enjoy a snack.

Close to the rocky ridge I noticed a small but somewhat whimsical ‘cave’. It was made from big slabs quarried from the erratic boulder, forming a cavity easily accessed by humans. Could I be bothered to crawl in there? I couldn’t resist the temptation, so in I wriggled… In such a heavy duty shelter provided by nature you could at least protect yourself from a rain shower (I can’t guarantee that water wouldn’t flow in from the larger rock above) or otherwise, take a nap! For kids this is a brilliant hiding place.

The nature trail soon curved away from coastal waters. The beach was already shimmering behind the spruces. If in some parts the path is easy to walk, you might want to be careful in the stony parts. Tree roots can also surprise you as they snake across the path.

At the beginning of the trail, I expected a kilometre and a half to take around an hour.  But it’s worth noting that a nature trail is not a place to rush. There are separate jogging paths for that. A slower pace can give you more time to enjoy nature, in which case the path’s stones help you to focus on the moment.

Descending the trail I thought of stories and tales, for the rocks around me were so extraordinarily beautiful. Daylight turning into evening light didn’t bother me at all, just brought its own sweet atmosphere.

Soon there were even larger erratic boulders dotting the mossbed in front of me. I took my seatpad from my backpack and sat down with my back against a rock wall. Some considerable rocky relics have been left here since the ice age, most likely not pushed here by giants, as was once believed. At the same time I remembered one trip to Jyväskylä’s Muurasalo, where I found even bigger but similar rocks in amongst Lake Päijänne’s coastal landscape. Similar greetings from the ice age can be found all around Finland.

The path guided me next to the shore’s edge, where a promising sign was waiting: Bird Rock/Fågelsten. I wondered first if it was a birdshaped rock. Then I walked around the coastal Rowan trees and in front of me was a stone boulder that you could climb up via little wooden steps. The handrail made for the rock was in poor condition, but it didn’t matter, the rock wasn’t too high.

From bird rock you see Stensböle’s bay better than if you were standing on the ground, even though the terrain is flat. Abundant tall reeds dominate the landscape. So much so that the reed sea looks like it intends to slowly swallow the actual gulf. Near bird rock an information board can be found, revealing the life of reeds. It also helps with bird identification, if you happen to see any feathered friends in the landscape. Binoculars are always good to have with you on a trip around here, as with your bare eyes there is no way you’d be able to make out the differences in the birds and their feathery details.

A small section of the route was marked out on top of the water by duckboards. Duckboards through the reedbeds was a nice idea, but time had taken its toll on the poor planks. These structures from 2007 had been rendered useless in parts. From the direction of bird rock, you could only take a few steps on the boards before you came across ones so skewed that you could only attempt to tackle them the same way as you would parkour. I don’t recommend it.

I returned to dry land and followed the planks along the coast towards the south for a while. There the structures were intact enough, that I could walk a small part of the way through the reedbeds with dry feet. Duckboards are always subject to wet conditions as well as the people that walk upon them. In this case it seemed that ice caused the worst damage. In the meantime, it’s safer to do this part of the trip along the coast, until the duckboards are fixed.

After the duckboard section, the nature trail turned back towards the island interior and towards Sikosaari road. I walked on the path softened by spruce needles towards the evening sun, and enjoyed the silence of the summer evening, making out a few more large rocks from the slopes. I came upon a fork in the path, where there was no sign, so I ended up guessing which path to take. I followed my instinct and the right path turned out to the the right choice. Soon the path joined up with Sikosaari road and I walked towards the P sign following the dirt road on the right back to the trail’s departure point and towards my bike.

Along paths and small roads you can wander along a wider area of Sikosaari than just the nature trail. Since the island isn’t fully for recreational use, there are also a couple of farms, as well as private and holiday homes, you should keep your distance and leave the private areas in peace. The island’s southern part, the old forest south of the farmland, is a protected as a nature conservation area.

Sikosaari is a laid-back and easy to reach location for a day trip, especially suitable for families. There is no fire pit, but if you want to have a picnic on the island, it’s worth taking a thermos bottle, cold snacks and sitting pads.

Location: Sikosaari is located south of Porvoo’s town centre and from there the journey is just under 3km, so it’s easy and also recommended to take a trip by bike or on foot. The birdwatching tower and the nature trail start from Sikosaari road and there are signs on the side of the road. At the birdwatching tower is a modest opening, in which a couple of cars can fit. The nature trail departure point similarly has limited space for cars. The island has no bus connection.

Map – Sikosaari birdwatching tower ETRS-TM35FIN -tasokoordinaatit N 6693482  E 427396

Map – Sikosaari’s Nature Trail departure point ETRS-TM35FIN -tasokoordinaatit N 6693510  E 426960

Nature attractions a stone’s throw from Porvoo’s city centre (Map and guide)

The author’s accommodation Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast – bed and breakfast was provided by Porvoo’s travel office /VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.