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In commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Article by Terhi Ilosaari

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

Puukarin Pysäkki’s granary accommodation

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

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

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

From Puukarin Pysäkki to Laitalan Loma

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

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

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

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

Lost, but in a good way

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

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

Perfection at the kota

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

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

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

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

To ski or paddle?

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

Our ski track-making machine, luxuriously in private use

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

Ski’s resting in Laitalan Loma’s yard

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

Taken care of by a cranky old woman

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

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

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

The Rhythm of the Track

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

A coffee break with real locals

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

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

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

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

A miserable blizzard

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

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

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

Gentle steam and a cranky woman

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

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

Guesthouse Pihlajapuu dessert

Bomba’s Tracks

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

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

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

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

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

Along Lake Pielinen

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

Männikkölä Cottage´s vatruska rounds in a basket

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

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

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

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

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse route in a nutshell

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

Food is mostly organic and local and of the region.

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

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

From Guesthouse to Guesthouse Tour accommodation:

Majatalo Puukarin Pysäkki

Kajaanintie 844, 75700 Valtimo

Laitalan Lomat

Laitalantie 85, 75710 Karhunpää

Majatalo Pihlajapuu

Salmenkyläntie 81, 75500 Nurmes

Männikkölän Pirtti (in Finnish)

Pellikanlahdentie 1, 75530 Nurmes

Translation by Becky Hastings

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

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

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

What you need:

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

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

You need also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In co-opetarion with Visit Kouvola, Visit Kotka-Hamina and GoSaimaa

South East Finland has some of the country’s most rugged and wild landscapes with access to excellent services. Only a short journey away from Helsinki, amidst the sounds of rushing rivers and rustling forests, you can find yourself amongst quirky cafes and excellent restaurants. We put together a list of 19 places or local delicacies that every visitor to the area should try.

1. Keisarinmaja Kahvila’s Finnish pancakes are the best in the world

? Address: Keisarinmajantie, Kotka
ℹ Homepage (Facebook)

In 1889 the Russian Tsar Aleksander III commissioned a fishing cottage to be built in the beautiful surroundings of Langinkoski river. It ended up as a stylish villa, where the Tzar with his family and friends spent carefree summer days. These days it houses the lovely Keisarinmaja cafe, whose Finnish pancakes (thick pancakes baked in an oven served with jam and whipped cream) are reported to the be the best in the world.

Photo: Sari Selkälä

2. A cute cafe in a yellow house – with a fantastic view out to Langinkoski river

? Keisarinmajantie, Kotka
ℹ Homepage (Facebook)

The yellow cafe on the shores of Langinkoski river used to be where the guard of the Tsar’s fishing cottage lived with his family. From the cafe terrace there are beautiful views down to the river. The cafe has lots of cozy nooks which also look out onto this view. Lunch is also available daily.

Photo: Sari Selkälä

3. Kymen Paviljonki: food, herbs, farm animals and rapids

Helsingintie 408, Kuusankoski
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

If you’re travelling on Route 6 there are many good reasons to stop at Kymen Paviljonki (Kymi Pavilion). Here you can get a decent lunch as well as take a refreshing break from driving. Walk down to Kymijoki river’s shores, get to know the farm animals and explore the wonderful herb garden, where you can pick herbs to serve with your meal.

Photo: Sari Selkälä

4. Relish the campfire atmosphere in Repovesi National Park

Riippusillantie 55, Kouvola
ℹ Read more

Repovesi National Park has many scenic campfire spots perfect for having a picnic in beautiful natural surroundings. You may make a fire in a designated campfire ring as long no fire warning has been issued. Firewood is provided on site.The easiest campfire meal is a hot dog barbecued over the glowing red coals served with whatever relishes of you chose to bring!

Photo: Tomi Pohja

5. Into Repovesi National Park via RepoTassu

Riippusillantie 55, Kouvola
ℹ Homepage (Facebook)

RepoTassu is a great little kiosk at the gate of Repovesi National park, by the Lapinsalmi entrance. Its handy location makes RepoTassu an easy place to stop off on the way in or out and prices are reasonable. There are a wide variety of refreshments available as well as lunch and coffee. You can even reserve a canoe!

Photo: Tomi Pohja

6. Orilammen Maja offers accommodation and great food

Voikoskentie 138, Hillosensalmi
ℹ Homepage

Orilammen Maja is legendary in the Repovesi area. This family business has grown over the years into a whole holiday village located right by a lake with lovely views. Here you can feast until your belly is full in peaceful natural surroundings. This place is definitely worth adding to your itinerary if you visit Repovesi National Park.

Photo: Tomi Pohja

7. Historical Fortress island: Fort Elisabeth and Restaurant Vaakku

Varissaari, Kotka
ℹ Homepage

The old sea fortress Fort Elisabeth is also known as Varissaari (Crow Island), and is a popular day trip destination and recreation area in Kotka. From June to August you can get there on board the ferry M/S Klippan from Kotka’s old harbour in Sapokka. The fortress was completed in 1796 and it was named after the Russian Tsarina Elisabeth Petrovna. Although the fortress itself was destroyed in the Crimean war, plenty of relics and monuments from the island’s history remain. As well as offering ‘fun dining in a stately environment’, according to their motto, Restaurant Vaakku also rents out SUP boards and a sauna boat!

Photo: Sari Selkälä

8. At Fortress Restaurant Kamu you can step into Hamina’s history

? Raatihuoneenkatu 12, Hamina
ℹ Homepage

Hamina’s fortress is one of the few ‘star forts’ in Finland. It was based on the one in Palmova in Northern Italy, which represented a utopian city. These types of forts are rare. Both Swedes and Russians have built hefty fortresses in Hamina. In the depths of Hamina’s Bastion, lies the atmospheric Restaurant Kamu, whose delicacies must be tried if visiting the area.

Photo: Julius Koskela

9. Anjala’s Manor House charms against a backdrop of Ankkapurha’s grand rapids

? Ankkapurhantie 15, Anjala
ℹ Homepage

Ankkapurha is the ancient Finnish name for Kymijoki river’s biggest rapids. Although the river has since been tamed to produce hydropower, the milieu of Anjala’s Manor House is still well worth a visit. There are walking trails in the area and all visitors are encouraged to try them and enjoy nature. Foodies should head to the Makasiinikahvila (Warehouse cafe) to sample the coffee and cake.

Photo: Julius Koskela

10. Salmiakki cheddar and hydrogen-powered cars at Kirjokivi manor

? Rudolf Elvingintie 109, Vuohijärvi
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

The idyllic Kirjokivi Manor and its surroundings are a sight in themselves, but once you’re there, you can fill your stomach with exotic treats. How does salmiakki (salty liquorice) cheddar cheese sound? Kirjokivi manor house is part of Woikoski Feeling – a company that provides a range of experiences in the surrounding area. The place’s special feature is the car museum, where all the cars reveal interesting parts of Woikoski’s and all of Finland’s history.

Photo: Julius Koskela

11. What on earth are Vety and Atomi? Taste Lappeenranta’s specialities

? Lappeenranta, South Karelia

Vety and Atomi have already gained quite a reputation. These local delicacies can be found at the hotdog kiosk, and should be enjoyed in in Lappeenranta’s urban surroundings, where they might be ordered by locals at the end of a night out. In true Finnish-style, you can wash them down with a glass of milk. Vety is a high quality meat pie, filled with either ham or egg. Atomi is filled with both.

Photo: Julius Koskela

12. Särä is Finnish food, with a thousand year history

ℹ Restaurant Kippurasarvi Homepage

Särä is the oldest dish in Finland, and its history goes back at least 1000 years. The name ‘särä’ comes from the wooden trough, on which lamb and potatoes were served. The meat rests on a bed of potatoes and is dished up with rieska (Finnish flatbread) as an accompaniment and homebrew to drink. Looks pretty good, don’t you think?

Photo: Julius Koskela

13. Melt-in-your-mouth hot smoked salmon in Lohela

? Karjalantie 372, Puntala
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

Could this be the world’s best hot smoked salmon? Test for yourself. Many travel from afar to buy Lohela’s smoked salmon to take home, or savour it slowly there and then. The quaint shop there has plenty of other items for sale, including delicacies and souvenirs for the traveller.

Photo: Julius Koskela

14. At Korpikeidas you can fish and meet some other animals

Vesikkolantie 415, Joutseno
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

At Korpikeidas you can fish and smoke the salmon yourself. There is a wide range of fun things to do for families with children. You can also get to know the resident farm animals which include an alpaca and a peacock!

Photo: Julius Koskela

15. Pulsan Asema is an instagram hit

? Pulsan Aseman tie 21, Pulsa
ℹ Homepage

Pulsan Asema (Pulsa Station) is an old station building that has been converted into a cafe, interior design boutique and bed and breakfast. The station’s interior decor is very photogenic. You can see the passion that has gone into creating this place. It’s certainly deserving of its media and social media attention, but go see it for yourself!

Photo: Julius Koskela

16. Konditoria Huovila – if there was a cafe in Moominland…

? Fredrikinkatu 1, Hamina
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

While wandering the picturesque streets of Hamina, step into Konditoria (Patisserie) Huovila. Its colourful cakes, the cinnamon buns overflowing on the counter and light fresh interior bring to mind the coloured Moomin books from childhood. Now in its third generation of ownership, this cafe is a part of Hamina’s street views. Make sure you at least taste the crown pastries!

Photo: Julius Koskela

17. Discover Ylämaa’s spectrolite in Korupirtti

? Kivikyläntie 7, Ylämaa
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

Spectrolite is a dark stone that shimmers blue and gold when held at certain angles in the light. Korupirtti (Jewellery Hut) with its services is a good base for gemstone miners. Next to the hut is the mining museum and it’s also possible to go see the mine itself.

Photo: Julius Koskela

18. Mustila Arboretum fairytale forest and Mustila wine

? Mustilan Puistotie 21, Elimäki
ℹ Homepage

Finnish berries and fruit are known to be superfoods, but did you know that you can make wine from them? Mustila’s wine shop and wonderful garden store is near Kouvola. As well as stopping at the shop, you can go for a work in a real fairytale forest, Mustila’s Arboretum.

Photo: Milla von Konow

19. Viini Verla – a winery in a world heritage site

? Salonsaarentie 127, Verla
ℹ Homepage

The idyllic Verla Mill village is a world heritage site. The old groundwood and board factory’s picturesque mill buildings feel like a journey back in time, within beautiful and photogenic surroundings. When visiting, make sure you stop at Verla Winery (Viini Verla). In addition to their wine and sparkling wines, they make a variety of berry liqueurs and table wines as well as stronger alcoholic drinks.

Photo: Milla von Konow