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In commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Situated in Eastern Finland, the national landscape of Koli with its mystical hills has attracted travellers for millenia. Visitors mainly come to admire the three most distinctive summits: Ukko-Koli, Akka-Koli and Paha-Koli, from which open out breathtaking views over one of Finland’s largest lakes, Pielinen. But how many have truly explored the area, probed the deepest caves and climbed the highest lookouts? Below are 6 hiking tips for those who want to get to know the region more deeply and intimately.

1. Räsävaara observation tower – climb above the treetops

“The information sign says that a great Finnish master once painted in this spot. When you move your gaze beyond the sign, you understand why. I would have painted too if I had been him. ”

From the Räsävaara Tower, which rises more than 300 meters above sea level, you can marvel at the panoramic view. The summit of Ukko-Koli can be seen in the southeast and Paalasmaa, the highest island of Finland’s inland waters, in the northwest. The deeply Finnish soul landscape is everywhere: endless forests in different shades of green, shimmering blue water and hills that, in the distance, look hazy blue.

Read more: nationalparks.fi/kolinp/sights

Photo: Jussi Judin / Retkipaikka

2. Koli’s Devil’s Church – Do you dare to ask the devil a question?

What unites the famous Finnish painter of the Golden Age, Eero Järnefelt and the devil? Both are connected to Koli’s Pirunkirkko, otherwise known as the Devil’s Church. The Devil’s Church is a cave hidden in the woods on the shore of Lake Pielinen, which demands a little daring from its visitors. There are many places in Finland that share the same name, but of all the Devil’s Churches, this is probably the most famous. Access to the cave requires diving into a narrow rock cavity. The place has an eerie atmosphere as do the stories surrounding it. It is said that he who dares to peek into the darkness corners of the cave can have a conversation with the devil himself.

Read more: nationalparks.fi/kolinp/sights

Photo: Terhi Ilosaari / Retkipaikka

3. Kolvananuuro – a harsh reminder of the ice age in the form of a gorge

A challenging, rocky hike with big changes in elevation best describes the five kilometre circular route of the Kolvananuuro gorge. However, the demanding nature of the Murroslaakso trail is likely to be forgotten while admiring the rugged slopes and unique vegetation. The route is marked by orange circles and there is also a campfire spot on the way, so make sure to bring a snack.

See photos: Retkipaikka.fi/Kolvananuuro

Read more: viakarelia.fi/kolvananuuro-nature-reserve/

4. Kolinuuro – an unforgettable lesson in Finland’s geological history

On the 3.5 kilometre circular route that starts from the yard of Koli’s Nature Centre, Ukko, you can find geological wonders which are more than half as old as the earth itself. Did you know that in the landscapes of Koli you can see traces of ancient deserts, glaciers, oceans and mountain ranges? Here you are walking on soil that is the oldest in Finland and amongst the oldest in the world. Along the trail, you can admire the mystical candle spruces and landscapes from Paha- and Ukko-Koli as well as Pieni-Koli towards the mighty Lake Pielinen. The nature trail information boards are in Finnish, English and Russian.

See photos: Retkipaikka.fi/Kolinuuro

Read more: nationalparks.fi/kolinp/trails/

5. The Mined Gate – a gully that transports you into another world

“The place was dumbfounding. Hidden down below was a glimpse of paradise – a light green glow of moss and moist air. Just as you thought you had seen everything, something else came into view. ”

Porttilouhi, The Mined Gate, is a large gully that forms its own fantastical world in the middle of the forest, taking the visitor by surprise. At the bottom of the gully formed by two vertical rock walls are mossy rocks and a beautiful creek. According to stories, folk healers and witches practiced here. On a dim, or rainy day, this is especially easy to believe, for the atmosphere of the gorge becomes particularly intense and mysterious. If you’re not used to walking in the woods, you might want to ask someone local to join you as a guide.

The Mined Gate can be reached along the UKK hiking route. However, you can also drive close to the spot along forest roads.

Read more: juuka.fi/the-mined-gate/

Photo: Jussi Judin / Retkipaikka

6. Juua’s ‘Demon’s Churn’

The most enchanting aspect of the Devil’s Churn gorge, Pirunkirnu in Finnish, is the fairytale atmosphere of the old forest that surrounds it. After following an inviting forest path amongst spruces. the ground suddenly falls away into a chasm so deep that the tops of the trees growing at its bottom can’t reach over the edge. The gorge is decorated according to the forest lover’s taste: there are thick moss carpets, hanging decorations of beard-lichen and a vast amount of other vegetation tucked in between the sturdy rock walls. The air, atmosphere and soundscape at the bottom of the gorge are as if from another world. It is said that the whole Demon’s Churn is a place born of mystical forces. The terrain is demanding, so great care should be taken here. Going with a local guide is recommended, especially if you’re new to hiking.

Read more: juuka.fi/the-demons-churn/

Photo: Antti Huttunen / Retkipaikka

Need more ideas?

If you can’t decide which destination to choose, you can search for more inspiration from VisitKarelia’s website.

Make sure to also check our Koli National Park page and also Metsähallitus’ information pages on Koli before heading out on an excursion!

Article by Terhi Ilosaari and Jonna Saari, Translation: Becky Hastings

In cooperation with Cursor

Article by Mari Valtonen

The Salpa Line bike route is located in southeastern Finland, in the province of Kymenlaakso, near the Russian border and close to the Finnish section of the Europe-wide EuroVelo13 or Iron Curtain Trail. The Iron Curtain Trail (9950 km in total) introduces European history from a time when the continent was forcefully divided into east and west, and the general atmosphere was tense. In Finland, which miraculously defended against the Russia goliath while maintaining its independence, you should definitely take a small detour to experience the 72 km long Salpa Line bike route.

Distance: 72 km
Duration: 2 days
Destination on map
Difficulty: Easy route

The Salpa Line is a fortress line built in defense of Finland’s eastern border, the structures of which are still clearly visible in Finnish forests. The Salpa Line is even one of the best preserved fortress lines in the whole of Europe built during the Second World War, reaching all the way to Lapland from the southern coast of Finland, and many of the most spectacular and powerful structures are located in Kymenlaakso. The Salpa Line reaches an impressive total length of 1,200 kilometers and was built between 1940 and 1941, and 1944.

Kymenlaakso has two Salpa Line themed museums – one in Miehikkälä, and the other in Virolahti. Both are located along the EuroVelo13 and the Salpa Line bike routes. These museums shed light on the background of this impressive structure and are definitely worth a visit. EuroVelo13 travelers can easily start the Salpa Line bike route from either location.

However, the route is not only suitable for those interested in military history. You can also enjoy a lot of beautiful and extensive Finnish nature with its beautiful forests and idyllic farming landscapes. I set out to find out what the Salpa Line bike route has to offer. Join me!

The warm fall weather and the fine fall colors ensured that the cycling season in southern Finland continued into October. The Salpa Line bike route was a great choice for enjoying the northeastern European fall weather for a couple of days’ bike ride.

You can start your trip from anywhere on the route, but you can easily park your car in the parking areas of the Miehikkälä Salpa Line Museum or the Bunker Museum in Virolahti (the distance between these sites is about 20 km). On the last day of September, I started from the Bunker Museum. The museum is only open on Fri–Sat in the fall, so I started my journey straight away since the museum was closed.

The Salpa Linja bike route is not marked on the terrain, but I had uploaded Cursor’s map to my Google Drive, where I could easily track my journey with the phone’s GPS data. The route travels partly along a hiking route called Salpa Trail, but those sections were often marked as mountain bike sections, so I most often chose the dirt road route. A third asphalt option was also indicated on some points.

Here we go!

After driving west on Vaalimaantie for a while, the route turned southeast onto Vahtivuorentie. The dirt road was in good condition, although bumpy. First there were warnings about horses on the road and then about snowmobiles, but I didn’t see anyone. After some recently planted forest, the road dived into a coniferous forest. According to the map, the first dugouts – troop-protecting structures used in the war – should be located near the Vahtivuori campfire site, where I parked my bike on the side of the road and continued walking up the path.

There were insanely big blueberries everywhere! In Finland, you can pick natural berries, thanks to the so called everyman’s rights, so I tasted the northern superfood with a smile on my face. However, the berries were already quite tasteless at this time of year, so I didn’t regret leaving my bucket at home.
Next, my attention was drawn to some really large boulders. Could they be man-made parts of the Salpa Line, or natural obstacles, I wondered. I found the cooking shelter on top of the hill, but the trees prevented a wider view of the surrounding landscape. I decided to use my Trangia to make coffee with apple pie before I went looking for the dugouts.

After studying the map, I realized that I should have been right next to the dugouts, but I didn’t see anything. Military history isn’t exactly my area of expertise. I wonder what I was supposed to be looking for. I had read beforehand that most of the dugouts are not maintained, with potentially dangerous drops and sharp iron structures so it was a bit terrifying trying to find them alone. I’ve never been to the army, so even in that sense, I had no idea how the dugouts could’ve been built into the terrain. I understood that the map made it difficult to determine the exact location of the dugouts and probably the GPS signal on the phone displayed my location incorrectly. I was beginning to wonder whether I would find any bunkers on the whole trip.

Amazing boulders! Or tank barriers after all?

I had read that there should be a cave and a nature stage near the fire site. I went down the path and followed some signs. I noticed that there were better signs on the opposite side, and discovered the first winding trenches and the opening of the first bunker No 82. After continuing ahead, I came across another much cozier lean-to called Rinnelaavu, and found the rock cliff I was looking for, with its railings. Next to the railing there was a path down and a view opened up to the nature stage: What a great venue with stands can be found below the cliff! The barrier rocks have been mined from the cliff, and this can be seen in its the vertical shape. The place is so impressive that it would be great to watch a show there sometime!

The nature stage looks rugged!

There was a concrete doorway next to the stage, and after a while, and after I got my headlamp working, I had the courage to enter through the door. Inside I discovered a large cave carved into the rock and there appeared to be a smaller room at the back. Water fell from the ceiling. The bunker seemed so strong that I dared to continue through the second door. There was an embrasure on the right side of the second door, and on the left you could see the small room that I had noticed earlier. There were no furniture. After leaving the cave, the air felt warm and I felt relieved – I made it! I realized that it takes a lot of courage to enter such structures on my own. I decided that this would be enough for now, and that the structures that I would explore next would be at the Harju Learning Center.

The road lead to an idyllic field opening and a row of tank barriers erected on the Ravijoki river banks. Later, the barrier line continued along my route in many places and I can only imagine how much work it has taken to build it with the tools of that time! At this point, the tank barriers were inside the pasture, and after a while a resting flock of sheep appeared.

Tank barriers as sheep pasture

Next, I climbed to the courtyard of the Harju Learning Center, where I saw many beautiful old buildings. The students had just finished their school day. The summer café Kiessi seems to operate there but it was already unfortunately closed for the year. The Kiessi Museum was on the opposite side and the door was open. Inside I found a collection of horse-drawn vehicles and some information about the history of the Harju manor.

The Harju milieu

From the Harju courtyard, the journey continued along a birch alley until we turned left onto Museotie. A great view opened up to the Harju manor. The route continued along the side of the road and alternated between idyllic well-maintained countryside and different types of forests. Huge boulders could be seen here and there. Grasshoppers were still chirping along the road, and there were still flowers such as bluebells, tansies, thistles and sow thistles. Summer was in the air!

The old kilometer markers guided me towards Virojoki, where I had planned to have a little lunch break.

After the village center, my journey continued on a bike road next to Vaalimaantie for a short while before the last bit of road turning to Miehikkälä. A couple of sphere-shaped dugouts were marked on the route map along Mattilantie, which I decided to visit. I found the dugouts relatively easily when I followed the path in the forest. But I didn’t enter because they seemed to be in bad condition. Also, there were some homes nearby so you had to be careful not to walk into anyone’s yard.

Soon I spotted a sphere-shaped dugout right by the side of the road on the left side! The camouflage of the dugout – the moss that covered it – was destroyed, so the round dome was clearly visible. Unfortunately, the location by the side of the road meant that the dugout was full of trash bags and I didn’t bother to go inside. According to the Finnish trekking etiquette, you should always take your trash to the nearest trash can and take them with you if there are no trash cans on site. Nothing should be left behind.

Balded sphere-shaped dugout

Based on the map, the next attraction was the Kotolankoski rapids of Vaalimaanjoki, which was a very pretty place. It would have been a much better place for a break than the place I had chosen. After the rapids, the road turned into a dirt road and passed through the village of Kotola. Kotolankoski is worth a break!

The evening was getting darker, and I had to maintain a decent speed so that I could get to my accommodation near the center of Miehikkälä. Indeed, around September and October, you have to consider the fact that it starts to get dark around 7 p.m. Finally, I spotted the village of Miehikkälä!

Vaalimaanjoki river

According to the instructions, the accommodation was next to the church. In the tenant’s yard, the village blacksmith’s cabin was a separate two-person accommodation building with a kitchenette, toilet and shower. Perfect accommodation for such a one-night bike ride.

It is also possible to plan the route so that you stay in a tent at one of the lean-to or campfire sites along the route. These are located in the western part of the route, so in that case you should start from the Salpa Line Museum in Miehikkälä. I had originally thought about bringing a tent, but I couldn’t fit the gear on the bike so I decided to book accommodation. Based on the route map, there seem to be accommodation options in several places, so there is room for choice.

The dahlias were in bloom outside, on October 1st!

After breakfast, I started towards the Salpa Line Museum, which was only three kilometers from the center of Miehikkälä. I decided to take a shortcut along Taavetintie and skip going round Myllylampi, marked on the route map. The trip started uphill and I felt the 40 km cycling from the previous day.
After climbing into the museum courtyard, I marveled at the silence and indeed: it was October 1st and the museum was no longer open during weekdays! This was my own mistake, since I hadn’t considered it would be October. From the window I could see that staff were there and after knocking on the door they were kind enough to give me a map of the outdoor areas and permission to tour places that were not locked.

I had thought that I could safely visit the museum’s refurbished dugouts, but this seems like the perfect excuse to revisit southeast Finland some other time.

That’s how impressed I am with the Salpa Line fortifications. In sunny weather, I toured the trenches, visited the aerial surveillance tower, and marveled at the tank barriers and cannons. I was thinking how all of it would have worked if the enemy had approached Taavetintie. Could they have stopped it? The tour took so much time that I decided to use my Trangia to cook lunch at the museum’s campfire site.

From the museum, the route turned to Rakolantie and an exceptionally enjoyable part of the journey started! The road was a smooth dirt road and it meandered in stunning pine forest, among sturdy and gloomy spruce trees, and occasionally through idyllic field areas. When cycling, you felt like you were following a trail of historical events. I wonder if the people who built the Salpa Line are still alive. Have they felt proud to build such large fortifications? The concrete dugouts are in relatively good condition, as the Finnish Defense Forces partially maintained them until the 1980s.

No worries when cycling through boreal forests!

On this stretch, many parts of the route merged with the Salpa Trail. I had read in the guide that there was something worth seeing in Jermula, and I decided to visit, even based on the name alone, to see what I would find in the direction of the sign.

There was a sign to the dugouts on the way there, but I kept going all the way to the back where I found a parking area. A road continued to the right, and there I first found a tipi-like hut, then a Jermula cottage used by war veterans, and a lean-to. There were concrete figures at the campsite: a couple and a dog, but I didn’t see anyone else. There was also a well in the yard and a long jetty at the beach. I was startled when a heron took off just a few meters from the beach!

When I came back, I went to the parking area to find dugout 310/443. I just took a sneak peek, because once again I was terrified to go in alone. There was even an information board near the door. As I cycled back to the route, I noticed an embrasure disguised with rocks on the slope and climbed to see it. I was beginning to know how to look for the fortifications in the terrain!

The fall colors were beautiful and bright, as the sun shined in summerlike fashion. The grain fields were all already harvested – fortunately, because winter is approaching. After turning to Vuolteentie, the route crossed another beautiful little river, the Turanjoki.

From the Salpa Line Museum onwards, the cycling route sometimes merges with the Salpa Trail for long distances. There were also beautiful, short forest parts on Vuolteentie, and there were even dugouts right next to the road. The shore of Pyyhinlampi would’ve been a great spot for a break, but after studying the terrain map, I found that going there would have meant uphills both ways, so I decided to postpone the coffee break. Today’s part had more hills anyway, and I was feeling it in my legs.

After this, there would have been a short mountain bike trail to the left, which traveled along the unfinished cave of Soikonvuori, and I had read it was beautiful. I decided that I might not dare go into the cave alone, and I decided to skip it on this trip. After the forest section, the route passed through the idyllic village of Mässelinmäki.

The barn is camouflaged too!

Shortly before the highway underpass, there was a concrete dugout 153 on the edge of the forest opening, which looked so firm that I ventured to go inside. The embrasure pointed directly at the highway. I thought that during the war there had been few roads in the area where the enemy could have progressed inland, and all of them had spots where they could be cut off if necessary. Now there’s a huge highway to Russia! But that is how it should be: neighboring countries peacefully trade with each other and live their own lives.

The embrasure in this dugout points right in the direction of the highway

According to the map, there was supposed to be a lean-to right after the highway underpass, where I decided to take the last coffee break. I read on the information boards that a bunker had been blown up to make space for the highway. The Salpalaavu lean-to turned out to be a brand new lean-to placed right next to the concrete bunker! The sun was already setting behind the woods when I made the coffee and ate the last piece of apple pie.

There seemed to be a large parking area nearby and signs to the Bunker Museum, which was only 2.5 km away. The last part of the route was brand new asphalt road, which must have been built when the highway was completed. There would also have been a mountain bike section going alongside the Salpa Trail, which would probably have been nicer, but on my bike and load it wouldn’t have been a good idea.

The Salpalaavu lean-to is located right next to the dugout

The two days passed pleasantly when admiring the landscapes of southeastern Finland painted bright by the fall colors, and exploring the Salpa Line. The Salpa Line bike route can be recommended for tour cyclists, and you don’t have to be a military history enthusiast to go on the route. The route requires a bit of an adventure attitude, as it is not marked on the terrain and you need to read a map. Only a small part of the Salpa Line fortifications are marked and it might take some time to find them. Safety issues should also be taken into account. Most of the dugouts have not been refurbished, so they are accessed at your own risk.

Bring a good headlight (and spare lamp) with you. I highly recommend going with a friend, as going alone increases risks, and it took a lot of courage to explore the dugouts on my own, at least for me. Of course, during the summer or on weekends there are certainly more travelers in the area than during the off-season and on workdays. If you enjoy your own peace, then I recommend going on workdays.

In addition, it is advisable to check the opening hours of the museums in advance, as they definitely provide added value and information for the trip. For me, at least, the closed museums bothered me so much that I have to visit the area again in the future!

Read more:

EuroVelo 13 – Iron Curtain Trail, Visit Kotka–Hamina

Salpa Line Museum

The Salpa Line Trail

The article has been created for the Bizcycle project / Southeast Finland-Russia CBC program. The program is funded by the European Union, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Finland.

In commercial cooperation with Visit Raseborg

Article by Johanna Suomela

Another world surprisingly close to the busy highway no. 25, and beyond the grain fields, awaits the curious hiker who is hungry for new experiences. Encircled by the reed beds, Lake Lepinjärvi is a paradise for birds, providing memorable experiences in nature in historical surroundings. The prehistoric graves of this versatile region date all the way back to the Iron Age. Come with me to discover the cultural path of Lake Lepinjärvi – let’s follow the sunshine to the lush hazel grove!

Relatively easy trail, length approx. 3 kilometres

Travel time 2 hrs

Table for eating outdoor snacks and a campfire site, but no firewood service.

Map showing the starting point of the trail

My mobile phone wakes me up persuasively. It is time; actually it is 03.45 in the morning. Very early in the morning, on the day we celebrate Finnish nature. They say that an early bird catches the worm, so I must be catching a lot of them. I am about to go to a place I’ve never visited before, and I hope to see the best birds in the best light possible – when the sun rises.

It is still dark, though, when I start my car and drive towards Karis in Raseborg. These wee hours are the time of animals, such as rabbits and foxes, so I drive carefully.

Already on the way to my destination, I am fascinated by how lovely nature can be. The morning mist is just unbelievable! The landscape by the roadside has never been more beautiful!

In less than an hour, I have driven from the middle of Espoo to Karis to meet my friend who I haven’t seen for a long time. We spot a clear path leading to the underpass under Highway no. 25. Let’s go there!

The autumn morning is chilly, and the temperature is just 6 degrees above zero. Good thing that I brought my gloves.

The underpass is a safe passage to the other side of the highway.

The mist is soft like a feather, as it floats over the fields surrounding Lake Lepinjärvi. There’s so much moisture in the vegetation on the side of the trail that my pant legs get wet.

Blooming season is mostly over, but the last brown knapweed of the summer is still shining in the dim light of the morning.

The trail running on the side of the field road ends up in a lush forest and forks. Wooden signposts direct us to take a left.

I have to get to the beach before the sun rises.

The old bird observation tower of Lillnäset rewards those who dare to come here.

In the time of corona, you should consider a few things if you wish to go to any bird observation tower. Birdlife Finland recommends that you should prefer close-by destinations and not let anyone else use your binoculars and telescopes but your family members. You should also maintain a safe distance to other birdwatchers.

Being considerate is especially important when visiting bird towers. This means, for example that you allow others to use the tower as well and don’t stay up there for too long.

This morning, however, we have the tower to ourselves as no-one else is around.

Carefully we climb up the stairs to the tower as they have no handrail.

Using these kinds of built structures happens on everyone’s own responsibility as does roaming in nature in general.

A breath-taking view opens up from the tower above the tall reeds.

The sun is about to rise, and Lake Lepinjärvi is full of water birds! In the mist, it feels like it is from a fairy-tale.

The busiest time of autumn migration is not yet here. However, the birds can be counted in tens, if not hundreds already. The cackling and chattering sounds overwhelming. 

Majestic pair of mute swans are swimming in the middle of the mist.

Mist is floating above the surface of the lake.

Time seems to stop just before the sunrise. This is happiness!

As much as they talk about congestion and masses of people in nature brought on by the corona, I don’t really see any of that right now!

Should someone who loves peace and quiet head to these kinds of small and less-known places instead of over-populated national parks? Moreover, should they choose an early time such as now for a tailor-made experience in nature? Selecting the most beautiful morning light and silence instead of afternoon rush hours and hard light.

It is so beautiful that I almost forget to breathe.

The only thing breaking the silence is the flapping of great wings as the swans take to the sky.

The pair of swans,who were gliding gracefully on the surface of the lake just a moment ago, is now taking off somewhere. Oh, I wish I could get a nice shot in spite of this thick mist!

The cultural landscape from the Iron Age at Lake Lepinjärvi

Thoroughly impressed by the flocks of birds and the breath-taking lake views we descend from the tower. Still going east, we take a little side step off the path.

In the middle of the rocky mound, stands a sign from the Finnish Heritage Agency which has seen its better days.

There is a rock that has about 10 hardly visible indentations, so-called cups, over a small area, and a cremation cemetery under level ground.

Archaeological digs have revealed spear tips, ceramics and charred bones. We are at an ancient sacrificial ground, with Finnish national history from the Iron Age beneath our feet.

Some rustling sounds carry from the forest, but we don’t see anyone else. There’s a hint of mystery in the air.

We head back to where we came from, walking past spider’s webs that are now visible due to the dew.

We almost miss a small information sign that tells us that there’s a place ahead of us called Stora Näset. Stora Näset is a small, rocky hill, surrounded by mist and grain fields.

This place dates all the way back to the Iron Age, too. Archaeologists have found pieces of pottery and revealed layers of earth that indicate there might have been a level-ground cremation cemetery here as well.

Walking counter-clockwise on the path going over the hill and climbing down a short but steep cliff, we come to a large and moss-covered stone wall.

The age of this 20-metre wall on Stora Näset is still a mystery.

In a moment, we go past the wooden signs again.  The path leads us to a new bird observation tower named the Pelican Tower.

About 20 metres length of the oldest duckboards is wet and slippery due to overhanging vegetation, but soon there’s also dry wood to be walked on.

The trail passes hazels and large coniferous trees, leaving the cliff of Själdberget to our right.

It feels like in a real wilderness – it is unbelievable that we’re so close to the highway.

Just before the stairs leading to the Pelican Tower, a large information board standing at the crossroads shows us where we are on the map. It also tells us what to expect.

If all goes well, one could spot the long-tailed tit, bearded tit, water rail, red-necked grebe, mute swan and the smew. Other species that have been recorded here are for example marsh harrier, ruff, corncrake, Bewick’s swan, Slavonian grebe, wood sandpiper, common tern, crane and whooper swan.

Lake Lepinjärvi in Raseborg is one of the most important bird lakes in the Uusimaa province.

About 100 species of birds nest here regularly, but as much as 160 have been recorded in Lepinjärvi and its surrounding areas.

At the time of spring- and autumn migration, this shallow and eutrophic lake is an important resting and feeding place for migratory birds. When the migration is at its highest, there are over 220 different species here, and over 3000 water birds have been seen visiting the lake at one time!

During migration, you can also spot the pintail, bean goose, grey heron, gadwall and the redshank and spotted redshank.

So the bird plate is quite full at Lake Lepinjärvi!

The autumn migration is on its way, and more birds can be seen then, because the migration is divided over a longer period, and thanks to successful nesting, there are more birds going out than coming in. The best time to see migratory birds is between September and October.

I notice that recognizing the birds is not easy. They fly overhead so quickly, and the dim sunlight shining through the mist doesn’t help a bit. Are they greylag geese, perhaps?

Lake Lepinjärvi is part of the Natura 2000 regions, protecting biodiversity in the EU. Lepinjärvi is also part of the national bird wetland protection programme.

Lepinjärvi is definitely the ideal place for birds, as it is approximately one metre deep, and the shoreline is covered by a tall reed bed.

Moreover, there is a very rare plant species at Lepinjärvi, namely  

Najas tenuissima which is one of Finland’s – if not the world’s – rarest aquatic plants.

The Pelican Tower of Lepinjärvi

The off-main trail path leads down from the information boards to the beach on stairs and onto wide duckboards that are placed well above the ground.

That means that you can come here to see the birds even during spring flood!

Standing on the Pelican Tower, we can see how the sun of early autumn makes the mist floating over the lake golden. The birds are hiding somewhere under the opaque blanket.

My friend picks an empty beer can up from the ground as we leave the tower. Beer cans are not indigenous to this region, so it’s best to take it with us to be disposed of properly. A little plastic bag normally meant for dog poo will work as a handy place to store the can temporarily.

We start walking alongside the field to the northwest. There are supposed to be more stone structures from the Iron Age somewhere close to Själdberget, but they seem hard to find at this time of the year. Slowly rising morning sun sheds its rays on the slopes, painting the fields golden.

The trail rises up for a good while and turns to the left. There is a resting place with a canopy ahead of us, equipped with a campfire ring and benches. There’s no firewood available.

The hill of Brobacka brings travellers from the Iron Age to the 20th century

As we cross over the ditch, we see more signs along the path to Brobacka that tell us what we can expect to find on the hill. 

Evidence of settlement and cultivation has been found in Brobacka that date back to the Iron Age and up to the beginning of the 20th century.

The signs also tell us that there’s an instructive video available about Brobacka on Mobiguide. We walk up a wide and smooth path covered in tree needles. Ground on this section of the trail is full of forest litter and so far the easiest to travel. As there are roots growing over the trail, it is not accessible by wheelchair for example.

If you are lucky and patient, you may be able to spot the nutcracker that lives in the hazel groves. As much as we try to move quietly, the nutcracker eludes us today.

Only a few squirrels are afoot, foraging for nuts.

The bushes filter the sunlight that is casting shifting dark and light spots on the trunks of the trees and flashing playfully in the foliage.

We pass the nationally valuable cultural heritage landscape, the meadow of Brobacka, as the trail slowly turns to the left.

Under the hazel by the meadow, a sturdy table awaits for hikers eager to have their lunch.

I wish I could be here in the spring or in the early summer as the flowers on the meadow are in their full bloom! Actually, guided tours are arranged here in the spring, when the ancient remains from the Iron Age are best visible.

After a while, as we go further along the trail, a clearing opens up in front of us. When we see stakes entangled by the common hop and black and red currant bushes, we immediately know that there used to be a croft here.

The croft belonged to the medieval mansion of Domargård until the end of the 19th century.

This must have been a nice place to live, on this warm slope, with a beautiful view to the lake and a fertile soil to cultivate!

Due south, on the edge of the former croft’s courtyard, a big and old pine with crooked limbs stands guard.

We wonder what might have happened under its branches, and turn back to the direction we came from.

The trail turns right, behind the spot where the croft used to be, to reveal more stacked stones covered in moss.

The oldest relics from the region are presumably from 200 to 400 A.D. The most famous of the relics is a buckle that was found in one of the stack of stones. The buckle was named the Buckle from Karjaa and used as a model for a jewel from Kalevala Jewelry. The original buckle, though, is most likely from the Merovingian Period, from 600 to 800 A.D., so it is believed to have been put inside the stack of stones some time later. For what? For an offering, maybe?

Diverse natural experiences in historical surroundings

As we get back to our car, I notice that we have spent two hours outdoors and covered over four kilometres, including the trip to the start of the trail and back. The trail itself is about 2.5 kilometres long. There was so much going on and so much to see that it feels like we have done a much longer hike.

The Finnish Nature Day couldn’t have been better celebrated than spending it on the cultural trail of Lepinjärvi!

Diverse nature and interesting ancient remains meet here in a beautiful way.

Moreover, Mother Nature pampered us with a misty morning and sunrise painted with a delicate brush.

When I get home, I will contact Göran Fagerstedt, who is a guide who knows Lepinjärvi like the back of his hand. Göran lives in Karis, and he has a friendly way of telling people about the ancient sites and history of the region. I value even more the work that volunteer organizations have done for the enjoyment and benefit of hikers like us, when I hear that the duckboards and the campfire shelter have been built by the Natura Society of Karis.

Göran also tells me that there are plans to replace some of the signs and information boards during 2021. Also building a new bird observation tower to replace the old one is in the plans. The signs from the east side of the region will be removed, but the historical sites will still be there, though. That side will probably be the more interesting one for the adventurous explorers.

More information and links

The trail in this text starts 2.2 km from the Karis train station and 2.5 km from the Travel Centre.

Your guide on the Raseborg region is Mr. Göran Fagerstedt who will be back at Lepinjärvi next spring. You can contact Göran and see more information about the trips he arranges by clicking here.

The Raseborg Tourist Services website provides tips for hiking in nature and different outdoor activities.

More stories from Raseborg and its many sights you can find here on Finland, Naturally.

Below is a map of Lake Lepinjärvi, found both on the information board of the Pelican Tower and the lobby of Karis ABC service station.

Read more:

Visit Raseborg – Welcome to Raseborg

Visit Raseborg – Plan your stay

Translation Mikko Aslak Lemmetti

Article by Onni Kojo

Usually SUP boards are used for short day trips at lakes, shores, or rivers. But there is a small number of people who choose a paddleboard over the kayak or canoe for multi-day trips, mostly descending along the river as far as you ever want to go. This style of exploring is not hard in Finnish Lapland. It is full of rivers, most of them eventually flowing into the gulf of Bothnia, a few flowing east to Russia and north to Norway and the Arctic Sea. In fact, the biggest river basin in Finland, Kemijoki, covers most of Lapland. It and other rivers of Lapland give adventurers endless possibilities to explore and see the beauty of the northern nature from a different point of view. Sitting in a rowing boat or a kayak gets you really close to the rich river nature, but SUP paddleboarding gives you a different aspect on all of this, as it gives you the freedom to change position while paddling down the stream. You can stand up or even lie down as you let the stream take you.

On river adventures, one must remember a few things. There is going to be some currents and maybe some obstacles on the way. It’s important to check if there are any dams or bigger streams along the way, or any big obstacles because of which you have to carry the boat of choice on the other side of the obstacle. A good thing in Lapland is that you’ll find plenty of water to paddle on without any major barriers.

Inflatable SUP boards are fairly easy to carry around and are super handy to pack in your car. This gives a lot of freedom in choosing where to go and how.  Also, with these, you can go in shallow water without worries. Just remember to take the fin off the board when going in shallow water or a current with rocks etc.

A no-brainer for all paddling trips is to pack all your gear in waterproof bags. This one is a must on multi-day trips. Don’t worry if you fall down, your sleeping bag is dry! A good tip for packing is to put everything in different colour bags to know where to find certain things.

If you’re afraid to stand up on the board whenever there is a stronger current, you can always be on your knees or sit down. Usually on small rivers the flow is not going to be that speedy. Standing up is also way more fun!

The Amazon of the North

One of the many river branches of the Kemi river is Kairijoki. This one starts near the wilderness of Kemihaara, one of the most isolated places in Lapland. Kairi river is a popular destination for fly fishing but paddling down this crystal clear river is possible too. 

One beautiful August weekend a group of paddle boarders set down to explore this area. Far away from the reach of mobile network at the end of a dirt road, we set our paddleboards into the river and started paddling down. The stream was moving slowly, but well enough to help the journey. We did not have fins on the boards at all because there was going to be a lot of tiny shallow rapids that we had had to paddle through. It wasn’t easy to paddle without the fin, but it gave the freedom to go through the shallow parts without stopping.

The water in this river is so clear that sometimes it feels like floating in the air! All the water plants swaying with the current, trout and grayling swimming under the board. The feeling of floating on the river can be a magical experience.

When hitting the first currents I didn’t stand up. I felt like I would fall if I’d hit a rock. But the current was never too strong that the small bumps would bring down the paddler. Of course, you have to have a little bit of stability with the board. All in all, it is very easy to learn though. A little bit of practice is enough. This is not like other board sports that would need a bit more practice.

Once I stood up and went through the small rapids I felt like the lumberjacks in the older days when they’d use these same rivers for log floating, sometimes standing on the logs in the river and trying to keep the balance. It is true, we were not the first ones to stand-up paddle down these rivers. You can still see signs of this as there are sometimes sunken logs on the bottom of the river.

Some parts of the river were not going so speedy so there was more paddling to do to get forward. This can be quite tiring on the long run. No worries though, you can always just chill out and lie down on your board and tie it on the riverbank. Or you can just let the slow current take you. I guess I found my favourite way of travelling: lying on a paddleboard on a sunny day just looking at the clouds and tree branches and birds going by. This can be almost too relaxing so you must watch out not to sleep when there are stronger rapids ahead!

Kairi river has an awesome wilderness lodge about midway of the river. This place has nice cottages and a sauna by the river: perfect place to rest for an exhausted wilderness adventurer after a long day of paddling. When we went swimming from the sauna, we had to keep ourselves in place, so we didn’t go with the flow. The water is cold here but there is nothing more refreshing than a dip into a clear and clean Lapland river from the steam of the sauna. 

I woke up before the sunrise and walked down the riverbank. I was trying to catch some fish but this time I had no luck. I didn’t really mind. There is something mysterious about early mornings. It’s so calm and quiet. Everything is still. Then, slowly the nature starts to wake up. Every bird singing. Fish jumping in the river. The sun rising behind the forest and shining through the mist was spectacular. Also, all the insects woke up at the same time. Unfortunately, the biting ones as well so I had to go back to the cabin and wait for the day to start.

The second day of this expedition was hot and sunny. The mosquito season was pretty much over and luckily there were no horse flies. Sometimes there might be annoying small biting midges. Usually a little bit of wind and hot sun keeps them away. Depending on the year or the season there might be a bit more insects. You just have to protect yourself from these biting devils and you’re good to go. Quite often there is a bit of wind in the open river, so it helps. Evenings and mornings, swamps and shady places are to avoid especially in the middle of the summer.

There are many lean-to shelters and fireplaces along the way so stopping for lunch was easy. Of course, you don’t have to stop and land for snacks: it’s possible to have your picnic on the board! Fireplaces usually have an outhouse toilet but in other places one must go a bit further from the shores for their needs.

We tried to find a wave in a rapid big enough to try a little surf. It was hard to paddle in a strong current and try to “catch the wave”. You have to have very good skills in paddling when going in the currents. River surfing is a thing, but with a SUP board it’s quite challenging. Especially if you have a lot of gear on the board. I did try to catch a wave, but I ended falling down as I was sideways in a bit of a stronger current. The river is not that deep so I could just hold myself and the board in the current. It still surprised me how strong it can be. A little dip and feeling the current was a good reminder to not get too comfortable with the stream. You always have to watch out for the rocks and stay on the main current!

After about 15 km I just laid down on the board and put my hat on my face. The hot and sunny day made it feel like I was in Asia. The board just went with the flow and I almost fell asleep. The lush green of the birches and aspens against the clear blue sky made it hard to believe that we were inside the Arctic Circle. 

The river nature is very rich. There are so much different kinds of fish, mussels and plants, sometimes even crayfish, under the surface and on the surface dragonflies and other insects, the birds often going after them. The water birds diving to the bottom to eat or catch a fish. We even saw some common goldeneyes diving under our boards! Ducks, cranes and terns are living here too. The river brings a lot of life around it. Everyone must drink of course. But moose, for example, also like to eat the aquatic plants. You can see a lot of life on your river journey. Especially if you stay quiet and just observe. 

Our journey was successful. Sometimes I went alone and just enjoyed, sometimes we would paddle next to each other and chat. We paddled 40 km in two days. Just as it was getting a bit exhausting, we reached the mighty Kemi river and paddled it a little bit more to reach our goal and our car. Some folk who have their houses and cottages along the river were looking, maybe a bit surprised, that someone would paddleboard over here. I just waved at them. This was fun!

I was eager to have a solo multi-day trip with the board. I also wanted to try how I can manage to get all my camping gear with me. So, the next weekend I set off to another branch of the Kemi river: Pyhäjoki. Pyhä river starts from the National park of Pyhä-Luosto. This would also be a 40 km long journey towards the Kemi river. 

As I was looking at the map of the whole river system, I realized how much is reachable by waterways. Certainly, this was the way that people would explore new lands in the older days. But now, how many people would travel long distances by rivers? The downside is that like a lot of other rivers in the world, this one was also dammed. Good thing was that with kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, it could be possible to do very long trips using this river system as you can carry them and go around the dam.

I set sail one cloudy afternoon from the lake Pyhäjärvi, which had a small tidal wave going on. I had taken the fin off the board as I knew that the river would be very shallow. The board was packed with gear and food, so it wasn’t easy to reach the river with this style. When I reached the mouth of the river, I had another obstacle. There was a few hundred meters of bush ahead of me. Of course! By August the shallow river lands would be grown over. It was already afternoon that I’d left for my solo adventure, so I felt like I was late. When I finally got through the bush and stood up on the board, the current took me into a place that looked like a jungle. The grass brought by the spring floods hung from the trees and the different shades of green everywhere made the scenery unreal. I have never seen nature from this perspective. 

Standing on the board, seeing over the banks. Fish and water plants under me. Common goldeneye flew over my shoulder and there were reindeer in the forest, munching on some moss and looking at me. I was just floating by and admiring.

The day turned into an evening before I was at my planned camping site. It wasn’t dark yet, but the sun was going down. I thought that it would actually be interesting to do this in the dark with a headlamp on. So I took my time, not rushing. Just silently paddling. A baby moose was eating water plants after a curve. It looked at me and didn’t really mind before it’s mother in the forest took fright and it realized that I might be a danger. I floated by and looked at the mama moose in the forest. We both stared at each other as I went by. I’m always amazed how big of an animal they are when I see them.

I reached a nice fireplace before the dark. The nighttime paddling would be another adventure. I could hear the nearby small rapids from the tent. This was a good wake-up call the next day when I continued, getting to go slightly faster first thing in the morning.

It was a very windy day. All the trees were wobbling and I almost stumbled as well. It was mainly tailwind so it made it easy to advance. I wish I’d had a sail on this boat! Some swans that flew by were struggling too because of the wind. The day was also a bit chillier. But clear. There were signs of the autumn coming slowly. 

The last few kilometres before reaching the main river it got deeper and there were less water plants. I had brought my fishing gear with me and it was finally possible to try fishing on this river while supping. Trolling is my favourite style of fishing because you’re on the move at the same time. It was a bit of a struggle at first but once I got a good stance and enough speed for the SUP it worked! A few perch and northern pike were the catch. There is a different kind of feeling when catching a northern pike when you are on a SUP board. This is definitely my new favourite hobby. SUP fishing!

Fishing has been especially important for all who live along the rivers of Lapland. The dams have made it harder follow on the traditional way of river life. But there still are free flowing rivers and clean ones, too. It is very important that we take care of the rich and vulnerable river nature. It’s everyone’s best interest that the waters stay clean, without fertilizers from forestry or the sewage of the mines. There is so much life along the many rivers of the North. I mean, most of the people live by them as well! Certainly, rivers are important for all life. One way of truly realizing this, is to see it close by. The Amazon of the North is full of rivers to experience all of this.

How to plan a multi-day SUP trip in Lapland

The best time to go is all summer. The early summer, in May and the beginning of June, is free from mosquitos, but there might be strong currents and floods to watch out for. Late summer is good as the water is usually low and the worst biting insect season is over. I don’t see any issues going during fall as well.

It is a good thing to have a wet suit or a dry suit on, or at least have dry clothes with you if you fall. The waters in Lapland are always cold so it’s good to prepare for that. 

Have a good map of the area. With more then one vehicle it is easy to plan the starting and ending points. If that is not possible, you can always ask local tour guides, wilderness lodges and generally just locals, for helping out on the transfer.

Be aware of everyman’s rights and duties. Keep a distance of private property on land and water. Have your wilderness toilet in a distance from the waterways. Respect the nature and take everything you bring into the nature back with you. 

For example the lake Pyhäjärvi in Pyhä region is a good place to try SUP boarding in Lapland. If you are not comfortable with the SUP board, kayaks and canoes are available too. If you have your own board, there are plenty of possible rivers to paddle down in all of Lapland. You can always ask for the possibility of renting a board from the local tour guides where ever you decide to go. An inexpensive way to do a multi-day trip along the rivers is to just buy waterproof bags (they can be low-priced) and rent a board for a few days. You don’t necessarily need a dry suit. Just don’t fool around too much and have dry clothes ready!

In commercial cooperation with Visit Raseborg

Article by Kukka Kyrö

The Embankment Route takes you on an adventure to Fiskars to experience culture and art in many forms. Combining both train and bicycle, it’s easy to embark on it from Helsinki by taking the IC train to Karis. Just remember to reserve a place for your bike in advance to Karis and also for the return trip. The length of the bike ride from Karis to Fiskars and back is 24 kilometres. You can also split it for two days to check out the romantic accommodation available in the Fiskars region.

Length of the route from Karis train station to Fiskars: 12 km (using the same route to return)

Easy route, click here for the map.

You can find the starting point of the Embankment Route on a long map attached to a wire mesh fence next to the Karis Sport Centre. The starting point is just one kilometre from the Karis train station. You won’t get lost, because the Ratakatu Street running parallel to the track leads you directly to the sport centre. The route is marked with brown and white markings, first of which you will find when making your way towards the sport centre.

A resident of Raseborg, Jan-Peter Stenvall, joins me on my outbound trip. He knows all the possible, and some impossible (as far as a Sunday cyclist like me is concerned) cycling routes in the region. The Embankment Route between Karis and Fiskars runs alongside old railroad tracks, as the name suggests. Stenvall tells me that it took a very long time to get the route realized. The project was finally launched by the help of the local Billnäs horse riding club. The club asked the town if they could have a safe riding route at their disposal, and the result was this magnificent lane for light traffic, running through forests and fields, accommodating both horses and bicycles as well as hikers.

(caption) Horseback riders have a dedicated, gravelled lane through the whole length of the route at their disposal.

The first four kilometres from Karis to Billnäs are tarmac, but from Billnäs onwards, it is gravel. The gravel section might be uncomfortable to pedal if you have very narrow tyres on your bike, but most of the time a regular bike is quite sufficient. I have an old trekking bike which works just fine on gravel. After a while, the Embankment Route proves to be an excellent route for Sunday cyclists like me. The tyres roll on so effortlessly, that it feels like I don’t have to pedal at all, when riding on the straight and flat sections. I can follow my progress from the kilometre signs along the route. Several interesting rest stops along the way provide a chance to hop off the bike and cool down.

Even though you could chug on like a train from start to finish, there’s nothing to stop you from taking an extra break off the road. A perfect chance for that is right in the beginning of the route, at Billnäs. Extending on both sides of the Mustionjoki River, the ironworks village provides an impressive milieu for an outdoor snack, for example. Behold and listen to the roaring of the water as it makes its way towards the sea through the floodgates of a magnificent dam. At a certain time of the year, you might also see the fish as they make their way up the fish steps of the hydroelectric plant, and wish them good luck on their journey up to their spawning ground.

The light traffic bridge over the Mustionjoki River provides a great view towards the dammed reservoir of the Billnäs power plant.

If you’re interested in ironworks villages, you might also want to stop by at Åminnefors. If you are not only interested but in love with the ironworks villages, you have seen nothing yet: the Embankment route is part of a longer Ironworks Village Route which boasts five or even six different ironworks villages. My guide Mr. Stenvall is responsible for designing the Ironworks Village Route. In addition to that, he has also designed two other thematic cycling routes for the town: the Castle Route concentrating on castles and fortresses, and the Front Line Route concentrating on war history.

When I said that the Embankment Route as a cycling route is easy, it was almost true, as there is one section that will bring sweat on you. After passing Åminnefors, we arrive at Pohjankuru, where the route runs over a high hill on a long and steep gravel road. “I don’t like this part very much”, says Stenvall when we reach the top of the hill. Luckily, after each uphill, there is inevitably a downhill, and in this case, an equally long one. Rolling down the hill, the sweat dries off and pedalling on feels fun again. When the trains still ran here, obviously they didn’t go up and down the steep slope but rather through a tunnel that goes under the hill. Stenvall says that hopefully one day, the tunnel will be made safe to travel on a bike and attached as a part of the Embankment Route.

As for an icing on a cake, the most beautiful section of the Embankment Route from Fiskars to Pohjankuru, is a gravel road running alongside the shore of Borgbyträsket. Large black alders, oaks and other big deciduous trees border the landscape. I am thinking about what it would look like in the spring when everything is bright green, or in the autumn when the leaves explode in multiple colours. I have to get back here then! Trains still ran here a hundred years ago on tracks that are now gone. A little steam engine called Pikku-Pässi ( Little Ram) used to operate between the harbour and the ironworks, and the tracks were named after it as Pässinrata (Ram Track).

If you want to experience the Embankment Route during the wettest season, you should be aware that the elevation of the route at this section is not much higher than the surface of Lake Borgbyträsket. Last winter, one section of Pässinrata was out of commission for a while due to flooding. In normal conditions, the route is open year round, even in the winter.

A beautiful cultural landscape opens up before my eyes in Fiskars. Every detail seems to be carefully considered. People walking by are dressed so stylishly that I don’t quite know which country I am in right now. Maybe Southern Sweden, as the majestic trees by the riverside would suggest? Or maybe even somewhere in Central Europe?

If you look at the map, the main street of the village seems short. However, as you are on it, time seems to lose its meaning, because you can easily spend several hours exploring it. What the village has to offer owes everything to the numerous artisans, artists and designers working in Fiskars. Thanks to them, many quaint little shops are like galleries – or really ARE galleries. I notice myself holding my breath as I carefully walk among the shelves displaying beautiful glass decorations, skilfully-made ceramics and wonderful wooden utensils.

The fascinating items on display seem endless, and I find myself going over most of the shops twice.

There’s more to see in the ironworks than just the shops and galleries on the main street. My favourite place turns out to be at the south end of the village, next to a building called the Granary. The river at that point flows exceptionally gently, and the tree canopies lean out above the crystal clear water which is so shallow that I can see the sand bottom. Providing a strong contrast, the Granary is an impressive sight to see. Made of black slag bricks, it is a testament to the bygone industrial era, noise of the machines, smoke and long, and heavy work days.

At the opposite side of the village lies the Karin Windnäs’ KWUM Museum of ceramic art. On a bike, it takes only a short while to get there from the Granary. In the summer season, the museum is open every day for visitors. Even the building, designed by the architect Tuomo Siitonen, is a sight in itself.

When I visited the museum, the changing exhibition in KWUM was displaying lovely snowy owl artwork by Kyoung Kim.

There were also works from Margaret O’Rourke on display upstairs. She combines light and almost paper-thin porcelain in her art.

I pedal back to the village from the museum on a gravel road. I relax in a lovely Café Hammarbacken, trying to get my head around the cultural extravaganza I have experienced today. Fiskars is without a doubt a village for those who love art, good food and drink and atmospheric cafés.

The summer season in Fiskars is short, from June to August. The village might be crowded especially on the weekends, but you can try to avoid the crowds by starting early in the morning and/or staying there until the evening. The pace of the village is on the slow side until around 10 AM during summer mornings, and things start to wind down again by 6 to 7 PM when most of the shops close for the day. That doesn’t mean that you have to leave just yet, on the contrary. Why not stay for an hour or two to enjoy some cold drinks on the terrace of Café Bar Pesula, which, by the way, is Bicycle Friendly.

For those who prefer more peaceful times, the ironworks is at its best during the coolest seasons. I find myself already planning to come back here again in the autumn, Christmas and spring. Bear in mind, though, that some of the shops and exhibitions close up for the winter, and others may be open only at certain times. So, please check for the opening hours here.

If it turns out you feel that you can’t get your fill of cycling on the Embankment Route, there’s an extensive MTB trail network in the forests of Fiskars. If you don’t have your own bike or can’t bring it with you, you can rent one at the Fiskars Village Trail Centre.

© Translation Mikko Lemmetti

Kökar is a tiny municipality in Åland. It has only about 240 inhabitants. To get to Kökar one has to take a ferry either from Långnäs (main island) or Galtby (Korpo). The journey in both cases takes about 2,5 hours.

I spend 24 hours on this beautiful island surrounded by the waves of the Baltic Sea.

Here’s what I saw.

Above: Heathers are purple, junipers are green – and the sea is blue. In Kökar this is a very typical view.

Above: It was a beautiful summer day so we went for a morning hike to this beautiful hidden place.

Above: A grass snake came to say hello. Grass snakes are completely harmless.

Above: We found this beautiful secret lagoon and went for a swim.

Above: This is what I saw underwater. There were lots of jellyfish but they are harmless.

Above: There are also forests in Kökar.

Above: Look at those colors!

Above: We also went to see what the local flea market looked like. It’s not everyday you find a seafront flea market.

Above: Buildings in Kökar are typically red and quite small. Looks really nice.

Above: Local dog admiring the sunset.

Useful links for you who wish to visit Kökar:

Ferry timetables and fares

Ålandstrafiken: Kökar

Visit Åland

Article by Kukka Kyrö

A gentle giant lies next to the centre of Lohja, an hour’s drive from Helsinki. Lake Lohjanjärvi is the largest lake in southern Finland. A maze of numerous islands and coves offers places to explore for several days. The lake is the heart of the city of Lohja, and as such, efforts have been taken to ensure accessibility for as many people as possible. If you are a water person, you can hire an accessible fishing boat with a fishing guide or rent a canoe or a kayak or even a paddleboard.

📌 Lohjanjärvi on a map

Kayaking adventure on Lake Lohjanjärvi

The air is fresh and soft after rain. I am getting my red kayak ready at the equipment depot of Aquapro Suomi, a few kilometres from the centre of Lohja. I fix the kayaking route map to the net on top of my kayak, and secure a water bottle next to it. It is Saturday morning. The city is still sleeping while I get inside the kayak, put the spray deck in place and set off to the lake. My kayak glides effortlessly on the dark water. Even the lake seems to be still asleep, hardly managing to make even small waves. Following the shoreline, I paddle towards the city centre, admiring how green the beach vegetation is now in May.

Nature of the shores and islands of Lake Lohjanjärvi is marvellous. Temperate climate and calcareous soil make the plants grow exceptionally well and versatile. For example, different species of orchids and hardwood trees thrive here. The largest island of the lake is Lohjansaari, the home of the famous Oak of Paavola, which has deservedly received a title “The most beautiful tree in Finland”.

After paddling for a few kilometres, I land ashore the Hevossaari Island, on a small sheltered cove. There’s a lean-to, and a strange birch tree, also leaning over the water. The cove has a shallow, sandy bottom, which makes coming ashore easy even for an inexperienced paddler.

Hevossaari lean-to

I am soaking my feet in the cool water. The water glimmers invitingly in the rays of sun shining through the clouds. Too bad that I didn’t take my swimming suit with me. It would have been so nice to go for a little swim.

Lake Lohjanjärvi is a large and reasonably deep lake, so it warms up slowly. However, by July at the latest, it will be crowded by swimmers. Although the water in the lake is dark due to humus, it is still clean and safe to swim. However, sometimes in the summer, there might be blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in the water. Then it’s not advisable to go swimming, because some of the cyanobacteria are toxic. If you are unsure if it’s safe to go in the water, please ask Lohja travel service centre.

From the Hevossaari island, my journey continues along an inlet called Ämmänperse which roughly translates as “Old Woman’s Arse”. What a name! For some bizarre reason, Finns have given many places names which will not be printable here. Cane-grass around my kayak is high. As I paddle along the passage, a single mallard appears beside my kayak, guiding me away from its territory.

In the early summer, nature of the lake is especially sensitive. Birds are starting to nest, and some of the fastest ones already have their hatchlings. Nesting places should be left alone completely at this time of the year. When you are planning to go ashore, try to use places that are intended for campers and have a campfire site, trails and an outdoor toilet, if possible. Nature likes it.

Finland has unique so-called everyman’s rights. They ensure that everyone can enjoy nature, but in addition to the rights, the hiker also has obligations to cause no harm to animals, plants and nature in general.

My next stage is the Kaurassaari Island about 1 kilometre away from here. It also has a lean-to which paddlers and such can use. The lean-tos of Hevossaari and Kaurassaari Islands are owned by the city of Lohja. They have campfire sites for which the city delivers firewood for the summer. Making fire is allowed only at these designated sites, and if the forest fire warning is in effect, you can’t make a fire even at these sites.

Making coffee in a pot and roasting sausages by the fire are age-old camping traditions for Finns. Some believe that it’s not camping if there’s no fire. If you want to ensure that you’ll be able to make a fire, consider bringing your own firewood, because at popular campfire sites the firewood sometimes runs out. Please note that you can’t take any kind of fallen trees to make a fire. Although it might seem logical that there’s no harm taking dead wood, dead wood still has an important role in maintaining biodiversity: many rare species in the forest are totally dependent on rotten and decaying wood.

My trip continues with a little stroll in the vicinity of the lean-to in Kaurassaari Island. Old spruce trees creak in the wind, when I walk to the western beach of the island. There, the mighty Lake Lohjanjärvi opens up. So far, the islands have sheltered me from the winds as I have paddled on my route, and my kayak has faced only moderate waves. Now, I can see whitecaps rise everywhere on the vast open section of the lake called Isoselkä.

As the name suggests, Isoselkä is the largest open water of Lake Lohjanjärvi. On Isoselkä, lies the deepest point in the lake. Called a cryptodepression, the deepest point is 23 metres below sea level, all the way to a depth of 55 metres. For a lake, that kind of depth is admirable. I wonder what kinds of fish lurk beneath the waves. Are the biggest fish there, in the deep dark of Isoselkä?

In Lake Lohjanjärvi, there are over 30 species of fish. Especially sander – or pike-perch – is a coveted fish for many fishers, but also perch and pike are common. The biggest sander caught from the lake so far holds a story that seems pretty far-fetched, but it’s true. The sander was about 15 years old, a little over 1 metre long and weighed about 12 kilograms when it met its match in the form of a fishing boat. The boat collided with the fish, and the collision was so hard that the fishermen thought they’d hit a sunken log. The event has been documented for example in a Finnish daily newspaper Ilta-Sanomat.

As I gaze towards Isoselkä, I see dark clouds building up. Rain is coming, so I get back to the lean-to to eat my lunch and start packing up my kayak. Wind is picking up, and the rain clouds are looming ever closer, so I decide to turn my kayak back towards the place where I started from.

Dark clouds follow me as I paddle briskly back. Ripples swell up to bigger waves, but I am glad that the wind is blowing from behind, giving me much needed assistance. The sky is almost black and blue when I arrive. First drops of rain fall on me as I pull my kayak ashore. As soon as I have started driving back home, it begins to pour. Nature gives me another demonstration of its strength. First, peaceful and serene as ever, and now – completely different.

Tips to experience Lake Lohjanjärvi by water

Canoe and kayak rental: The website is mainly in Finnish, but they also provide service in English. The equipment depot is located a few kilometres away from the Lohja bus station.

Fishing trips: TheraFish. They arrange trips for first-timers and more advanced fishers as well. The Day offline trip takes you fishing on the lake and hiking in the coastal forests. TheraFish is specialized in arranging accessible fishing trips, and they have seats for wheelchair users on the boat.

Stand-up paddleboard rental: Cafe Aurlahti, located by the Lohja city centre. For a more “uplifting” experience, try the flyboard!

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

Article by Tomi Pohja

Have you ever heard of the word Yggdrasil? If you have read fantasy books, delved into old Scandinavian mythology or maybe seen the movie Avatar, you would have come across references to a large and mysterious “tree of life” in one form or another. Then you may have wondered if those kinds of trees really exist. They do.

📌 Parking area for the oak of Paavola: Pietiläntie 23, Lohja

Growing in Lohja, the oak of Paavola reaches for the sky, spreading her branches over a large area and taking the spectator to a place known only from fairy tales and fantasies. I have been visiting the oak at least once a year, because I can’t get enough of it. I have lost count of how many times I’ve made the journey to see the fabled tree. This is one of those times.

Estimates say that the ancient oak is over 300 years old. It grows in Lohjansaari Island, about an hour’s drive from the centre of Helsinki. Driving to the island is an experience in itself, and visiting the site where the tree is, only adds to it. Green landscapes follow one another, and time goes fast by.

We turn from Hankoniementie to Lohjansaarentie. After some old railway tracks by the roadside, the road is lined by countless fields and orchards. Then we move on to Jalassaari Island and after that we cross the bridge to Lohjansaari Island. We can feel that we’re getting close to the oak of Paavola.

There is a boat launching site by the bridge of Lohjansaari Island.

Along the way to the island we have been transported to another world. The sounds of traffic or the city don’t carry here. Instead, the air is filled with the song of at least half a dozen different birds. At this time of the year, the symphony of natural sounds is almost overwhelming.

Soon after crossing the bridge to Lohjansaari, we see the first signs pointing to the oak of Paavola. There’s a nature trail of about 1 kilometre leading from the parking area to the oak. Some might mistake a huge oak growing by the parking area for the oak of Paavola, but that’s not “The” oak. The one and only oak of Paavola is growing deeper in the forest.

Parking is free, and so far there has been room for cars every time I have visited the oak. This time I can see few other cars as well.

On the other side of the parking area, there is an old school of Lohjansaari. It was founded in 1898, and the last classes were held in 2014. In 2018, a café called Ö Cafe was established on the premises. Currently, it’s open on weekends and during the summer. During our visit, however, the café was closed.

If you are planning to come here for a coffee, please check for the opening hours. Please also note that the schoolyard is private property, so if you have no business there, don’t trespass.

The nature trail starting from the parking area goes up to the cliff in front of the school. Already during the first few metres, you get a glimpse of the diverse vegetation that exists on the island. Smaller oaks are also growing in intervals along the path.

Stopping for a while to admire the beautiful colours of the red campion.

After the cliff, the path goes deeper into the deciduous forest, giving us some relief from the heat of a sunny day. Oaks, linden (lime) trees and hazels surround us when we walk on the path, having no worry of getting lost off the trail.

There are also 15 information boards along the trail with facts on the flora and nature of the region. If you take plenty of time to stop on each checkpoint, you’ll get the most of it. Unfortunately, the information is provided in Finnish only.

The 8th information checkpoint says that cones and nuts are important food for many animals.
There are several nesting boxes in the trees, and many birds are indeed nesting, by the sheer sound of them.

A little before the oak of Paavola, the trail turns into a wooden causeway. This is one of my favourite legs along the trail, since I’ve always found wooden causeways somehow intriguing. I feel like rolling on without effort.

On the left, the dense grove of oaks, lindens and hazels gives way to birch trees for a while. This place is at its best in the summer, when the shades of green mix with white, providing a simple but beautiful colour palette.

Eventually, the causeway ends and the path splits in two branches. One of them leads to the oak of Paavola, and the other to the last leg of the nature trail. We are obviously taking the one to the oak.

The path branches off towards the oak of Paavola and to the final section of the nature trail.

When the deciduous forest finally gives way entirely to spruces, we know that we are close to our destination. A little while ago, we saw lilies of the valley and ferns, but there is also a lot of wood horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) around the oak. We haven’t even noticed that we are walking faster now. The oak is clearly pulling us towards it.

I clearly remember how I felt when I first saw the oak of Paavola. At first, I couldn’t believe that it was true. Then, I acknowledged that the tree was actually there and started measuring the height, breadth and girth of it with my eyes. Still, everything about the tree defied belief. Finally, I was so mesmerized by it that I didn’t want to leave its presence at all.

If I remember correctly, this is the sixth time already I’ve been here. However, I still feel the same as on the first time. Standing in the middle of a clearing, on top of a mound, the oak is one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen.

The oak has been so popular that to protect its delicate trunk, roots and other vegetation beneath it, causeways and a fence has been built. According to some estimates, the oak of Paavola is over 300 years old. Some oaks can live up to a thousand years when they are left alone. This tree is protected by law as a natural monument. Moving on the area is restricted, and climbing the tree is strictly forbidden. You must also stay on the paths. Littering and firemaking is also prohibited.

It is not exactly sure how old the oak is, but it is old nonetheless – and beautiful.

The oak of Paavola is so huge that it seems to defy laws of nature. Its limbs reach as far as 10 metres from the main trunk, and its height is about 12 metres. One of the most prominent features is its girth: almost 5 metres. The roots of the tree are in many places visible above ground. By the looks of it, the tree must have been a place of worship during the centuries. However, it’s only a speculation.

There’s something unreal about the moss-covered limbs overhead and the rays of light shining through.

We spend a while in its splendour. Then, it’s time to get back to the crossroads of the nature trail. The oak has nourished our hearts and minds.

After the crossroads, the trail continues as beautiful as before. We slow down to enjoy the atmosphere and wildlife as long as possible.

The scenery changes completely after a few hundred metres. Here is the fruit orchard Fruticetum. The path turns to the right, running alongside the orchard fence for a while until it goes back into the forest. In addition to the birdsong and fantastic flora, the smells feel almost tangible. Air here feels really clean.

Before we get back to the parking area, we spot a dead old oak – impressive as well.

Instead of getting back home, we head to the beach. We have packed our swimsuits and some lunch with us. The heat of the day and almost cloudless sky demand a dip into the clear waters of Lake Lohjanjärvi.

We turn right from the parking area, which is the opposite direction where we came from. The signs by the roadside tell us that it’s about 2 kilometres to the beach. After a while, we see another sign saying that there’s only 1 kilometre left. Eventually, the road ends on an iron bar and to a small, unmarked parking area. We leave our car in the shade of the trees and continue on foot down the gravel road towards the beach. There are also few other swimmers enjoying the hot summer day.

Dipping into the lake in water which is nice and warm, crowns the day already filled with experiences. Fording on the sandy bottom was nice, and swimming was easy. There is also an outdoor toilet and information board on the beach. On the board, you can see how clean the water is and when the water samples were taken.

We packed up our things and headed home. Any trip to Lohjansaari Island is different each time, but always as rewarding. The oak of Paavola is an exceptionally beautiful tree with enormous presence in itself, but the total experience with the lake scenery and nature trail is always more than the sum of its parts.

In addition to the oak, there’s a lot more to see and visit, like the café Ö Cafe, the apple wine farm Alitalon omenaviinitila, the old estate of Martinpiha and the antiquities and green room Antiikki ja viherhuone Elegans. This makes sure that when you’re planning for a trip to the oak of Paavola, you can see much more!

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

Article by Johanna Suomela

Want to get deep in your thoughts and go to a mystic forest? To another world where place and time lose their meaning? Wish to fill your ears with birdsong, sound of the waves and the silent rustle of aspen leaves? Is the green of the hazel bushes and mosses easy on your eyes? Want to taste some natural spring water or maybe descent deep underground? Then come to Lohja! We have all this, and we are close!

In the Lohjanjärvi Lake, the cape Karkalinniemi is a long and slender stretch of land extending southwest. The easiest way to get there is by car. If you are driving from Helsinki, the Turku motorway will carry you smoothly part of the journey.

Even the trip to the nature reserve is an experience. A little gravel road takes you through the cultural landscape, where small farms, meadows, fields and rolling hills alternate. By the roadside, there’s a sign that indicates the end of a public road (“Yleinen tie päättyy”). Don’t worry, though, just take a right turn towards the Karkali strict nature reserve.

It’s early June. A fearless deer is grazing by the road and wonders who is coming here.

It has been an exceptionally warm day for this time of the year: plus 23 C. The heat lingers in the evening, as does the light. A blooming rowan tree welcomes the fried of nature. There’s no-one else around, so we are apparently the only visitors here at the moment.

Nature reserves are normally entirely protected, and they are not publicly open. However, Karkalinniemi makes a difference. You can come to this paradise of hazel groves, if you remember to stay on the designated paths.

Picking berries and mushrooms is not allowed in Karkali, and everyman’s rights are not in force. Making fires, camping and mountain biking is also forbidden. If you want to go swimming, that will be possible only at the designated beach. Please don’t pick any plants or flowers, either.

This paradise welcomes anyone willing to obey the rules of Karkali. It is clear there’s absolutely no littering, too. Please take every piece of trash back with you when you leave. Litter-free backpacking is a must for every self- and nature-respecting person everywhere. Be a smart hiker and leave only footprints behind!

After a hard work day, Karkali provides us a dose of natural green medicine. The strict nature reserve of Karkali is definitely a place worth visiting, as it is one of the finest grove regions in Southern Finland. It is fresh and green everywhere. My restless mind relaxes, and I can almost feel my stress levels going down.

We begin our journey from the right side of the parking lot, and our intention is to walk around the cape counter-clockwise. We have two dogs with us, both of them on a leash. Pets must be kept on a leash at all times in nature reserves and national parks.

Stopping for a drink at the spring

We come across a wooden causeway right at the start of our walk. We have to stop almost immediately at a spring that lies just by the path. The spring is guarded by a tall spruce and surrounded by stones.

Even though there are some needles in the water, I just have to take out my wooden cup from my backpack and taste the water!

I take some water in the cup. The water is completely clear and odourless. It also tastes fresh, and nothing else. It is quite exceptional that in Finland, we can drink good-quality water straight from a spring whereas in many places even tap water is not clean enough for consumption!

The nature trail of Hanski-Hakki, the long beach route – or both?

The size of the Karkali nature reserve is 100 hectares. Protected in 1964, the reserve hosts lush hazel groves, wild moss-covered spruce forests and old pine trees growing on rocky cliffs.

The nature reserve has enjoyed over five decades of peace since the last residents left the place. Most of the evidence of humans is all but covered by nature. Only few stones remain to remind us of the three houses called crofts that used to be here. Old fields and meadows are now forests. The last and final loggings took place in 1950.

The length of the Hanski-Hakki nature trail is over 2 kilometres. Along the cone-marked trail, there are illustrated information boards with interesting facts about nature and animals of the reserve. There are roots and rocks on the paths so they are not accessible, even though the elevation differences are moderate. The path crosses itself a couple of times, and if you have small children who might get easily tired, you can shorten your hike down to half a kilometre.

Along the Hanski-Hakki trail, on the southern edge of the cape, there is a mooring site and a beach. On protected areas, both mooring and swimming are allowed only at the designated sites to protect fragile nature.

Dramatic-looking tree giants are lying down along the longer trail.

On nature reserves and conservation areas, windfall trees can stay where they are. If the tree falls across the path, only a piece of it is cut off to allow passage. Large trees host life even when they are fallen: they provide shelter and food for insects and for birds eating those insects.

The longer trail is marked in yellow on the trees.

In some places, the path branches and might lead the hiker on smaller false paths. If you have a smartphone app with a terrain map or if you can use the map with a mobile browser, that helps you stay on the right route.

The longer western route provides many lovely views to Lake Lohjanjärvi.

Lush groves and high beach cliffs alternate along the route.

The furthermost leg of the long route also takes the hiker to the wetlands.

There are tables for eating packed lunch. One of the tables is located on a meadow in the middle of the nature park. The meadow is kept clear by regularly scything the grass. You can smell the summer in the meadow and see how versatile the flowering is.

On the edge of the meadow, sheltered under the trees, you can sit down and relax on a bench. Although the lilies of the valley surround us with their beauty and smell, we can’t stay for longer but have to get on our way.

We get back to our car, and drive about three kilometres back to the direction where we came from. There’s only one parking area by the road to the nature park. A sign that leaves no room for doubt, points us to the trail that leads to the Torhola cave.

On the opposite side of the parking area, there’s a sign that says “Torholan luola, Torhola grotta”. I think that it deserves to be called a grotto, and not just a “cave”. We head out on the nature trail and remember that this is area is also protected.

The underground realm of Torhola – the largest limestone grotto in Finland

When you arrive at the grotto, you will know. An information board shows you to stop, and on the bench beside it, you can muster your courage or just rest. Impressive moss-covered oak trees stand behind the information board.

We don’t have any other special equipment with us other than a head lamp and rugged shoes. Normally, in places like this, you should have a helmet and clothes that withstand dirt and crawling. Caves also have tight places and passages so that you shouldn’t wear clothes that have hoods and loose pockets that could get snagged. Before you descent into the cave, please remember that you are doing so at your own responsibility.

I am hoping that the grotto of Torhola is so large that even without special gear we can manage, if we are careful. I am a little excited. To be honest, I am a lot excited. I have never been inside a cave? Will it be cramped? Will it be scary?

At this point, you will have no idea what’s waiting downstairs.

We descent into the grotto through the opening on the left. We are now in the “vestibule” or in an antechamber of the Torhola grotto. The grotto consists of three chambers of which this is the first one. I am so excited. What will we find further ahead?
My head lamp illuminates the massive rock walls of the grotto. My goodness what a place! I shout out spontaneously: WOW! This place is so cool and big!

I was expecting a lot smaller and tighter place, but this is awesome and spacious.

It’s also not as scary as I would have thought – actually I want to go deeper.

First impression of the grotto makes me speechless – or makes me want to shout!
No bats in sight, but a spider has her web stretched out for catching lunch.
The hall of Torhola is spacious and the ceiling is high.

We descent further down into the so-called hall, which is the second chamber in the grotto. The walls glimmer in the light what we have brought with us.

The grotto of Torhola is the largest limestone cave in Finland. Water flowing through the cracks in the rock has slowly dissolved the limestone away and formed the cave. It is believed that most of the formation of the limestone grotto has taken place during the last 3000 years. Today, the grotto is not growing in size, as no water flows through the cave anymore. Even it has just rained in Lohja, the floor of the cave remains dry.

The total length of the grotto is 31 metres. Breadth of the cave varies from 1 metre to 6 metres depending on the chamber, and the height from 1 metre to 4 metres.

Glimmering walls of the hall of Torhola grotto.

This place doesn’t feel cramped as the ceiling is high. It is damp, though, and cooler than in the forest outside.

We look around in wonder, and focus our eyes on the furthest corner on the left. If we’d want to make this even more exciting (and had a coverall and a helmet, maybe also gloves) we could go deeper still, into the basement of Torhola. The basement is the third chamber in the grotto. However, we decide that we have seen enough for our first time as cave explorers.

Now I know what it feels to sink into the underground, literally.

Actually, it’s not all that bad.

Outside, the sun has already set. It is time to get back above ground.

There is a big boulder between the vestibule and the hall, but for a person with normal health and sure feet will handle the obstacle quiet easily. Using hands helps.

A steep ascent from the hall to the vestibule.
With good and rugged shoes or boots, climbing up is no big deal.
You can see that even in the vestibule one can stand straight.

When I get to the vestibule, my camera lens fogs up. The air outside is much warmer than the air inside the cave.
After visiting the grotto, we decide to do the whole nature trail. So, we descent steeply towards the shore.

A sturdy rail makes the descent to the shore of Lake Lohjanjärvi safer.

The summer evening is warm and calm, and the sun is setting.

Glancing to the lake past handsome black alders, we enjoy a complete silence. Not a soul is afoot, not even the elusive and endangered elaterid called Pseudanostirus globicollis, found only in the region of the grotto.

We continue walking clockwise on the nature trail through a sloping grove, where white and wych elms grow – among other attractive hardwood species

The end of the nature trail in the reserve rises upwards, but only moderately, being much easier than the one with the guard rails.

We are back on the road and the parking area. My heart is pumping rapidly, but in a good way – I feel invigorated!

It is quite something that we can experience this kind of adventure less than an hour’s drive from the capital!

Life’s little adventures don’t necessarily take an entire day, because there’s a lot of light available in the summer.

More information and links:

There are wooden causeways along the trail, and in some parts the terrain is rocky, so unfortunately it’s not suitable for baby carriages.

Visitlohja.fi

Karkali Strict Nature Reserve

Torhola Cave

Translation from Finnish: Mikko Lemmetti

The Archipelago Ring Road, also known as The Archipelago Trail, is about 200 kilometers in length. No words can describe how beautiful this trail is!

The Archipelago Trail has various ferries and vessels, and most of them are free of charge.

Most people experience this route by car or by bike.

The Archipelago Trail leads you through picturesque archipelago villages as well as beautiful nature.

There’s a number of cabins, guesthouses, hotels, camping sites and restaurants to choose from.

Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit! This trail has some amazing beaches.

There are also beautiful forests. There are some ticks in this area, so it is recommended to wear good shoes, long trousers and shirts with long sleeves when going in to the nature.

The Archipelago Trail starts and ends in the city of Turku in South-West Finland.

This trail is at it’s most beautiful in summer.

Read more:

The Archipelago Trail – homepage