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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 commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Article by Terhi Ilosaari

You turn onto a path that can barely be distinguished from the terrain, leading you into a mystical old forest. Your ride carries you up high, above the scratchy brushwood. You admire the dark scent of autumn, while your horse bows his head to fumble for hay. You marvel at the effortlessly rambling animal as well as the landscape all around you. Somewhere in the distance you can already see a sandy beach and a lean-to, waiting for you to take a break. You’re no stranger to hiking, but taking in the outdoors on horseback is a completely new experience for you.

In Finland, North Karelia is famous for its national landscape seen from Koli, Karelian hospitality, many different varieties of pies and the lyrical Eastern dialect. However, many would be surprised at the number of stables that warmly welcome new riders. If you’ve always thought that riding on horseback in the forest requires many years of practice and circling around a paddock for hours on end, you’ll be pleased to hear that’s not the case! We have listed seven horse riding stables in the North Karelia area, all of which offer forest rides for beginners as well as multi-day horse treks for the more experienced. Most of the stables work together and also offer nights in each other’s cosy lodgings.

1. ElämysMantsi, Ilomantsi

In Finland’s easternmost municipality of Ilomantsi, there is an idyllic country farm whose horses are members of one big farm family including dogs, cats, sheep, rabbits and hens, all living happily alongside one other.

Potential visitors would be pleased to know that most of this stable’s trips are off-road. Relaxed cross country lessons are not merely adapted for, but actually designed for novice riders. Experienced horsemen and women can take part in longer excursions, which may involve spending the night in the woods and riding on the shores of Lake Koitere with its hundred islands, while glancing over at Patvinsuo National Park across the water.

ElamysMantsi.fi

2. Kuivala Icelandic Horse Stables (Kuivalan islanninhevostalli), Vuonislahti

On one of Kuivala Stables’ trips, on the shores of Pielinen

You can already sense how well looked after the farm is when entering the courtyard. This radiates from the main building, which dates back to the 19th century, as well as the dappled chickens and nine Icelandic horses.

All excursions from Kuivala farm venture into the countryside, often wandering up to the shores of Lake Pielinen, which are part of the national landscape. Riders going on these trips are required not only to have mastered the basics of riding but must also know how to respect the surrounding nature.

Those without a car or horse will be pleased to know that you can also get to Kuivala farm by train.

Kuivala.fi

3. Kiies Farm (Kiieksen tila), Nurmes

Rabbits, dogs, cats, goats, sheep, pigs, cows, ponies and, of course, horses, can all be found frolicking on Kiies farm. Finnish horses lead treks on forest trails, in impressive wooded fell landscapes. While the elevation changes might not be daunting for the experienced rider, they do make these trips unsuitable for first-timers.

Experienced riders also have a chance to trot briskly and gallop in certain sections if they so wish. Only two riders are taken on a tour at a time – what could be more luxurious than that!

Kiies Farm on Facebook

4. Paimentupa, Koli

With Koli’s Paimentupa, even first-time riders get to go on a cross country trip. And this is not just any trip, but one that takes place in one of our most stunning national parks. It follows the Kaski trail and goes through the home turf of the Eastern Finncattle. Antti Huttunen of Retkipaikka wrote about his Paimentupa trip:

“The horses found a solid foothold for every step. It was great to witness the precise work of these noble animals. On the way back, further away from the national park, we stopped by another highlight of the trail. We had come to a place where there really was magic: a spruce forest that seemed to be from a fairytale. Spread out at the foot of the handsome young trees was a glowing carpet of moss. A few blueberry sprigs and some May lilies poked out, but otherwise the moss mat continued through the whole forest”.

Paimentupa.fi/en/

5. Heiskalan Hoppala, Liperi

Gustur, Ófeigur, Gaefa, Raudskjona, Nattfari, Teitur aka Töltti-Teppo and many other maned charmers take their riders on trips lasting up to several nights. On Hoppala’s trips, nature is savoured with all the senses, focusing on holistic well-being. Groups are organised by terrain type and rider ability, so riders of all levels can enjoy the experience of touring. After dismounting from our saddles, our rumbling stomachs were quietened with campfire delicacies prepared by our guide and our minds were soothed with forest mindfulness exercises. On treks, riders spend the night in an army tent while the horses rest in temporary fencing.

What if the whole family wants to go on a riding trip? With Heiskala’s Hoppala, a group can also ride off-road, with one on the back of a Finnish horse, another on a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh, and a third person on the back of a gentle Icelandic horse.

Heiskalanhoppala.fi

6. Teija’s lodgings and countryside stables (Teijan Talli)

During the autumn at Teija’s Stables, you can observe signs of the season changing: flocks of migratory birds and wonderful shades of autumn, from the back of a horse on a real western saddle. In winter, glistening snow and the silence of the forest paths embrace the rider, snow crunches rhythmically under hooves in the background.

The stables are home to gentle and sure-footed Finnish and Norwegian fjord horses, who have been trained primarily for cross country riding. An alternative to a forest trip is the stables’ Refresh & Empower programme – focused training for those who want to practice mindfulness and interaction with horses, in the surroundings of nature.

Teijanmajoitusjamaastotalli.com

7. Hepovaara Wellness Farm (Hepovaaran hyvinvointitila), Kitee

Mira of Hepovaara Wellness Farm
You can also meet a mini pig at Hepovaara’s Wellness Farm

The people and animals of Hepovaara Wellness Farm are living examples of their own values: presence, stillness and well-being. In addition to field lessons for beginners and more demanding treks for the experienced, you can also come to the farm to get over a fear of horses. Most importantly, the treks allow you to enjoy nature and interaction with Icelandic horses.

Hepovaara.com/en/

Have you already decided on your dream tour?

Tips for your dream trip to North Karelia

Do you dream of adventuring in the rugged nature of Eastern Finland, with its landscape full of contrasts, while spending nights in cosy guesthouses? Koli’s sculptural snowy trees, Pielinen’s majestic waves, the shimmering autumn colors of Ruunaa and peaceful hiking trails in the wilderness are all waiting for you. You can also find inspiration for your trip on VisitKarelia’s website!

See also

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse tour is a full service cross-country ski tour in North Karelia

The Photographic Playground of North Karelia – Outokumpu

Koli National Park

Translation by Becky Hastings

In commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Article by Terhi Ilosaari

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

Puukarin Pysäkki’s granary accommodation

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

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

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

From Puukarin Pysäkki to Laitalan Loma

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

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

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

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

Lost, but in a good way

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

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

Perfection at the kota

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

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

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

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

To ski or paddle?

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

Our ski track-making machine, luxuriously in private use

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

Ski’s resting in Laitalan Loma’s yard

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

Taken care of by a cranky old woman

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

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

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

The Rhythm of the Track

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

A coffee break with real locals

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

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

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

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

A miserable blizzard

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

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

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

Gentle steam and a cranky woman

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

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

Guesthouse Pihlajapuu dessert

Bomba’s Tracks

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

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

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

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

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

Along Lake Pielinen

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

Männikkölä Cottage´s vatruska rounds in a basket

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

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

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

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

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse route in a nutshell

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

Food is mostly organic and local and of the region.

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

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

From Guesthouse to Guesthouse Tour accommodation:

Majatalo Puukarin Pysäkki

Kajaanintie 844, 75700 Valtimo

Laitalan Lomat

Laitalantie 85, 75710 Karhunpää

Majatalo Pihlajapuu

Salmenkyläntie 81, 75500 Nurmes

Männikkölän Pirtti (in Finnish)

Pellikanlahdentie 1, 75530 Nurmes

Translation by Becky Hastings

Over the last half a year or so, I have been experimenting more with my photography here in the Finnish nature. I’ve focused on big landscapes as well as focused in on the smaller details. My time spent in the forest, on the islands and near the lakes have been nothing short of spectacular. Below are some photos that I’ve taken over the last few months (from around July to December), here in wonderful Finland.

Above: A warm, summer scene within a small patch of bitch trees. Since Finland has many colder months, it almost makes the summer feel more special in a way. I’m lucky in that I enjoy all the variety throughout the seasons 🙂

Above: A sunset in July at around 23.00. This photo was taken along the river Pielisjoki in Joensuu.

Above: Another intimate summer photo. The time spent outdoors around sunset brings some fantastic and eye-catching glowing patches amongst the Finnish landscapes.

Above: Somewhere on an island near Tuusiniemi at around 03.00 in the beginning of September. I made plans especially for this night since it was predicted that the northern lights may appear. I spent the night camping near a summer cottage and was once again blown away by this incredible show of light. The aurora have become really special to me and I’m incredibly grateful to be in Finland so that I may experience them in person.

Above: Another photo from that night.

Above: Autumn. When autumn kicks in, you’ll know all about it 🙂 If I had to pick my favourite season in Finland, this would be it. The golden leaves, foggy mornings and starry nights make it a clear winner in my books.

Above: Trees in the fog on a fresh and crisp morning in Kontiolahti. This morning had an incredibly mysterious feeling to it, and I had to stop several times to pinch myself and check that I wasn’t dreaming 🙂

Above: A view of the treetops on a misty and snowy day. I climbed to the top of a nearby hill to take this photo and really enjoyed seeing the layers upon layers of forest fading into the distance.

Above: An October moonrise with an amazing halo of light above some forest in Joensuu. This is something that I’ve never really tried to photograph but thought it would be interesting to capture.

Above: Some finer details along the floor of an autumn forest. Interesting things may be at your feet 🙂

Above: Misty birch forest.

Above: Another misty autumn scene.

Above: A rocky lake shore in Joensuu at the end of October. No matter what I do with my photography, I always end up back in places like this. There is a sense of tranquility that is hard to find elsewhere.

Above: A November landscape at my favourite local spot. The water has become cold and icy.

Above: Icy patterns on a frozen lake shore. The small details can sometimes be quite interesting as well.

Above: This is my most recent photo from Joensuu (around 3rd December). The lakes are freezing up and creating interesting shapes of ice these days. One has to visit regularly to see all the amazing changes from day to day.

That was it for the last few months in Finland! I look forward to the amazing winter and what interesting photographic opportunities it may bring. Also, I just enjoy being outdoors regardless of whether I have my camera with me or not 🙂 I hope that all of you have an amazing winter and enjoy your festival season.

See you out there!

Article by Onni Kojo

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

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

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

It’s good that we didn’t.

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

In addition to biodiversity, mires are important carbon sinks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus

Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Read more:

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

Spring in my opinion always feels very short in Finland. One minute it’s snowing and the next there’s green everywhere. I’ve been happily taking photos on the lake shores again now that the ice has thawed away. Old and familiar rocks have popped up and have been happy to model for me once again, their stoic expressions unchanged since last autumn. I have also been incredibly fortunate enough to capture some amazing photos from the first storm of this past spring, a memory that I will never forget. Below are some photos from spring.

Above: Out of the winter and into spring. This photo was captured during the early period of spring when the lake had not yet completely thawed. I was so happy to see some nice reflections again in the lake. Things were beginning to wake up and slowly come to life.

Above: A cloudy and windy day in the beginning of May. There were still a few days of snow during that month.

Above: Golden reeds at golden hour along a lake shore in Joensuu.

Above: A fine art landscape from a lovely sunset here in Joensuu. I’ve been happy to get back into these kind of simple Finnish landscapes. The water is always so clean and inviting, despite how cold it can be at this time of the year.

Above: The start of a stormy night. The clouds moved with power and showed their dominance over the evening sky. This photo was taken shortly after sunset. I decided to stick around just in case I could be lucky enough to photograph a great storm.

Above: This was from the same stormy night as the previous photo. The storm came right over me and I was so lucky to capture one of my best images of this year. The timing could not have been better and I was extremely satisfied to capture these two lightning bolts in one photo. This was the first storm of spring and an incredible experience to be a part of. I cannot get over the wonders of nature.

Above: Another photo from the stormy night.

Above: The green has returned! It’s amazing how quickly the scenery changes around this time of the year. This is just a simple image of some birch trees here in Joensuu. It’s gotten even greener since then.

Now that summer is here, the endless nights are here too. I look forward to spending late nights and early mornings exploring in the Finnish nature. It is a blessing to be here and every day brings new possibilities and new sights to see. It’s time to grill, sauna and swim 🙂

I hope that you all have a fantastic summer and enjoy the beautiful Finnish nature!

This past winter here has been a bit different for me in terms of photography. I focused less on creating my more typical landscapes and tried to introduce a more human element into my images. I wanted to somehow show what it feels like to experience the amazing and surrealistic side of the Finnish wintertime. Whether it’s watching the sun go down in the middle of the day, or witnessing my city becoming hidden from snowfall, I had some fantastically memorable experiences this time around, and now I’d like to share a few of these memories with you. Here are some photos from winter.

Above: My favourite local island ”Voiluoto”, sits on the frozen lake in the chilly and fresh weather. I love how soft and calm the scene appeared on that particular day. It was almost like the clouds appeared as markings from a paintbrush pressed flat onto a canvas.

Above: Curves of snow sweep along the lake at sunset. I decided to put myself in the image to show the scope and vastness of the scene. It was really a beautiful moment to behold.

Above: Not my most interesting photo, but I just found it to be a very simple way of showing the snowy treetops on a typical overcast and wintery day here in Finland. I really enjoy the contrast that the snow has with the darker shadows from the trees.

Above: A night spent exploring under the stars at twilight. I was waiting for the sky to get darker so that I could do some astrophotography, but whether you’re into photography or not, I highly recommend having a nice winter walk after sunset. It’s amazing when the last glow of sunlight stretches across the horizon and the stars start to pop up in the sky. Just remember to dress warmly and to take precaution when venturing outdoors, especially on the lakes.

Above: In this image I wanted to recreate the beautiful sense of mystery that the Finnish winter scenery can provide. The frozen lakes and night sky can make a great combination for photography, or even if you just want to experience the other-worldly atmosphere without a camera.

Above: There was one particularly stormy day here in Joensuu. The snow was coming down like crazy and the wind was blowing like mad. This image was taken just outside of the city, showing someone skiing through the stormy conditions. I found this stormy weather to be fascinating, so I sheltered myself under a tree, set up my tripod and took this shot.

Above: Another moment venturing outdoors. The winter weather can occasionally be so wintery that it conceals everything in the distance, making for some awesome and simplistic photography. Just to experience it feels like you are in a dream, or up in the clouds!

Above: Sitting on the lake one night with my lantern. The air was incredibly frosty and refreshing. This image would probably round-up my experience over the last season best. The adventure, moody and mysterious darkness, crisp air and spectacular snowy landscapes all combined to make it a winter worth remembering.

Although the winter is cold and dark, there is a strange and wonderful side to it. There is something special about Finland and its nature all throughout the year, and I think that however you wish to experience it, there is always something special to find or some alluring moment to take in. Now that spring is here and the lakes are starting to thaw again, I can’t help but feel excited for the summer, even though I know that a part of me will miss the ice-cold beauty that winter has to offer. Anyways, it’s all good stuff over here 🙂

Hope that you all had a great snowy season and that you have a fantastic spring! See you out there in the nature.

-Jason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September was amazing and October has thus far been greatly rewarding. Autumn has kicked in, and in my opinion cannot overstay its welcome. Last month I managed to see the northern lights for the first time ever, right here in Joensuu and right above the city. The sunsets have been dramatic and the stars bright. Also, the fog has crept in and turned the routinely visible into the unknown. It’s official, this time of the year is now my favourite.

Here are some moments that I’ve been happy to capture:

Above: Waves crash against some rocks on the shore of Lake Pyhäselkä, Joensuu. The cloudy weather can often bring powerful, dramatic skies to a sunset.

Above: This is a place that I just can’t get enough of. This little island sits just off the shore from Kuhasalo in Joensuu. It’s perfect for if you’re looking to take a good picture. On this particular day the clouds were dramatic, the sun bursted through them and illuminated the island. I also found the green colour on the rocks to be a great foreground interest.

Above: My very first time experiencing the aurora. I went out looking for it, but it was only on my way home that I was treated to a show that I won’t forget. This is not the most amazing photo of the northern lights, but the moment will stay with me forever. The photo was taken in Joensuu, with the church near the centre of the image.

Above: On certain clear nights, the milky way is out to light up the night sky, possibly giving you that feeling of insignificance but simultaneously making you feel immensely grateful to be part of it all.

Above: Onkilampi is a great little lake/pond in Kontiolahti. Every time I go there, this old jetty seems to draw me in. It has a lot of character and appears to have spent its time with many visitors before. This photo was taken on a windy day at sunset.

Above: Another sunset shot on the shores on a lake in Joensuu, Finland.

Above: My second time with the northern lights. I was absolutely amazed at the show I was given. This photo was taken in Kontiolahti.

Above: Autumn has brought with it many different colours. The orange, yellow and red flora starts pop-out and introduce itself in a very bold manner, creating some interesting scenes to take in. Kukkosensaari offers much forest to explore.

Above: Birches lined up in the fog.

Above: A tree in the fog. Finland has been giving me some amazingly foggy scenes to appreciate.

So there you have it. Autumn has so far been fantastic here in Finland. With such a variety of things to see, it makes me wish that winter could somehow delay itself for a little while longer (and I think winter is awesome too). Every day seems full of things to appreciate and photographic opportunities to take. So see you out in the forest and remember to take your camera with you when you go! The Finnish nature is waiting for you 🙂

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Jason Tiilikainen on Instagram

It has been a good summer here in Finland, with lots of warm weather and not too much rain. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to spend some time at a summer cottage in the woods. It also happens to be located very close to an amazing lake. Of course, I always take my camera with. I also spend time in Joensuu and took some photos there.

Above is a photo of mine that most represents my summer this year. It was around midnight, not too dark outside, but just dark enough to make one’s eyes strain while trying to read. The full moon was out, the lanterns were lit, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for a photo. A great time to be in Finland.

Above: A simple sunset in Joensuu. The variety that one gets from day-to-day never disappoints, and I believe that simplicity has it’s place too amongst the more complex sceneries. There are also many shades of orange to appreciate at the right time of day.

Above: A family of trees enjoying an evening at the lake. It almost looks like the one standing alone is contemplating a dip in the water.

Above: Late in the day at the edge of the forest. I often don’t take photos at this time of day, but I just really enjoyed the blue sky and shape of the branches. Nature showing off it’s goods.

Above: Fiery clouds over a lake in Joensuu. The rocks seem to be making their way into the water, each one going deeper.

Above: Unwinding at the end of the day. The wind was blowing like crazy and the glow from the sunlight was intense. Refreshing and almost otherworldly.

Above: Trees glowing in the golden hour. Amazing reflections are a great bonus.

Above: A high contrast, vibrant sunset scene in Joensuu. The sky was wide awake, but the old forest was ready to sleep.

Above: Another rocky shore and of course, another sunset.

I hope that everyone has had a good summer. It’s an amazing time to be in Finland, and it’s also not too long until we get those great autumn colours popping up. Come to think of it, winter is awesome as well 🙂 Enjoy!

Follow me on Instagram: @jason_tiilikainen