#Helsinki, little St. Petersburg
Helsinki, at the crossroads between northern Europe and Russia, is remarkable for its neoclassical architecture which, like St Petersburg, is the work of the architect Engel. This 19th and 20th century architectural movement, which advocated a return to simplicity, explains the presence of imposing coloured buildings - ranging from light blue to pale green, pink, yellow and grey! -Not very busy and rather solemn, far from romanticism and rococo style. But Helsinki is also a rich city that is full of colourful and lively markets, including the port market on the Gulf of Finland, cafés with sunny terraces in summer, concerts in the open air and parks by the sea. Historic sites are the occasion for beautiful excursions such as the superb fortress island of Suomenlinna or the small town of Porvoo.
The Lappish adventure :
Lapland is a mythical region, buried under the snow in winter. Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, a few kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, has an exciting museum (Arktikum) dedicated to the Arctic peoples, including the Sámi, the only indigenous people in the entire European Union present well before the borders between neighbouring countries. The Sami Parliament is located further north in Inari and is the ideal place to discover this unique culture a little better, thanks in particular to the Siida Historical Museum and the Sajos Cultural Centre. In summer and winter, travelling to Lapland is an adventure: rafting on cold and tumultuous waters at thaw or temperature shock: 80 to 100 °C in a sauna and - 20 °C outside. We go there to experience the Far North, under the midnight sun or under the permanent night. Lapland is also home to the most famous of Finns, Santa Claus and his reindeer herds!
The archipelago with 40,000 islands
On the southwest coast, Turku, the former historic capital at the time of Swedish domination, is surrounded by an archipelago of several thousand islands: 40,000 islands of all sizes, from Turku to the Åland Islands (almost 6500 islands). Unique in Europe, the archipelago also benefits from the best sunshine in the Nordic countries! It is the ideal place for cycling holidays, discovering the pink granite islets, the oldest churches in Finland, and all this through gently rolling landscapes. This wide choice of charming and easily accessible destinations also allows easy ferry access to its neighbouring country, Sweden.
The Land of the Thousand Lakes
Nicknamed the Land of the Thousand Lakes, Finland has some 187,888 of them, a real blue labyrinth of lakes, islands, rivers and canals interspersed with forests. It is the eastern part of the country, well known as the Great Lakes region, which is the most famous, from Lake Saimaa to the city of Kuopio. This widespread phenomenon covers about 25% of the region's territory and can be explained by the periods of glaciation that covered the whole country and then their gradual decline giving rise to moraines. This is the opportunity to board one of the many cruise ships to discover the incredible beauty of this magical and peaceful region. In winter, the lakes freeze, offering natural skating trails. We call "black ice", the ice still transparent (we see the dark water under his feet and even the fish swimming)...
Nature and outdoor activities
In Finland, nature is omnipresent: vast forests, lakes and rivers, islands and hills. In both summer and winter, Finns enjoy this nature. A wide variety of activities await you: canoeing or fishing on one of the countless lakes, cycling or hiking in the many national parks, but also golf, bird watching, rafting. Winter sports offer the opportunity to enjoy sliding, skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, sledding or snowmobiling on the country's thousand frozen lakes in a breathtaking setting. Finland is also the land of choice for Nordic skiing, which attracts cross-country skiers every year...
Withdrawing from the world in a mökki (chalet)
The relationship with nature being essential for the Finns, they love to escape the stress of the city for a retreat in the middle of nature, in a mökki. There are more than 600,000 of them in the country, with one currency: the simpler, the better. Finns prefer a wooden cottage - often by the lake with a fishing boat - with just electricity and sometimes even without running water. The main one is the presence of the sauna and the calm. This concept is the basis of Finnish culture, a kind of return to the roots, to nature and to a simple life. About half of Finnish families have their own mökki and it is also very easy to rent one. It is difficult to understand the Finns without having had this magical experience far from the hubbub of cities.
Finland is not only a wild territory full of wilderness activities. A number of energetic cities are scattered all over the country with Helsinki at the top of the list! The capital is famous for its artistic scene, especially music with its many world-famous metal concerts and its Museum of Design and Contemporary Art. Known as a gastronomic city at the forefront of new Finnish cuisine, your palate will be delighted with its Michelin-starred restaurants ranging from Nordic tapas to simple and delicious dishes made with smoked fish, Arctic blackberries or other specialities. Turku, Tampere and Oulu in the west of the country are attractive cities because of their student life and their many activities (markets, museums, cafés...).
The magic of the midnight sun
Summer, as short as it is intense, transforms nature in a few days. The population also seems to be reborn; everyone welcomes the midnight sun with joy and enthusiasm. The energy of the Finns is reflected in the whole population. They can't tell you enough: "We'll have plenty of time to sleep later. "The world of forests and lakes magnetizes the hiker, irresistibly attracted and captivated by an indomitable and powerful nature. If the summer day is just very long in Helsinki (18 hours of daylight), the midnight sun is really observed in Lapland, between June 6 and July 7 in Rovaniemi located at the level of the polar circle: the sun goes down to the horizon, it is dusk... and resumes its course in the sky without disappearing, it is already dawn !
The Polar Night and the Northern Lights
Imagine a bluish winter whose polar night is draped in northern lights. A magical ballet of light in the winter sky. A winter with a magical atmosphere, where white and silence cover the country's vast forest areas, tunturis and Lappish tundra. The land of trolls and Santa Claus knows how to alternate pleasures. Feeling almost strange that this time that stops, as if it were also plunged into hibernation. However, darkness does not prevent activities, quite the contrary. The thick snowpack will arouse skiers' enthusiasm. Some will even try pulkka rides, these sleds harnessed to reindeer or excursions with sled dogs or even horses. The inhabitants will also welcome you around a mulled wine, glögi, to celebrate a Pikkujoulu (Little Christmas) around Christmas.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette