Drawing strong influences both from its easterly neighbour, Russia and from its western one, Sweden, Finland remains one of Europe’s most enigmatic countries. It’s a land best known for its laconic, pithy people with a penchant for kicking back in a sauna au naturel, for its bizarre annual festivals and for creating those quirky, hippo-like fairytale characters, the Moomins – its strangeness is a good part of the country’s charm. The Finland you encounter will depend on the season of your visit, but whatever the month, there’s something pure in the Finnish air and spirit that’s vital and exciting.
With towering forests speckled by picture-perfect lakes, as if an artist had flicked a blue-dipped paintbrush at the map, Suomi offers some of Europe’s best hiking, kayaking and canoeing. A fabulous network of national parks has well-marked routes and regularly spaced huts for overnight, and you can observe bears and elk deep in the forests on nature-watching trips. Finland isn’t just vast expanses of pristine wilderness. Vibrant cities stock the country’s southern areas, headlined by the capital, Helsinki, an electrifying urban space with world-renowned design and music scenes.
Embraced by the Baltic, it’s a spectacular ensemble of modern and stately architecture, island restaurants and stylish and quirky bars. And the ‘new Suomi’ epicurean scene is flourishing, with locally foraged flavours to the fore. Beyond Helsinki, Tampere and Turku, in particular, are lively, engaging cities with spirited university-student populations. Winter has its own charm as snow blankets the pines and lakes freeze over. The best way to banish the frosty subzero temperatures is to get active. Skiing is great through to May. Other pursuits include chartering a team of dogs, a posse of reindeer, or a snowmobile for a trek across snowy solitudes, lit by a beautiful, pale winter sun; catching the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) after your wood-fired sauna; drilling a hole for ice fishing and spending a night in a glittering, iridescent ice hotel.