I love London, but man it can grind you down. The dirt, the people, the noise. It’s unrelenting. Sometimes I crave lush pine forests, clean air and only the sound of birds tweeting in the trees. It sounds like a fictional place, but a few summers ago I found out this Disney-eque utopia exists, and it’s called Finland.
I had never been to Scandinavia before, but have always very much wanted to go. Andrew had been many, many times in his childhood however because he’s part Finnish. His summers were spent frolicking on a private island in the Finnish archipelago, living without electricity and having to use underground cellars to keep food fresh. Boiling himself silly in saunas and then jumping in the fresh, inky sea.
I wanted a slice of it, and so did the rest of Andrew’s family. So we packed our bags and headed to Helsinki in mid-August for some wholesome family fun.
We hired a car from Helsinki (v organised, good car) and drove straight out to the Hitis archipelago, which lies in south west Finland. The drive was beautiful – like a Volvo advert (on-brand there). Huge pine trees and lush greenery lined the almost car-free motorway the whole way down. As we got closer to the sea we started to drive on bridges over wide stretches of tranquil waters. Cute little Finnish summer houses dotted the shores, but nothing was overdeveloped. I could feel myself physically relaxing as I sat in the passenger seat.
We got to our first stop in Finland in mid afternoon, and met up with Andrew’s parents and his brother (Will) and sister-in-law (Sophie). We were making Kasnas our home for the first few days. The accommodation was perfect – pared back, but clean and with ample facilities (swimming pools, saunas, a mini golf course). The food in the restaurant was awesome too, serving traditional Finnish fare. I loved their soups, which is a weird thing to like I know. But they served this mushroom soup (mushrooms are excellent in Finland, and come in a huge range of varieties) that was smooth and creamy but with a rich, earthy mushroom undertone. They also did an amazing lobster bisque, which was heavenly.
After our first meal, Andrew, Will and I decided it was time for a dip in the sea. We quickly changed into our swimming stuff and sprinted down the elevated jetty, jumping into the icy sea as dusk started to cloak the skies. It was the perfect way to christen the holiday, and it felt like all our worries washed away in the sea. After a frolick in the sea, we decided to head to the on-site saunas.
Saunas in Finland tend to be segregated unless they’re in a private home. This is because everyone does their sauna-ing naked. It’s seen as a bit unhygienic to go in in swim suits, and also if everyone else is naked it’s a bit rude to cover up? We actually had the sauna to ourselves that first night, so we wore our swimming stuff. In one sauna was me, Sophie and Andrew’s mum and in the other was Will and Andrew. We shouted through the walls to eachother, and met outside on the deck to drink beers and cool off as night fell.
We spent a few days idling around Kasnas, relaxing and sunbathing. Jumping off the jetty to cool off, spending hours trying to complete the mini golf and getting a bit sunburnt in the process. It was lovely. We ate in the restaurant every night as there was no one else to go – it was totally in the middle of nowhere, and we were happy doing that anyway.
On the third day we drove to a tiny ferry port and caught the boat over to Högsåra, which is a tiny village across the water from Kasnas. Here we met some dear friends of Andrew’s family, including Goran. Goran owns a small island off Högsåra, which is the one Andrew spent a lot of his childhood summers. I’d heard so much about “Goran’s Island” over the years, and finally I was getting to go. We got in two dinghies from Goran’s mainland home, and went over to the island. It was perfection. There were two small wooden structures that Goran had built himself. Inside was simple accommodation in a sort of bunkhouse style, as well as a large fire place. We sat around the fireplace (for the weather had taken a turn for the worse) and drank beers with the family.
After our stay in the archipelago, we all packed up our hire cars and drove to Turku, which is a southern Finnish city that is one of the cultural hearts of the country. In the summer the city comes alive with jazz festivals and tall ships pass through the harbour. We stayed in the city, which is actually no larger than a medium-sized town, for a few days. We shopped till we dropped in Marimekko and Iittala, and ate in restaurants on boats that line the Aura River.
After a few days in Turku, Will and Sophie made their way back to England, as they were going back a bit early. Meanwhile, Andrew, his parents and I loaded up the car and drove to Helsinki. We were staying with a friend of the family, Tiina and her wonderful family. It was so nice to stay in a Finnish home and talk to Tiina and her husband Jukka about life in Finland, as well as putting the world to rights over the incredible (and I mean incredible) dinners Tiina cooked for us.
Tiina and Jukka built their beautiful home from scratch, and it’s sat on a natural spring, so all their water was fresh spring water. They also have a gorgeous sauna, so after dinner and wine one evening, Andrew, his parents and I piled into the sauna and I finally had my first naked sauna. It was an initiation!
On our last day we went with Jukka to Lake Hvitträsk, which is near his house. Finland is called The Land of a Thousand Lakes for good reason – as you fly into Finland you realise there’s almost more lakes than land in the country. Jukka goes wild swimming in this particular lake often, and it was easy to say why – it was stunning. There was no one else around aside from a few fishermen on the opposite shore, the spring-fed lake was so clear and we were able to jump in and frolick as if it was our own personal lake.
And so we ended our trip as it began, it the beautiful waters of Finland. We packed up one last time and headed to the airport. I’d had a marvellous time, and my sorrow at leaving was only tempered by the fact that I knew I’d be back. Having Finland in our family heritage (for soon we will be a family ourselves – even if it does just number two) is something I’m so proud of, and I can’t wait to go back and celebrate it again and again.