Nestled between Finnish Lakeland to the south and Finnish Lapland to the north, Arctic Lakeland is a vast, wild area of pristine taiga forest and azure-blue lakes. From the delights of spring and the endless days under summer to crisp autumns and snow-laden winters with their magical displays of the Northern Lights, it really is the perfect year-round destination. Our very own Pippa McCarthy relives an early-summer journey to the region below.
Tranquil lakes and the Midnight Sun
For a summer visit, Arctic Lakeland is well connected by air to Helsinki. Finnair operates two daily flights in each direction from the capital to the tiny airport of Kajaani, the arrival into which is nothing short of breathtaking. Be sure to grab a window seat for a rare aerial view of the lake-dotted wilderness stretching out for miles. As far as first impressions go, it’s hard to beat.
For the first part of my trip, I stayed at the beautifully tranquil Hotel Kalevala, with its idyllic lakeside location. I was lucky enough to have a Superior Room with lake view, which I’d recommend for making the most of those glorious summer landscapes. The hotel itself is wonderful, with professional and attentive staff, and the excellent restaurant Kanteletar, which serves seasonal, locally sourced food. My favourite was the creamy wild mushroom soup. Delicious!
On the hotel’s doorstep, it’s possible to enjoy a range of activities for all seasons which, in spring and summer, include hiking, boat trips, canoeing, lake swimming and bear watching. For pure relaxation, there’s a wellness area with the obligatory Finnish sauna, a range of massages and an outdoor jacuzzi – the perfect way to unwind in the beautiful, natural surroundings. I was privileged to experience it all, even late at night under the ever-glowing Midnight Sun.
The absolute highlight of my visit had to be the incredible bear watching evening – a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. As an introduction, the visitor centre at Petola features some fascinating displays and an exhibition and film about the region’s indigenous, wild animals – brown bear, wolves, wolverines and even the rare lynx. We then headed to the bear centre itself, located in the heart of the taiga forest, just a 45-minute drive from the hotel. The centre specialises in guided bear watching and photography, with the chance to see these wonderful animals in their natural habitat, from a choice of 29 different hides located in prime, bear-viewing territory. If you wish, it’s even possible to spend the night in a cabin in the forest, adding a few luxuries to your bear-watching adventure.
My trip began when I met our local guide, who gave us a briefing on the importance of keeping quiet and respecting the animals at all times. Of course, a pair of binoculars, a good camera and lens, and plenty of patience are key. We started with a silent walk through the forest to the bear watching house, a small but comfortable enclosure with viewing areas on two levels, all situated on a hill overlooking the forests and lakes with some unbelievable views.
For me, the excitement and anticipation of waiting for the bears was half the thrill, and it was a truly heart-stopping moment when we finally caught a glimpse of one in the distance, close to the lake shore. From then on, the evening just got better and better as we were rewarded with the appearance of a young bear cub searching for food, followed by two large adults making their way slowly towards us - what a thrill. Observing wild brown bears in their natural wild habitat has to be one of my most memorable moments in travel.
A perfect blend of activities & relaxation
Bear watching aside, summer in Arctic Lakeland is a great time of year to participate in a full range of activities, and the second part of my trip – at the holiday town of Vuokatti, just an hour away from Kuhmo – allowed me to experience some of these first-hand. The ideal base is the excellent Grand Hotelli Vuokatti and Suites, situated on the beautiful Lake Nuas and complete with its own private beach and swimming pool. Throughout summer, the hotel offers hiking, canoeing and lake swimming, and has a lovely log sauna. I stayed in a suite, which featured a sauna of its own, as well as a private terrace offering beautiful lake views.
My highlights in the Vuokatti area included a hike through the surrounding hills and forests, a visit and delicious lunch at Haapala Farm with its locally sourced organic food and micro brewery, and an afternoon spent relaxing in the Katinkulta Spa with its variety of pools, Jacuzzis and saunas. My favourite experience was the smoke sauna – a wood-fired sauna, without the usual chimney.
Lastly, to round off my stay in Arctic Lakeland, I was treated to a delicious three-course dinner at the wonderful Restaurant Ainoa, part of the boutique Hotel Aateli – a showcase for the region’s seasonal ingredients and warm, Finnish hospitality. We then wrapped things up with a special visit to the Grand Hotel Vuokatti’s log sauna at midnight with its dazzling views of Lake Nuas, lit up under the Midnight Sun.
My short visit to Arctic Lakeland was a truly incredible experience. With its mix of epic landscapes, delicious food and delightful hotels, I would thoroughly recommend it for a relaxing summer holiday. I will definitely be back to experience it all in autumn and winter, with luck beneath the swirls of the Northern Lights.