Finland, the Happiest Country in the World

Interview with Annie Ewing, Away by TTI Travel Advisor

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS DESTINATION?

Our Nordic partners 50 Degrees North invited me on a FAM trip to experience Finland, a country that was mostly on my radar as a winter wonderland (think igloo hotels in Lapland). Travelling in September was a chance to see it in late summer with a whole new vibe.

WHAT WERE YOUR HIGHLIGHTS?

After starting in Helsinki, the quirky capital, we spent the bulk of our time in Lakeland. The name says it all; this central province is a veritable Swiss cheese of fresh water. Our focus was the vast Lake Saimaa. It measures almost 200km from end to end, and is so jagged-edged that it has more coastline per area than anything else in the world. We visited several hotels in the region. A few are best described as upscale-summer-camp-meets-Drake-Devonshire. Each property was packed with character and local culture, with a heavy focus on the outdoors.

 

MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE? 

Finland surprised me with some of the best meals and drinks I’ve ever had on a trip. The local growing season is even shorter than in Canada, driving the Finns to get creative with cooking. Lakes are plentiful, so fish can be caught and plated on the same day. Foraged mushrooms, berries, and other woodland ingredients lead to wonderful blends of sweet and earthy flavours. We were taken on a foraging excursion through the forest surrounding Hotel Punkaharju, a lodge run by Finnish supermodel Saimi Hoyer. Their in-house biologist taught us the basics of recognising different mushroom varieties, even crawling through the moss to reach particularly exciting ones. The hotel then served a multi-course meal featuring some of the day’s finds.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR ITINERARY? 

We flew Finnair business class to Helsinki, where we spent a couple days exploring the local architecture (eclectic), restaurants (divine), and hotels (delightful). From there we flew north to Kuopio and the famous spa resort Hotel Jarvisydan. Sleeping in their wooden igloos with glass ceilings and a fireplace is as cosy as it gets. From there we meandered south to visit several hotels, the medieval Savonlinna Castle, a fabulous forestry museum, and we soaked in as many lake views as possible. Then back to Helsinki for one last crayfish dinner before heading home.

WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST?

At one spot along Lake Saimaa I couldn’t believe how much it felt like Muskoka. The water, the mix of evergreen and deciduous trees, the exposed bedrock… and even cottages! The Finns love their lakeside wood cabins, and particularly their saunas. There are more saunas than families in Finland. Despite the similarities to Ontario, you get the added joy of the local culture, the midnight summer sun or the Northern Lights in winter, and you can witness how this region is taking a stand on sustainability with electric speedboats and conservation laws.

Photo courtesy of Kakslauttanen and Annie Ewing.

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