Finland is Europe’s northernmost country, sharing a border with Norway and Sweden to the west and Russia to the east. A vast wilderness of mighty rivers and Arctic tundra makes up the quarter of Finland that lies above the Arctic Circle. To the south-west, neat farms punctuate the flat coastal plain bordering the Gulf of Bothnia. Eastern Finland is the country’s playground, a rolling landscape of hills, lakes and forests dotted with small summer cottages. The major towns, including Helsinki, dominate the more populated south. From here the Åland islands stretch like jewels across the Baltic Sea to Sweden.
Start your city breaks in Finland in Helsinki with a boat trip out to the 250-year- old island fortress of Suomenlinna. Then take in the Design District’s exciting contemporary shops and museums. Stroll past the old buildings, cathedral and imposing castle in the city of Turku along the Aura river. Tampere’s lively cultural life centres round the regenerated Finlayson Cotton Mill complex. The cobbled streets and one-storey painted wooden houses in the ports of Porvoo and Rauma are remarkable survivors from the past. Take in the architecture of the Modernist master Alvar Aalto in Jyväskylä.
Hiking trails lead walkers along causeways and past the rapids of the great rivers in Arctic Lapland. The magnificent wild landscape is magically transformed in winter when husky and reindeer teams speed along the white trails. The lakes and rivers of Lapland and eastern Finland are heaven for fly fishermen after pike and perch; in winter try ice fishing, skate or cross-country skiing over the frozen wastelands. Near the Russian border’s dense forests, the persistent might catch sight of some of Finland’s 1,000 brown bears. Sail out of Helsinki to the 6,500 rocky Åland islands. Alternatively, catch a ferry to an island, hire a bicycle and truly get away from it all. Wherever and whenever you are, a sauna is a must, preferably followed by a dip in a frozen lake.
Wander among the farmsteads, barns and manor houses at Seurasaari open-air museum to appreciate Finland’s harsh rural life over the centuries. Fast-forward to the early 20th century and the stirring, nationalistic music of Sibelius, much of it composed in the peace of his house, Ainola. Sibelius, Mahler and Gorky were frequent visitors at Hvitträsk, the log and stone house built in the National Romantic style and shared, somewhat unconventionally, by the architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen and their families in the early 1900s. Take the family to Rovaniemi where Santa Claus and his reindeer live all year round.