Have you been to Finland? I have been twice before. Once, 19 years ago, at the very start of my travels, I went to visit some fond friends, my Finnish university flatmates who were from Tampere. Last year, I went to Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland and spent 3 days on a reindeer farm. This year, I returned to explore the Southern part of Finland, Turku and the Archipelago Sea and Helsinki.

Finland has 50,000 islands, and 20,000 of them are on the South Western tip near the city Turku in the Archipelago Sea. 150 are inhabited, and there are 16 ferries, 9 of which are commuter ferries, considered an extension of the road. Foot passengers travel for free on them. We hopped between islands before settling on Korppoo where we would spend the night, and the next morning we went on a sculpture walk in the gorgeous and slippery snow. 

Some of the islands are tiny. En route, we stopped at Stentorp, a sheep farm spread over three islands. They also ice fish, as do many Finns, and make traditional fish soup with their catch. Ice fishing is fun and peculiar if you are not used to it. Small holes are drilled in the frozen lakes, they wait a while and try to catch fish with a small rod, if there is no fish, they drill another hole.

They also fish by putting a long net between two ice holes (approximately 120m apart on my visit), and leave it for a while, overnight in our case. The fish weren’t biting much that day, but we caught three pike perch this way. They became a soup, using Vendi’s grandmother’s recipe, with allspice, red peppercorn, dill, leeks, potato, plenty of butter and of course the fish. The secret is to add the fish at the end and never boil it so that it remains tender.

To get to Korppoo we hopped on two ferries, one took 5 minutes, and one just 3. We arrived shortly after at Hotel Nestor, a converted barn which was built originally in 1925, and is now a boutique hotel. We were greeted on arrival by two beautiful ice lanterns on either side of the door, each bearing a cheerful lit candle. Hotel Nestor is gorgeous, minimalist with spots of bright Finnish fabrics and design.

Local chefs cooked dinner for us that evening, a lovely fish soup and archipelago burgers (both fish and lamb – like patties on open sandwiches). Archipelago bread needs a mention, rich with malt and rye, and slightly sweet, almost sticky, it is served with every meal and is quite addictive. I will seek out a recipe for it. You need to try some!

The sauna is a must after dinner followed by a dip in the icy cold frozen sea which had a hole cut in the ice so that you could. The ice is very thick. Usually in the nip, the Finns don’t have our qualms about nudity. Everyone donned their bathing suits and indulged but I didn’t, my skin was inflamed and I couldn’t take it. Sensitive skin and extreme cold means a horrible rash, nothing that tons of moisturiser and proper ski trousers couldn’t help. But I will try the sauna next time. They all said they slept so well after, and felt terrific. It is an essential Finnish experience too, people used to be born in saunas as they were the cleanest warmest place, and they use them often besides. Every house and apartment block has their own. 

The next morning we did the Barefoot Walk by Hotel Nestor, a sculpture walk in the forest. Not barefoot of course, sub zero as it was, but in the summer people do. Artists travel to this island for an Artist in Residence in programme every year, and some create sculptures on the Barefoot Walk which remain after they leave. My favourite was the white Shiver House which was created by London artist Mark Nixon. It was all a bit dreamy, silent save our boot crunch and the enthusiastic scarper of the owners Italian water dog. Just one year old it was her first proper winter outdoors and she loved the snow. I loved her enthusiasm. 

A short video of the Art Walk and general snow high jinks.

I was utterly charmed by the archipelago, I would love to return in Autumn for the berries and the mushrooms or Summer for the midnight sun. How wonderful would that be?

More to come on Turku and Helsinki soon!

With thanks to NBEFinland and Visit Archipelago for supporting my visit. 

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Niamh

Cooking and travelling, and sharing it all with you.
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