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Discover the winter wonderland of North Karelia in Finland

Discover the winter wonderland of North Karelia in Finland

North Karelia is a region steeped in culture and unspoiled natural beauty as our travel and food writer, Baldwin Ho discovers.

January 30th, 2023

If you are looking for a holiday in an area of pristine, stunning natural beauty, somewhere with a slower pace of life and incredible food traditions then North Karelia is just the place for you. It is in the easternmost part of Finland with over 2,200 lakes and around 24,000-holiday cottages. This is where local Finns escape for their staycations.

Discover Karelian roots in Lakeland Bomba

If you want to appreciate Karelian architecture and tradition, your first stop should be Bomba House in Bomba, Nurmes. The ornate house is a replica of a famous building in Russian Karelia and now houses unique exhibitions of Karelian culture. The whole village consists of numerous buildings including hotels, restaurants and chapel along with breathtaking views of Lake Pielinen. The lake is the 4th largest in Finland and a diverse fishing destination. You can attend a Karelian pastry-making workshop in the local area with the likes of Äksyt Ämmät, who not only provide cookery classes but also eco-friendly sporting adventures like guesthouse biking tours.

A musical genius at work

The awe-inspiring scenery in this region is a catalyst for many artists' greatest triumphs. Hence, it is no surprise you'll find celebrated cellist, Jussi Makkonen living in Nurmes. One of the most unique experiences is enjoying a private concert in his cultural home. He's performed in the finest of auditoriums across the globe but there is nothing quite like tuning into his melodic sounds in the comfort of his living room. And enjoying breakfast cakes and pastries lovingly prepared by his wife. Check his website to see when he's running these regular monthly concerts.

Be inspired by nature at Koli National Park

Jussi specialises in playing music from Jean Sibelius, widely regarded as Finland's greatest composer. The fourth symphony of Sibelius was inspired by the composer's hikes through Koli National Park. The Tolkienesque scenery with rolling hills, snow-capped trees and blissful serenity always instils a sense of amazement every time you visit. You can go snowshoeing and hiking up the peak to enjoy uninterrupted views of the remarkable landscape. You can live the traditional Finnish countryside lifestyle by visiting Korvenkoda, which is literally in the middle of nowhere in the national park. Here you can experience an authentic Finnish smoked sauna and then go for an icy dip into Lake Pielinen. Dinner is courtesy of freshly caught pike perch from the lake, which is cooked over a wood fire and in a candle-lit setting. There is no electricity on-site for this back-to-basics experience.

Biathlon - one of the fastest-growing sports in the Nordic region

If you are up for more thrills than just a sedate hike, then head down to Kontiolahti Biathlon Stadium. Biathlon is a winter sport that combines the endurance of cross-country skiing and the precision of rifle shooting. It is a hugely popular and rapidly growing sport in the Nordic countries. And even as a tourist, you can experience the joys of biathlon. Alternatively, you can partake in each component separately or take part in other active sports like cross-country fat-biking. The stadium is surrounded by impressive pine trees, rivers and lakes and is a haven for outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Botania - a tropical garden in the forest capital of Europe

Who would expect a luscious tropical garden in Finland this far away from the equator? Well, this has all been made possible but the quirky genius that is Kari Kola. When he is not busy being a light artist across the globe over major historic monuments like Stonehenge, he can be found in Botania. Currently, he's launched his winter garden special exhibition consisting of life-size Easter island statues created on a 1-1 scale. There is a remarkable exhibition space with butterfly-themed ice sculptures. And his tropical greenhouse consists of exotic plants like banana plants which you would never normally spot in Finland.

Where to stay

Sokos Hotels is the leading hotel brand in Finland and they reliably have outposts in both Bomba and Koli. The Break Sokos Hotel Bomba is particularly impressive with exceptional spa facilities including outdoor jacuzzis where you can admire the snowy scenery. They have 3 types of saunas: Karelian, Finnish and steam. Restaurant Bomba serves exceptional seasonal cuisine sourced from the surrounding regions. They are planning to offer a tasting menu with berry wine pairing courtesy of Valamo monastery nearby. Dishes make fine use of local ingredients including the likes of sunroots with crayfish and sugar-salted pike perch. Whilst their hotel in Koli is right in the heart of the national park and makes the perfect base to explore the unspoiled countryside.

In Joensuu, you should consider booking into Lietsu Boutique Aparthotel. This charming accommodation is like a home away from home. Each room is uniquely decorated and celebrates Karalian culture. Whilst their buffet breakfast is filled with local offerings like different types of Karalian pastries. The rooms are equipped with a fridge, cooktop, dishwasher and washing machine so you can feel very much at home when you stay at Lietsu.


Baldwin Ho

Baldwin Ho

An intrepid adventurer and foodie, Baldwin is always on the lookout for latest trends on the culinary scene as well as pushing himself out of his comfort zone in trying out new activities. He has a particularly keen interest in food and travel photography.