RE Finland

Finding Finland

From arctic illusions to culinary delights, the ever-silent Finns still find ways to surprise you

artikkelikuva: Finding Finland

North Remembers as surely as Winter is Coming. One of the biggest media splashes of last winter was the Game of Thrones themed SnowVillage, located in Lainio, Lapland. The Game of Thrones SnowVillage was open from December 2018 to April 2019.

Located north of the Wall – sorry, north of the Arctic Circle – the Game of Thrones themed SnowVillage was certainly a unique magical world made from snow and ice. In addition to a Game of Thrones -themed Snow Hotel – featuring snow rooms and suites – there was also Ice Restaurant and Ice Bar.

Made of 40,000 m3 of snow (meaning almost 400,000 kilos of ice), this winter wonderland of a darker variety took 50 construction workers and a month to build. Featuring exquisite rooms designed by sculptors from around Europe, the SnowVillage soon captured the imaginations of international media such as CNN, Forbes and The Guardian – and left a lasting imprint on the hearts of about 20 happy couples who got married here. (No Red Wedding jokes, please!)

Actually, the SnowVillage has been constructed every year since 2000 – but this was the first time the SnowVillage got “dragonized” in a major way. There’s a sense of homecoming, too: J.R.R. Tolkien leaned heavily into Finnish mythology to realize his legendarium and GoT author George R.R.

Martin is widely regarded as “the American Tolkien,” so this journey into the wild side feels like a familiar fit.

Illusions Go Arctic

This winter, the SnowVillage will showcase something altogether different.

“Theme of this winter is Arctic Illusions,” reveals Destination Manager Jari Porri from Lapland Hotels SnowVillage. “The goal is to top the 85,000 visitors we had last winter – for Arctic Illusions, we have set the target at 90,000 visitors.”

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With Arctic Illusions, the SnowVillage wants to raise the stakes artistically, too. Production Manager Janne Pasma talks about “blurring the senses” of the patrons:

“This winter season we take on an even bigger challenge, entering into the realm of illusions – which requires great vision and precision,” Pasma says. The illusions will be inspired by mythology of various kinds.

Celebrating Silence

Also organized in Lapland, there is a very Finnish festival – this one flirting with silence. Held in early June, the four-day Silence Festival is a celebration of this essential characteristic of the Finnish psyche – as well as nature. Contemporary circus and classical music come together in the riverside Lapland village of Kaukonen, inviting festival-goers to slow down and go native in a beautiful natural setting.

Managing Director Joonas Martikainen reports that in 2019 about 2,500 guests attended the festival which featured 30 individual events. Out of the total amount, perhaps 300–400 people were from abroad.

“Canada, for example, was well represented at the festival,” Martikainen says. According to Martikainen, the focus of the festival – which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019 – is to create a humanto- human platform for meaningful interaction. There is dialogue featured even in the name itself: the word ‘silence’ evokes very different images than ‘festival’.

“For us, the organizers, silence is more akin to a certain mindscape,” Martikainen says, pointing out that everybody has a different definition of silence. “A Finn would approach the whole issue very differently than someone from, say, New York.”

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Wild, Wild Menu

While the peaceful nature is an obvious inspiration for the Silence Festival, you can trust the Finns to immerse their cuisine in nature, too – and Finland has been longknown as a true treasure destination for wild food enthusiasts. Every year, as the winter season turns into spring, local chefs rush to explore the nearby forests, fields and seashores to the fullest. Wild food – berries, mushrooms, wild herbs and vegetables as well as fish, game and reindeer – comes straight from the very heart of Arctic nature.

Seeking a wilder menu is no hipster pastime here: you’d be hard pressed to find a Finn who has not ever been gathering some wild food. Finland’s strong tradition of picking berries and mushrooms is rooted on Everyman’s Right of public access to the wilderness. It is also supported by the ongoing sustainability trend: Wild foods leave a very small ecological footprint.

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Nevertheless, wild cuisine doesn’t exactly mean eating on a tree stump – there are restaurants out there. Sometimes there’s even a rather surprising restaurant scene in a relatively small town. Case in point: city of Porvoo, with its 50,000 residents, has been making culinary waves all through 2010’s.

The Culinary Connection

Sari Myllynen, Travel & Marketing Manager for the City of Porvoo, says that Porvoo – located on the southern coast of Finland some 50 kilometers east of Helsinki – has achieved a snowball effect of sorts, where food-loving entrepreneurs are encouraged to come up with new and exciting concepts and menus.

“It’s a sum of hard work and creativity that is being fed, so to speak, by the pro-food atmosphere in the community,” she says.

According to Myllynen, the local chefs thrive on collaboration and there are joint efforts such as the Smaku Food Festival. Held in August, Smaku offers the people exciting samples from the top restaurants – all in the spirit of delicious fun.

“When there is a lot of supply, that makes it more appealing in the eyes of the public.”

Taste the Difference

According to recent study, international visitors are keen on trying local tastes in the Porvoo- Loviisa Region – and recently, there’s been a big boost in their numbers.

“In 2018, there were 43% more international guests in the region than the previous year,” Myllynen says.

the Porvoo food scene will continue to gain momentum. “The trend will get even stronger and we will see also new restaurants with different profiles making an entrance.”

Text by Sami J. Anteroinen

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