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As myself and the other diners were enjoying the last mouthfuls of a delightful meal, the chef appeared. He told us he was now leaving to prepare coffee, and he would see us by the beach in half an hour. It was just one more memorable moment from a trip full of surprises.
The region of Western Uusimaa lays a short drive from Helsinki, on Finland’s southern coast. It’s a gently undulating landscape of sprawling pine forests, rich green pastures, and a vast archipelago ebbing into the Baltic.
Tourism here is still in its infancy, but that’s the perfect reason to visit now. You can still walk unhindered by souvenir sellers, see places of interest without queuing, and cruise the lakes with the risk of a sail-
This is not the place to come if you’re seeking big glitzy attractions, a buzzing nightlife, or everything slick and streamlined. This is the real Finland. Traditional red painted wooden houses, with their details picked out in contrasting white, nestle, half hidden amid the trees. In the towns, more wooden buildings huddle together, their pastel colours adding the relaxed atmosphere.
Everything is so quiet, so unhurried, like time doesn’t matter. It’s hard to believe this is the same country that has bred so many top motor racing and rally driving champions, used to tearing through these forests at breakneck speeds. Indeed, beside the marina at Inkoo lies testament to the success of one. Double World Champion Marcus Grönholm lives in the town, and has built an impressive new shopping centre and gymnasium, all from wood of course. Nearby, the attractive church, with its separated bell-
After the Second World War, a sizeable chunk of this district was leased to the Russian military. It was supposed to be for fifty years, although due to the easing of tensions in the region, it lasted only until 1956. It has left a lasting legacy, however, with much evidence of the 30,000 or so Russian personnel who were based here. A small but fascinating museum at Degerby houses many artefacts from that time. The enthusiastic owners are only too happy to pass on their extensive knowledge, and are still actively seeking more memories from those involved at the time.
Of course, many people coming here will do so with the intention of sampling the great Finnish passion for the outdoors. There are plenty of opportunities to get active, no matter what your age or physical abilities.
Equestrian passions are catered for in style at the Aktiivitalii (Active Stable). A sizeable new indoor arena now compliments the well-
Close by, at the Nordcenter Golf and Country Club, the Championship Course slopes gently down to the sea, creating a light and airy feel to the course. The clubhouse is a delight, and the rented accommodation is now available for those wishing to linger.
If horses and golf are too gentile for you, then head down into the Purnus river valley for some serious action and adventure. A quiet stroll through the forest becomes a lot more entertaining when you are suddenly confronted by a string of high wires and log walls. First appearances are daunting, even terrifying, but with expert guidance from the SE-
Later, when your legs are tiring, and its time for a sit down, lower your backside into a canoe for a trip down the river. After a brief instruction session you’ll be gliding serenely along the peaceful winding course, with just the birdsong for company. Both experienced canoeists and novices will enjoy the experience, as you brush gently past the overhanging trees and tall swaying reeds. After a while the river opens out into a broad lake, signalling the closeness of your destination.
That destination is the Artalli restaurant. It’s a pleasant family run concern, in a perfect setting on a ridge overlooking the lake. A variety of fish are caught freshly every day, and while you make use of the sauna to recover from your strenuous day, they are slowly smoked outside in a traditional Finnish way. The result is one of the most exquisite meals you will ever taste. Owner, Roope, and his team have a wonderful attitude, giving you a feeling more akin to an evening with friends, than a commercial restaurant.
If the canoeing has whetted your appetite for being afloat, then a boat trip to explore the archipelago will be a delight for your senses. Cruising the deep blue waters, amongst the mass of small, forested islands, it’s easy to let your mind just drift. Catch glimpses of the stylish wooden houses, secreted behind the trees, many belonging to Finland’s celebrities and well-
Our boat was heading for Ekenas, an attractive small town with a stone church tower dominating the skyline. It is a particularly fortunate settlement, since King Gustavus Wasa founded it in 1546 with the intention of becoming a major trading city to rival Tallin. However, soon afterwards Helsinki was also born, and its better location soon saw it take the lead as the more important city. So Ekenas remains small and quiet, with the pleasure boats bobbing in the harbour, and pastel coloured slatted wooden houses lining the narrow streets.
On the jetty is a visitors’ centre highlighting the history and culture of the archipelago, with photos, information, and a small museum. Naturum is housed in a 160 year old traditional red and white building, that itself has an intriguing history. Beginning life as a customs house, it has served as ironmongery, and later as one of Finland’s best-
On the opposite side of the jetty is an equally well know restaurant. The story goes that in 1867, Mr August Ferdinand Borenius had his request to build a restaurant in the town rejected, because there were apparently already too many ‘sinful’ premises on the towns’ lands. So, defiantly, he built it on stilts out into the sea, where it stands to this day.
The restaurant became incredibly popular, and for a while was actually richer than the town itself. The memorable views across the shimmering waters are the perfect accompaniment to the succulent temptations of the menu.
Ekenas is now part of the city of Raseborg, and the two now offer a good deal of sports and activities to visitors. Modern, well equipped, sports centre, Nordic walking, sailing, cycling, and swimming, are just some of the pastimes available.
Elsewhere in the region there are signs of the future, as entrepreneurs strive to create new attractions. At Billnas, for example, a sprawling factory complex of a former ironworks is slowly being transformed into a multi-
And so, we left our table in the beautiful historic Westerby Gard hotel, full and content after another superb example of Finnish cuisine. Ambling past the local craft centre, through the forest, and down to our coffee by the beach, there was time to reflect on the great potential this district has. We sat on logs around a lively open fire, overlooking a gently rippling sea. A pair of local musicians gently sang Beatles songs to a Finnish folk beat, and the midnight sun began to slide silently behind the rustling pine trees.
Western Uusimaa is a unique region to visit, but its true beauty is in its tranquillity and the unspoiled nature. If you’re planning to come here, then best do it soon... before everyone gets to hear about it!
Vasterbyntie 95, 10210 Inkoo, Finland
+358 9 295 2589
Set amid beautiful rolling countryside, a short walk from the sea, this is a perfect Finnish hideaway.
The main building is a converted farmhouse that dates from the 19th Century. It’s red and white wooden construction is typical of this region, adding to the homely feel of this family run hotel.
Across the way is the accommodation block, which matches perfectly despite being built very recently. The ten rooms are each individually decorated, and with shower, toilet, TV, and free Wi-
As you’d expect in Finland, there is a sauna, plus showers and a jacuzzi.
It’s a delightful place to stay, and the friendly staff really do make you feel especially welcome. In the restaurant, already a popular local establishment even before the hotel was opened, there is top class Finnish and international cuisine. To compliment the attractive informal dining room, a lounge, complete with grand piano, and terrace leading to the gardens, are ideal places to relax after your meal.
The surrounding grounds are well kept, with a sloping garden giving good views across the fields to the forest beyond. Take a walk along the track, and the sea is about 20 minutes away.
Want to know more?
Gunilla Wikstrom & Jeanette Backstrom (the owners) both speak perfect English.
Elvvikintie 16, 02580 Siuntio, Finland
+358 40 709 1086
A beautiful lakeside restaurant, serving exquisite fish dishes.
On the quayside in Ekenas.
+358 19 241 1169
The famous restaurant built on stilts out
into the sea. See main article for more.
Adventure centre and forest houses to rent, in the lovely Purnus River valley. See main article for more information.
A useful visitor centre for the archipeligo.
Degerby Igor Museum
Small but interesting museum focusing on the period this region was leased to the Russian military.
Visit Southpoint Finland
Local Tourism Office