Take in the sights and sounds of a country where life changes with seasons

On the straight road from Helsinki airport to Helsinki city, Nordic modernist buildings dot the cloudy sky. Surrounding the great cathedral, they all look confidently towards the sea, as if readying to sail the world.

Looking around the clean streets of the Finnish capital, I understand why the design industry has flourished here. From handbags to mugs, everyday accessories are designer creations.

You may not have come across a Marimekko dress or a Moomin cup in India, but you surely must be a proud owner of a Nokia phone, probably not knowing it was designed in this Scandinavian country.

Nature has made this land quite inhospitable. During the summer, the long days allow for all kinds of summer festivals to take place under the night’s sun, but during the dark, winter days the country witnesses one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Sauna bliss

These harsh conditions have forced the Finnish to adopt means of escaping the cold and sometimes gloomy weather. In the ground floor of my host’s house, a door opens into an isolated bathroom.

In the corner is a relaxing wooden room. A sauna may sound luxurious, but here, even the tiniest apartments in town have one. However, a ski resort in Lapland is the best place to make the most of the dry heat. Secluded and surrounded by trees and hills, these are spots for redemption.

Forget all urban stress and just focus on your wellbeing. If you are there in winter and brave enough, check out a frozen lake. Step into it and feel the soles of your feet burn. Dive into the chilled water. All the muscles of your body will contract and every pore of your skin shuts down.

Your whole body reacts. Your eyelashes ice over, but the worst is yet to come. Run back to a warm place and throw yourself under the shower. This is a good test for a strong heart.

When it’s peak summer, above the Arctic Circle, the endless days allow the audience of the Midnight Sun Film Festival to devour international productions round-the-clock. Dazzled by the non-setting sun as you leave the half-light of the theatre, share your enthusiasm with movie fanatics from all around the world.

Santa Claus’ homeland is the place to go and recharge your batteries. But, it will definitely not help your bank account. Even the youth hostels are comparatively expensive.

Unless you find a host family, you will end up spending a lot on accommodation and food. Travel back to Helsinki and stay in a luxurious hotel. Even though Finnish interiors are usually white, wide and lit by a few blue glimmers from some Alvar Aalto floor lamps, the atmosphere is always warm.

That is the spirit of the Klaus K hotel. A renovated 19th Century building, the luxurious hotel has been decorated by Stylt Trampoli, who won the European ‘Hotel Design Award’ for this project. Stylish and classy, the rooms are not too grand. The hotel provides one of the best Finnish breakfasts and houses the best Italian restaurant in town.

Those travelling on a smaller budget can spend some time in the wild and familiarise themselves with the Finnish way of life. Staying on a farm can be a good option. If you are a paying guest in the countryside, you may have to help your host with some farming, but this will only make you fitter and healthier.

FACTFILE

Check out

Midnight Sun Film Festival

( www.msfilmfestival.fi)

Klaus K Hotel

( www.klauskhotel.com)

Ask the Finnish Tourist Board ( www.visitfinland.com) about the cottage and farm holidays

CELINE LEMAIRE

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