Living on the South-West Coast of Finland, I can only dream of true white winters. I remember when I was a kid, there was always plenty of snow. Wearing three layers of woolly underwear and thick winter overalls, I could play outside with my friends until my cheeks were screaming red and my poor tiny toes completely frozen. When I came home, my parents were welcoming me with hot sauna and delicious home cooked dinner on the table. Oh, I wish my winters would still be like they used to be.
Christmas is approaching fast, and again it looks like I can only dream of a white winter. There’s a tiny little layer of snow on the ground, but the temperature is barely below zero. It might be that tomorrow morning when I look outside I see that tiny little white layer gone.
It wasn’t much better last year. I still remember my friend posting on Facebook how they were welcoming Christmas Eve by moving the lawn in the garden.
Our New Year’s Eve didn’t go so well either last year. We needed to get out. So we started our year 2016 by packing our bags and driving off. We had a winter holiday in Vuokatti, a little winter wonderland in Eastern Finland.
My eternal yearning for snow made me look back at the photos I took on our winter holiday in Vuokatti last January. It made me realize I never wrote about it on this blog.
At least I told you about my crazy winter adventure in Koli National Park that still makes me laugh and cry at the same time. Nearly a year after, I laugh more than I cry. But it happened on this same trip. Koli National Park is only a couple of hours drive away from Vuokatti [see map].
Luckily it’s not too late to write about Vuokatti. Exactly the opposite. The winter holiday season is only about to start, and if you have followed the news, it seems like Lapland will be full this winter. I promise you, Vuokatti will not, and yet it’s not a bad option for crowded Lapland.
It had been so many years since visiting Vuokatti that I didn’t have many memories of the place. So it was like a completely new destination for me. Born in England, Daniel found Vuokatti as an extremely exotic destination—Not only it was the northernmost, but also the easternmost place where he has never been.
Exotic indeed. And diverse. Thinking of our trip now, nearly a year later, I still feel surprised how much Vuokatti has to offer. It’s like mini sized Lapland, but so much closer when driving from South. And yet it has everything that Lapland has (plus much more daylight).
We stayed in a two-bedroom holiday apartment next to Holiday Club Katinkulta by the lake Jäätiönlampi. The apartment was all I wanted. The fireplace in the lounge created an atmospheric feeling for dark evenings. The spacious sauna was the place where we spent half of our winter holiday week, and thanks to a private terrace, it was very easy to run outside and roll naked in the snow between throwing water on hot stones.
Yes, that’s exactly why we Finns need snow. It’s very boring to roll naked on wet grass.
The frozen lake provided us with a front row seat to admire the early sunset. The very first winter walk on the ice was a bit exciting. The only sound was the snow crunching under our shoes, and the one thing that drew our attention were the cracks on the ice that seemed to go on and on. Would it be safe to walk here?
We followed the trails of a snowmobile which made us believe the ice would be strong enough to carry us as well.
The Vuokatti slopes gave me a reason to blow the dust off on my snowboard and hit the hills. Not every single slope was open, but enough to keep me going for a few hours. It was nice and refreshing, as we tend to say, as always when snowboarding in -20 degrees.
Even Daniel, Mr. Englishman, dared to try skis on the children slope, even if after a few failed attempts he switched the rental skis to After Ski pints. Perhaps he should have tried Before Ski, it could have helped the skiing part.
In case downhill skiing isn’t your thing either, don’t worry. You can go on top of the slopes by car and walk around admiring the snowy views. There is also a viewing tower on top of the hill, but it will most likely be closed in winter due to the icy steps. But it’s ok, you’ll be able to enjoy the wintery landscapes without climbing up the slippery tower.
In summer there is a great network of hiking trails going along the 13 hills of Vuokatti. In winter, however, there’s always so much snow you can’t access the trails without snowshoes. Our plan was to rent some and try snowshoeing. Now, nearly a year later, I can’t remember why we didn’t do that.
Instead of snowshoeing we went for a walk into the woods with normal winter shoes. It was clearly a mistake. We sank into the fresh snow and getting up was a lot of effort. Luckily we had our thermo full of hot chocolate which made the effort worthwhile.
To medicate the ‘fresh air poisoning’ we spent a few evenings on the bowling alley where you can also find pool tables and darts (plus beer and pizza!). As we stayed next to a spa, we had to dedicate one day for swimming as well. Even if I wouldn’t call it swimming… It was more like floating and splashing around in pools like small kids.
The tropical atmosphere in the pool section created a perfect contrast for the outdoor temperature of -30 degrees that day. The only con was the old school smoke sauna being closed due to cold weather. Yet you could use the outdoor pool where you could swim along the heated ‘water corridor’ switching from the indoor +30 degrees to the -30 outdoors. 60 degrees variation feels pretty cool, don’t you think?
Daniel had the greatest idea to take his phone to the outdoor pool. We wrapped it in a plastic bag, stuffed it into another bag, and holding his hand up in the air he was swimming through the water corridor to access the outdoor pool. And we got our outdoor swimming pool selfie — totally worth the effort!
A winter holiday in Vuokatti definitely is a great alternative to crowded Lapland. Driving from Southern Finland it takes half of the time (and fuel), and yet you have all the same activities than up in the North. You can go for husky safaris, you can rent a snowmobile or snowshoes. You can go skiing, cross-country and downhill, and you’ll have all the indoor activities within walking distance as well.
And most importantly, you will have your chance to spot the Northern Lights as you would in Lapland.
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