Reposaari is a small island and neighbourhood resting at the gate of the open sea in Pori, the capital of Satakunta region in the South-West of Finland. Reposaari Island isn’t just a piece of the most beautiful Pori but one of the most surprising hidden gems in Finland.
For a small wooden suburb far away from everything, Reposaari is quite a cosmopolitan spot. Besides an impressive wooden fortress hiding in the woods, Reposaari Island features familiar-sounding areas like Wild West, Berlin and London. And an authentic London-inspired gastropub that makes the best Fish & Chips I’ve ever tasted (the list isn’t short, I can tell you).
But we’ll get back to that a bit later.
What makes Reposaari Island so special
Reposaari is famous for interesting facts and legends. For example, I bet you didn’t know that Reposaari Island is the only place in Finland that used to have a siesta. It all started when a small-shop owner found it difficult to find anyone to cover for his lunch break and closed the doors for an hour after the noon. Soon the other entrepreneurs joined, and for 40 years siesta was an everyday habit on this funny little island. The businesses in Reposaari had their last siesta in the 80s.
Due to its location, you can’t just have a quick walk to Reposaari when visiting Pori. This island that is also a home to a thousand people is located 30 kilometres from the city centre. But I can assure you, Reposaari is well worth a small drive.
The attractions of Reposaari are only one side to the story. The people of Reposaari deserve their very own chapter. Just half a minute after stepping out of your car, the first Reposaari resident is already waiting for you with his stories.
Fellowship and social cohesion were the reasons why Reposaari was chosen as the neighbourhood of the year in 2016. This cohesiveness has been characteristic to Reposaari throughout times. Or at least since the 30s when Reposaari fortress was born.
Reposaari fortress – a fascinating piece of Finnish war history
Not even many Finns know that only half a kilometre wide Reposaari Island hides a wartime defence fortress (Reposaaren linnake) in its Southern woods. Before the war, people of Reposaari suggested to the Finnish Army and government building of a fort, but at the time they prioritised defending the South Coast over the Western one.
Reposaari residents didn’t want to give up, so they decided to build a fortress on their own. And that’s how Reposaari fortress was born; it was made from scratch by local volunteers, and to this date, it’s the only privately funded coastal artillery in Finland.
The construction started in 1935 and finished later that year. No matter how reluctant the Finnish Army was to build the stronghold, once the war began, they were happy to take over and expand the hand-made defence fortress. In 2008 the restored Reposaari fortress was opened to public and today, anyone can visit the site.
And everyone should. As one of the most interesting hidden gems in Finland, Reposaari fortress is an excellent day trip destination. The youngest travellers are excited to explore the trenches and bunkers while the older adventurers learn about the Finnish war history with the help of guideposts explaining the purpose and wartime events at the fortress. Unfortunately, the information on the signs is available only in Finnish.
Some of the structures are original, like the artilleries and magazines made of concrete. The dugouts and the observation tower were rebuilt upon the restoration as well as the wooden trench walls.
I’m not ashamed to admit that exploring the rambling trenches also keeps an adult traveller entertained. The restored Reposaari fortress is like a modern version of the military fortress on Kuuskajaskari Island which is one of my favourite spots here in Rauma.
We enter the dugout where they treated the wounded. The stretcher hanging on the wall makes my skin shiver. The wooden bunk beds seem a bit rough, too. I can’t remember when I’ve felt this much satisfaction of the fact that tonight I can nestle in my warm, comfortable bed.
From fortress to London
We start driving from the fortress parking towards the opposite coast of the island where Reposaaren Satamapuisto (Reposaari Harbour Park) is located. While following the GPS, it’s hard to ignore the area on our right-hand side. The map says it’s called London. Soon after London also Reposaari Church disappears to our right. It’s the same church where the Finnish president Sauli Niinistö secretly got married back in 2009.
Our destination is an English-style gastropub The Merry Monk that is probably the most praised restaurant in Pori area. I get out of the car and walk in front of the building to take a few photos. A kick sledge parked next to the wall tells everything you need to know; Reposaari is the kind of neighbourhood where you go to a restaurant with a sledge.
***IMPORTANT UPDATE*** Unfortunately, The Merry Monk has closed in December 2019. The owners will open a new restaurant in Merikarvia in summer 2020.
Snowflakes are falling slowly from the January sky. The ice at sea is strong enough to hold at least twenty ice-fishers. An older gentleman is standing next to the restaurant entrance. I can see the excitement on his face; he can’t wait for us to get there.
”This is such a stunning place. It’s where I always used to come to fuel my motorboat when I was a young boy…”
Reposaari residents love to share their stories.
We step into The Merry Monk, and we are immediately back in London. The only gastropub in Reposaari is just as popular as we’ve heard. On a Sunday afternoon, all tables are full. We haven’t got hungry yet, but we must taste the Fish & Chips that we’ve heard so many praises about. So together with my British travel companion, we order one portion to share.
While ordering, I’m throwing some London-themed questions for the smiley lady behind the counter. I wanted to know if London area in Reposaari had something to do with the English-style gastropub. It doesn’t, but I learn that Reposaari has other fascinating regions as well, like Wild West and Berlin.
No one knows where the names originally come from, but we know as a fact that back in the 1800s Reposaari harbour was the largest port of export in Finland. Are the names like London and Berlin the living legacy of the sailors?
After a little digging, I found out that London inherited its name from Villa London, a fancy building that was built by a local businessman called Axel Gottshalck-Gustaffsson. As I learned with the help of Reposaari Association, Gustafsson was such wealthy man that he asked Reposaari residents to call him as Räfsö kungen – the king of Reposaari.
The Merry Monk has a different story. The owner couple met each other in London years ago and started painting pretty pictures of a shared dream; a London-style gastropub serving pure, local food. Three years ago they made their dream come true and opened The Merry Monk, a gastropub so popular that on a busy day they might even have to cross over some items off the menu.
The best Fish & Chips in the world?
We’ve heard a lot of compliments of their burgers, too, but we had to taste the local Fish & Chips. After all, we’re having lunch in an English-style gastropub together with my British spouse.
The fish arrives fresh from the next-door neighbour; Finland’s largest fish harbour. The type of the fish depends on the catch of the day. During our visit, the hand-made beer batter hid freshly-caught perch. If we had arrived a few hours earlier, we would have been eating pike. The previous day their Fish & Chips contained zander, the waitress said.
There’s no need to wonder why the food in The Merry Monk is so damn delicious. Excluding ketchup and mayonnaise, everything is made by hand in their kitchen. If the ingredients aren’t available locally, they rather take the portion off the menu than purchase the needed items far.
My honest review? I can only say I think I found the best Fish & Chips in the whole world! And trust me, I’ve eaten plenty as every time we travel to England, it’s all I eat (excluding dinners at Daniel’s mum). If I have to be pedantic, the whole peas should be replaced with mushy peas, but luckily we’re not that fussy.
What did our Britt think of the atmosphere in The Merry Monk?
”It needs to be darker and have disgusting carpets. Then it would be like an English pub.”