In May 2015, Bob from the Nature Travels team travelled to the provinces of North Karelia and Kainuu in Eastern Finland to visit our new experiences in the area. In the article below, Bob visits the guest houses for our Cycling and Canoeing in Eastern Finland and Cross Country Skiing in Eastern Finland tours.
Food, glorious food!
Following a lovely stay at the Island Cabin, my itinerary took me north for the 2.5 hour drive to Minna’s guest house, a converted school house and one of the accommodation stops on Cycling and Canoeing in Eastern Finland and Cross Country Skiing in Eastern Finland.
After another restful night’s sleep, Minna and I set off to visit Henna, Riitva and Anni – the lovely hosts of some of the other guesthouses used on the the tours. These are not faceless one-size-fits-all chain hotels – they are individually-crafted, authentic and untouristy, run with love and passion and with a profound respect for their surroundings; each with its own unique local character but every one offering a wonderfully warm welcome and traditional Karelian hospitality.
Being more familiar with the Swedish and Norwegian culinary traditions, I was surprised and delighted to discover a whole new area of Nordic food culture to enjoy – I certainly hadn’t counted on the food here in Karelia being quite so amazing!
The day was a delightful blur of chatting, laughing and being fed like a king, as well as saying hello to Henna’s reindeer and enjoying a sauna (not all at the same time!) What really struck me this day is how much the experience of local culture and food contributes to the enjoyment of a visit here, quite apart from the attractive rural landscapes and the fun and challenge of the outdoor activities, from Henna’s home-made, alcohol-free beer and delicious carrot and cauliflower soup with rosebay willowherbs to Riitva’s melt-in-the-mouth Karelian pies and cheescake (Riitva’s baking is well-known elsewhere in Finland, too!) to Anni’s amazing and creative use of wild plants.
Dinner at Anni’s was artichoke soup with home-made rye bread and egg mayonaisse, followed by locally-caught pike fishcakes served with a nettle sauce and two beautifully-presented side salads of cabbage garnished with edible flowers and a green salad with goutweed and all kinds of other wonderful leafy things I’ve forgotten the name of. The great majority of the ingredients for the meal were grown or picked right there on the organic farm. And it didn’t end there – breakfast time brought porridge with organic yoghurt, linseeds and crushed berries and a salad topped with yarrow and bread with gojiberry and apple jam. Oh, and I’ve forgotten the home-made squash that tasted delightfully of almonds. Oh, and I’ve forgotten the home-made pesto, too!
I should probably stop rambling now – you’ve probably gathered I’m no foodie journalist. But I’m seriously going to need to diet when I get back to the office…
Of course it isn’t all about the food (although these tours did recently receive the accolade of Finland’s Best Food Tourism Product) – the attractive Karelian countryside, with its quiet lanes, cool waters, thick forests and rolling agricultural landscape, is ideal to explore by cycle and canoe in the summer or on cross country skis in winter, with the guest houses placed a day’s paddle/pedal/ski apart. But my lasting impression here is that the guest house element and the warmth of the local hospitality and culture (plus the nightly sauna of course!) brings an added dimension which complements and enhances the outdoor activities, and means that when doing the tours you will start and end each day with a full tummy and a warm glow in your heart!
Bob from The Nature Travels Team