Ever felt like you need a holiday to recover from your holiday? It's the ultimate travel paradox, isn't it? You go somewhere to take a break but end up cramming in so many activities that you end up more exhausted than when you left.
Well, what if I told you there's a country where the quintessential summer activity is all about getting away from it all? Where not relaxing is so counter-intuitive to the local culture that having a packed itinerary almost feels like you're not doing it right? Well, nomads, that country is Finland.
Finland in the summer is something quite special. If your only image of Finland revolves around snow and reindeer, check out our recent post on why the summer experience is equally visit-worthy. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that it provides the ultimate international summer getaway. You get everything that makes travelling to a foreign country interesting – different food, language and culture – but instead of being run off your feet checking off your to-do list, the most local summer experience you can have is to head to a cottage by a lake and simply be.
So intrinsic is this summer pastime to the Finns, we've yet to meet one who didn't have access to a family summer cottage and have annual plans to spend time there. These cottages are usually positioned by a lake, where the main aim is getting back to the simpler things in life and recharging your batteries.
Fun fact: There are more than 180,000 lakes in Finland!
So what are summer cottages like? Recently, we stayed in one at Rock and Lake in Finnish Lakeland to see what this Finnish summer experience is all about. Our summer retreat comprised of a main cabin with a living and dining area, as well as a kitchen; a standalone bedroom cabin that accommodated two; and a shed that housed the toilet and acted as wood storage, all within metres of Soukkio Lake.
I'd consider our stay at Rock and Lake the perfect mix of camping and convenience. You get to enjoy the primal feeling of getting out into nature and doing things for yourself, like chopping wood and cooking over the grill, without having to worry about all the practicalities of outdoor living. The cottage was equipped with electricity and running water, the shed was stocked with firewood and tools, there was a basic yet functional kitchen, and we had a BBQ set, complete with utensils and deck chairs.
Summer cottage breaks are spent doing the things that can get lost in a busy schedule, like finally reading those books you've been meaning to get around to and spending quality time with family. Daily activities like cooking, rather than being the usual chore, become a source of enjoyment in a relaxed setting.
We spent our days hanging out at the cottage, rowing on the lake (yes, a private row boat is provided!), exploring the forest, grilling to our hearts' content and stoking the fire at night.
Oh, and also relaxing in the sauna. Did we not mention you have access to your own private sauna attached to the main cabin?
Of all the things to experience in Finland, summer or winter, the Finnish sauna is right up there at the top of the must-do list. Not only is it a completely different experience to Western saunas, it's also a fundamental window into Finnish culture. It's difficult to put into words what the sauna means to the Finns. Imagine something so intrinsic to your way of life that you can't imagine ever being without it and it's something like that.
Fun fact: The word ‘sauna' actually comes from the Finnish language. It's the only Finnish word that has been internationally accepted in other languages.
While saunas can be found across the country, a summer cottage stay provides the opportunity to experience the entire process of heating and using a sauna from start to finish.
Check out the video of us trying our own hand at heating and using a traditional wooden sauna at Rock and Lake, and cooling off the Finnish way!
Another aspect that makes your summer cottage experience in Finland unique is the fact it doesn't get dark. You may already know that Finland experiences virtually 24 hours of darkness during winter. Head on over in the summer and the opposite happens. At the cottage, the darkest it got was a few hours of “twilight” before the sun started to rise again.
Imagine a camping trip that doesn't require flashlights or stumbling around in the wee hours of the morning to visit the outhouse. Or a holiday where your activities are not restricted by the rise and fall of the sun. Sounds pretty awesome, am I right?
In fact, if you want to do an organized activity to make use of this extra time you suddenly have in your day, you can ask Rock and Lake to arrange a ‘Fishing Under the Midnight Sun' tour. The tour takes place on nearby Kyyvesi Lake from 8pm-2am (approx.) with an expert fishing guide from Kalaxi Fishing Oy and was one of the highlights of our trip. Hai was on a high from it for some time after.
Fun fact: Hai enjoys fishing so much that he carries a fishing rod (and lures that he made himself) in his backpack, even on one and a half year trips. You never know when you get the chance to drop a line, he tells me.
I think the reason why many people don't get into fishing is that it generally requires a lot of patience and even after all your efforts you can often come away empty-handed. Well, so confident are Kalaxi Fishing Oy of your fishing success, they even have a catch guarantee.
Come check out how we went fishing under the Midnight Sun.
If you catch fish over the minimum size and want to try some of the freshest fish you will ever have, you can take them back with you. In fact, one of the joys of being in Finland is to really observe the extent to which the Finns value and respect nature. There's a law known as “Every man's right” that gives every person in Finland, including temporary visitors, the right to certain enjoyments of the country's expansive natural surrounds, while various regulations and etiquette allow this all to happen in a sustainable way. We'll be talking about this more in an upcoming post.
You can watch Hai preparing and cooking one of our catches back at the cabin here.
We came away from the summer cottage experience feeling like we'd gotten the inside scoop on what summer is really all about for the Finns. If you've ever been to a place where holidays that centre on private family celebrations are going on, you'll know what I mean when I say that it can all feel rather anticlimactic as a visitor in a hotel with no personal networks. Renting a summer cottage in Finland gives you access to a truly authentic Finnish summer, whether you have friends in-country or not.
So who's ready to experience an international holiday that's actually a holiday?
For more info on renting a cottage at Rock and Lake and experiencing a midnight sun fishing tour, check out Rock and Lake's website. The cottage mentioned in this post is called Kotiranta.
Have you experienced summer cottage life in Finland? What would be the first thing you'd like to do there?
Thank you to Visit Finland, who hosted us on this trip. As always, we keep it real and tell it like it is.