I HELSINKI Nautical and nice
Saunas, sailing and total silence in Finland’s chic and cheerful capital
THE compact capital of Finland is easily navigated on foot and the best start to a day’s exploring is breakfast at bustling Market Square on the harbour. Cosy up with hardy locals inside one of the wind-lashed orange tents, where steaming hot coffee and lihapiirakka, deep-fried savoury doughnuts made of rice and minced meat, are the order of the day (the sweet-toothed should try a possumunkki, a warm yeast dough fritter filled with apple jam and sprinkled with sugar). Heartier options at this waterfront meeting spot include steaming bowls of dill-infused salmon soup, reindeer meatballs or fried fish with a side of spuds. For sustenance on the go, stock up on fresh strawberries, raspberries and cloudberries, beautifully displayed on the market’s myriad fruit stalls. Kauppatori Harbour, city centre. FINLAND’S fortunes are tied inextricably to the sea and there is much to do on the water. Market Square is the departure point for hop-on-and-off sightseeing excursions around the archipelago, gliding past Helsinki Zoo, historic districts, shimmering harbours, hulking icebreakers and enormous international cruise liners along the way. History buffs should allocate at least one full day to exploring UNESCO World Heritage- listed Suomenlinna sea fortress, founded in 1748, with its restored fortifications and garrison buildings. Guided walking tours of the site, home to six museums, a church and a restored 1930s submarine, are available. The 20-minute ferry crossings to Suomenlinna depart from opposite the Presidential Palace at the eastern end of Market Square. More: Royalline.net; Suomenlinna.fi. HELSINKI didn’t earn the title of World Design Capital 2012 for nothing. The city is so endowed with creative types it has a designated Design District, with a tourist map noting the location of each member. Esplanade Park is the city’s main promenade (look for the statue of Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Finland’s national poet) and the perfect starting point if you want to visit the biggest names in Finnish design. The streets flanking this pretty strip of green space are home to the flagship Marimekko store, a split-level wonderland of fashions, fabrics, jewellery, bags and kitchenware from the iconic designer. A few doors down are Iittala, purveyor of distinctive glassware and crockery, and Aarikka, famed for its wooden and silver jewellery. On the other side of the park is the wonderful Artek, founded by Finland’s most famous son, Alvar Aalto, and filled to the gills with Scandi-chic furniture and fittings. Gather your strength between purchases on one of the park’s benches as you watch the well-dressed world go by. More: marimekko.com; iittala.com; aarikka.com; artek.fi. PEKKA Terava is Finland’s Gordon Ramsay — a former football player now scoring goals in the kitchen. Terava’s Michelin-starred Restaurant Olo, in a historic building opposite Market Square, is the city’s premier dining spot. Terava, recently signed by Finnair to create signature dishes for its inflight meals, is incorporating Nordic ingredients — such as sea buckthorn berries from Merimasku, wild duck from Nummela, reindeer from Pudasjarvi and king crab from Honningsvag — into innovative menus. Expect the likes of salted Baltic herring with scrambled eggs, garlic and cucumber puree or Finnish duck liver seasoned with beetroot, served in one of the formal front dining rooms or in the soaring, light-filled atrium to the rear of the building. More: ola-ravintola.fi. EAT well without blowing the budget at the excellent Hietalahti Market Hall, a covered repository of local produce a few minutes’ walk from the city centre. Stop at fishmonger and cafe Marja Natti for wonderful rye bread open sandwiches topped with coldsmoked salmon or tasty mushroom salad, a serve of Nordic mussels or delicious Arctic char to eat in or take away. At adjacent Roslund, a family owned butcher, pull up a stool for a homemade hamburger or a few slices of cured reindeer meat. Definitely not to be missed is the fabulous bouillabaisse with thick chunks of salmon and mussels, potato and dill from Soup Kitchen, tucked at one end of the newly refurbished 110-year-old building. Eat your lunch at a table on the lightflooded mezzanine floor. The No 6 tram passes by the market’s front door for those who don’t fancy the walk. More: hietalahdenkauppahalli.fi. ARABIANRANTA in the city’s east is a neighbourhood full of art and architectural treasure. An easy onehour walk around the district will unearth such oddities as a nest-shaped artwork doubling as a balcony for a communal sauna; a ‘ ‘ flying carpet’’ mosaic by the waterfront, and ‘‘ the Gallows Rock’’, adorned with 82 castbronze birds. The Arabia Factory, with its 50m-high chimney, is one of the area’s most distinctive buildings and houses factory outlets for Arabia and Iittala (determined shoppers can ferret out huge discounts on everything from Fiskars scissors and pretty Iittala glassware to Arabia pottery). There’s THAT there are more than two million saunas in Finland is an indication of how seriously the locals take this long- observed bathing ritual. While most hotels offer sauna facilities, public saunas also can be found in the likes of sports stadiums, national parks and swimming halls. The New Culture Sauna, constructed during World Design Capital year, is a good option for visitors wanting to experience this peculiarly Finnish pastime. Or make the 15-minute ferry hop from Market Square to Uunisaari, a dedicated sauna island. More: kulttuurisauna.fi; saunasaaril.fi. WHEN architect Eila Hiltunen won a competition to design a tribute to Jean Sibelius, Finland’s most famous composer, in the early 1960s many locals were up in arms over the abstract nature of her proposed work. A compromise was reached by adding a figurative effigy of Sibelius’s face (though the sculptor chose to portray him in his creative age, not as the elderly icon more easily recognised by the Finns). Forty-six years after it was unveiled, Hiltunen’s imposing 8.5m Sibelius Monument, in a stretch of parkland in the Taka-Toolo district, is one of the city’s most popular attractions. The 600-strong cluster of hollow stainless steel pipes of various diameters, said to suggest the shape of a birch forest or the northern lights, continues Sibelius’s legacy by making its own music with the echo of the wind. It’s a striking counterpoint to the rugged, natural environment. Mechelininkatu 38. SILENCE really is golden at Kamppi Chapel of Silence on the edge of Helsinki’s Narinkkatori shopping and entertainment square. The imposing 11.5m-high wooden house of worship is constructed of curved and glazed spruce strips, its interiors kitted out with common alder planks and workmanlike pews fashioned from an enormous ash tree. There are no windows, simply a tranquil, cocoon-like space with light filtering through small openings high in the walls, designed for people seeking a little silent contemplation. The snapping of cameras from fascinated tourists rather takes the edge off the whole meditative experience, but the building — granted an International Architecture Award — is nonetheless quite extraordinary. Open daily; free entry. More: facebook.com/ kampinkappeli.