I HELSINKI Nau­ti­cal and nice

Saunas, sail­ing and to­tal si­lence in Fin­land’s chic and cheer­ful cap­i­tal

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MICHELLE ROWE

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.






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