Kuusamo: one of those deliciously Finnish names I’m not quite sure how to pronounce. It sounds like a small town out of a nordic fairytale, and to some extent it is. I have a certain affinity with frontier towns. I’m deeply interested in their out-of-the-way existence, just along the road from more prosperous areas (my fascination with the open road and the American imagination has a lot to do with that). Kuusamo branches northeast from larger Oulu. Many of us have reignited a love affair of sorts with all things Scandinavian, inspired perhaps by the re-emergence of Scandinavian themes in recent popular culture. Norse mythology has cleverly woven it’s way back into the 21st century imagination thanks to recent films (How to Train your Dragon) and TV series (The Killing). If you are a victim of this recent Scandinavian fashion craze, then Kuusamo is the perfect secretly wintry enclave for you, and will perhaps offer more than you bargained for.
I heart Ruka
Ruka is the ski resort that belongs to Kuusamo and sits atop the Arctic circle. If glacial is what you’re after then there is no better place than this. Not only does it offer the average skier a better than average opportunity to experience the best of nordic activity first hand, but there is a whole host of interesting things to get involved with. Snowmobiling is just one of them. This is a fascinating activity, and comes highly recommended. Where else could you do something as thrilling, whilst feeling as though you’re racing through the woods of Narnia, with absolute unrestricted absorption of beautiful scenery?
Another offering is ice fishing and Ruka is one of the only places in the world where this can be safely and legally done. It’s quite tricky to track down a legitimate ice fishing safari group so make sure you go through a company that has been tried and tested. I’m not the world’s best fisher but this is something you have to do at least once in a lifetime. More importantly, as a foodie myself, the prospect of smoking and eating the fish afterwards sounds divine.
Finland’s Dark Materials
It’s not quite a run-in with Mrs Coulter or one of Philip Pullman’s infamous daemons – instead the Aurora Borealis (better known as the Northern Lights) are the beginning of your own epic fiction. I’m not going to over-romanticise the lights too much. Having read a few specific accounts (written by my good friend Flora about her experience in Iceland) it seems the lights can be somewhat a fickle mistress. Typically not seen during the Winter months, a visit could bring you anything from a smattering of colour to a full-blown display. I daresay however, that even for just a brief glimpse of something other-worldly, a visit is definitely worth the risk.
Not just any old Rudolph
Embedded within Kuusamo’s history are the Sami, a semi-nomadic indigenous people of Scandinavia and primarily reindeer-herders. This culture is something that makes Kuusamo (and indeed Finland in it’s entirety) pretty special. The area is peppered with Sami influences, and Reindeer are just the first sign of it. Don’t get me wrong, Ruka Kuusamo is pretty much a Westerner’s paradise when it comes to winter sport activities – I’m not claiming the boons of visiting the Sami, instead merely highlighting the rich history that this country has. As a result of tradition, reindeer safaris have been fostered into the experience. Equally, it’s wise to have some form of transport, perhaps economy car hire, so that you have the freedom to visit a few of Finland’s other hidden treasures. The Oulanka National Park plays host to wildlife ranging from eagles to bears and the Klutakongas Rapids are only a short drive away, crashing alongside the Oulankajoki river. If you’re planning to head to across the border into Russia – which is a good 140km east – then having a car would be an absolute essential. Don’t forget to secure visas and ensure your passport is valid before trying to attempt to cross the frontier.
Emma Winter is an American Literature and Creative Writing graduate from the University of East Anglia. She spent a year studying and living in San Francisco, and is a former writer for an online fashion magazine, she has also completed several internships in the world of publishing from editorial to publicity and is hoping to secure a permanent job in that field.