Too Often Overlooked, Finland Is a Dream for Hikers of All Levels

PERCHED ON a vast, thinly populated ledge between northern and Eastern Europe, Finland may be a high-tech, multilingual member of the European Union, but it can still feel like a world unto itself. The Finns were under the rule and influence of Sweden for several centuries, before a century or so as an outpost of the Russian Empire. Only gaining their independence in 1917, they found their footing by looking inward, creating a near-mystic bond with their wooded, lake-strewn landscape, and it is arguably on foot that visitors these days can best discover the country, its history and its beauty. Here, four hikes to help bring Finland into focus.

Architect Alvar Aalto’s Experimental House, a 1950s summer residence on the island of Muuratsalo, some 10 miles south of Jyväskylä.
PHOTO: MAIJA HOLMA/ ALVAR AALTO FOUNDATION

  1. Finnish Lakeland
    Lakes and forests are everywhere in Finland, but they merge into a distinctive stretch in the middle of the country, known as Finnish Lakeland, where rolling hills are thrown into the mix. The city of Jyväskylä is the region’s hub, and a nearby hike allows you to combine natural beauty with the man-made splendors of architect Alvar Aalto, whose blending of the classical and the modern made him one of the 20th century’s leading design voices.

ILLUSTRATION: CHARLOTTE FARMER
Aalto (1898-1976) spent his childhood in Jyväskylä, and though he lived much of his adult life in Helsinki, the Finnish capital, he left his greatest concentration of buildings near here. This includes a 1950s summer cottage known as the Experimental House, on an island called Muuratsalo, some 10 miles south of Jyväskylä. Viewable by appointment between early June and mid September, and reachable only on foot, the cottage’s densely sylvan setting can be an interim destination. A good starting point is Aalto’s early work, the Muurame Church, in a village south of Jyväskylä. After viewing the house itself, hike back to a network of paths and make your way uphill to a secluded pond. The spot provides expansive views of Lake Päijänne, one of Finland’s largest bodies of water.

Total time: about 4 hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Korpo, one of many forested islands along the St. Olav Waterway, a pilgrimage route in the Archipelago Sea.
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

  1. The Archipelago Sea
    Finland’s southwestern corner, an area generally referred to as the Archipelago Sea, dissolves into thousands of Baltic islands, which run the gamut from lush and inviting to surprisingly steep and rather forbidding. A hike here can include a stroll down a country lane, a walk in the woods, a challenging climb and a beach break. A main pilgrimage route leading across the middle of the Scandinavian peninsula ends on Norway’s west coast. In early 2019, it was extended east from Sweden to the Finnish city of Turku, the country’s capital during Swedish rule. A dayslong, ferry-assisted hike through the islands, on the portion now named the St. Olav Waterway, can start on the steps of Turku’s stone-and-brick cathedral. For a more concise, daylong jaunt, bed down in Turku, then take an early bus to Pargas, an island town about 20 miles away. Make your way to Nagu, a picturesque village where Swedish is still the lingua franca, then take a late-afternoon boat back to Turku.

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