Haltia – Stepping stone from the city to the forest
There are studies which show that just 30 minutes spent out in nature, away from the urban environment, can reduce stress hormone levels by up to 50%.
Furthermore, walking in the forest, or spending a couple of hours picking berries or mushrooms, keeps your mind just active enough so that the stresses of the office/next flight/online-social-network slip blissfully and silently from your mind. On top of all that, the mental and physical benefits of getting its citizens into the national parks, i.e. the reduction in medical and mental health care, saves Finland an estimated, and incredible, 300 million euros per year. So, it’s easy to see why the clever people in the capital region built Haltia – The Finnish Nature Centre and stepping stone from the city into the nearby Nuuksio National Park.
Situated less than 30km from the city centre, Haltia was designed to be a multi-purpose heart of the forest for nature lovers of all types. Centre Director, Tom Selänniemi, explained, “We want to incentivize people to visit the forest, we bring them inside to help them go outside.” Selänniemi highlighted the various groups that benefit from the centre; the inexperienced but curious, the visiting expert looking for information, the urbanite trying to rediscover happy outdoor childhood memories and the seasoned forager who would like to reward their hard work with a relaxing coffee or well deserved meal. Halti is there for everyone.
Mythology meets technology
The architecture is bold and innovative. Inspired by the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, the building resembles the goldeneye duck whose eggs are said to have broken into pieces and formed the world. Architects Lahdelma & Mahlamäki incorporated both mythology and eco-technology into their design. So, the carbon-trapping wood frame, geo-thermal heating, solar panels and grass roof has already earned Haltia an international prize for sustainability.
Once inside and safe from the cold, there is generous cloakroom space to get out of wet clothes and a huge reception desk which friendly staff will happily cover with maps to show you where the nearby hiking paths and fireplaces are, or help you with any other information you might need.
Before you move on, make sure you also visit the wonderful gift shop and pick up a Nuuksio National Park flying squirrel patch or a mushroom identifying chart. The reception desk is the start point to the centre’s excellent exhibition centre (free entry with your Helsinki Card), a great way to experience Finland’s nature from the safety and warmth of indoors. First, you make your way down the wintry tunnel entrance surrounded by lynx, reindeer and wolverine, and even weasels hidden in the floor tiles.
Then you’ll reach the main area, an Aladdin’s cave of technology, full of hidden secrets and exciting places to explore. The aim is to give a complete nature experience; seeing, feeling and hearing the four seasons, from the cold north to the southern coast. It’s designed to be about interaction, not just information, and the hypnotically tranquil videos projected on the giant screen are truly wonderful. Run around, watch the salmon underfoot, crawl through the tunnels to find the sleeping bear or check the giant monitors for pictures and information on other national parks. Most conspicuous of all is the giant egg containing an installation by artist Osmo Rauhala which ties in with the creation story of Kalevala’s goldeneye duck.
Traditional cuisine with a modern twist
Upstairs is an excellent restaurant where you can enjoy a coffee and pastry with splendid views from the balcony, or enjoy a hearty and delicious buffet lunch. “The idea is Nature on a Plate”, explained Selänniemi. “Seasonal ingredients produced as locally and organically as possible.”
Finland is all about nature, in its culture and its history, and it’s lakes and deep rich forests are what makes it really special. Haltia, as is often the case in Finland, is a well planned, well designed and well executed nature centre which, come rain or shine, or even snow, should be top of the list for anyone visiting Helsinki.
Getting to Nuuksio is also quite simple. Trains go directly from the central railway station to Espoo Centre. From there regular buses will drop you off in front of Haltia. There are also new travel links being planned including a direct bus from Helsinki and another that ties in with the new metro line.