Nature on your Doorstep
So you’re in Helsinki for just a few days, time’s at a premium and you simply have to do one thing Finland is famous for, get into nature. It couldn’t be easier. A simple train ride from the Central Railway Station to Espoon Keskus and then bus 245 right there as you step off, take you to Haltia Nature Centre and Nuuksio National Park.
Haltia Nature Centre
You can’t miss it since this huge wooden structure stands out as a testament to clean, green construction made of cross-laminated timber elements inside. A fire waiting to happen? Actually not since the external wood is silica-impregnated pine, completely harmless to the environment and flame-resistant. Climb up the tower and you’ll see a grass-decked roof and solar panels. Geothermal heating is used when sunlight is minimal.
On the inside, a dream world of subdued lighting, videos, photographs and structures transports you to natural spots all around Finland. Listen to the nocturnal sounds of animals in the forest, creep into the Bear’s den and give it a pat, feast your eyes on the panorama of the changing seasons and stimulate your brain inside the giant egg where Osmo Rauhala’s installation of two swans playing a randomly changing chess game with tokens signifying the nucleobases of our DNA, keep you wondering. Look up, look down, look around you, you’re surrounded by details that you might miss if it weren’t for the keen eye of nature photographers that have studied their surroundings and the animals that come and go in them for years. Changing art exhibitions are entertaining for even the youngest amongst us. The restaurant upstairs has a sweeping view across Lake Pitkäjärvi and serves coffee and lunch at reasonable prices.
Haltia Nature Centre is open from Mondays to Sundays from 10 am to 6 pm.
Nuuksio National Park
Before you hit the buffet, the real thing calls in Nuuksio National Park. A good hike in the surrounding forest is bound to awaken your appetite. Trails of different lengths have been designed to suit the whole family. Whether you’re a serious walker or just in need of a casual stroll, you’re not going to get lost. It’s all very well marked and stumbling on a barbecue area is not uncommon. Wood is provided but don’t forget to bring your own sausages and dry matches.
The month of May ushers in warmer weather opening the ice-covered lakes that are dotted all around this protected area. You can’t help but ‘hear’ the quiet inside this haven of birch and its moss-clad primary rock. This is a unique experience leaving you with a sense of complete relaxation and calm. If you’re unsure of your directional skills, knowledgeable guides can reveal the secrets that lie beneath the surface or point out birds that you never knew existed.
While Lapland is several hundreds of kilometres away, reindeer thrive at Nuuksio Reindeer Park. You can stroke them and feed them. And grill your sticky bun over an open fire in the traditional ‘kota’ or Finnish-style tepee. Cycling is another option for the more energetic that prefer to move faster than a walking pace. And if you simply can’t tear yourself away from this idyllic environment, sauna and accommodation can easily be arranged.
The hours race by and before you know it, it’s time to return to the hurly burly of city life. But the peace and mindfulness that you find in this place stays with you for a long time to come. It’s Finland at its best.