Introduction

 IntroductionIt is fair to say that Finland is an enigma to most of Europe. The phlegmatic Finns have made less of an impression on the continent than the Danes or Swedes, and even the Norwegians have entered people’s consciousness, albeit mainly through the mythology surrounding Viking raids of centuries past.

But that’s not to say the Finns are unfriendly, far from it. They exhibit the Scandinavian appetite for drinking, singing and practical jokes.

Not surprising then that like the rest of Scandinavia Finland has become a land of myth and legend. In truth, such a territory as this needs little help from its mischievous population to create a story or two. Pine forests, azure but unfathomable lakes and of course the arctic tundra of Lapland are the perfect canvas on which to paint a story of fantastical creatures, sprites, nymphs and trolls.

And of course, it’s worth remembering that there are still wolves wandering wild in parts of the country – real life monsters that need no embellishment. It’s a territory that is impossible not to fall in love with, completely unspoiled by centuries of industry that has so damaged nations.

Its enigmatic nature hasn’t all been its own doing – with a history that saw Sweden and Soviet Russia largely subsume the nation for long periods – but it’s that very quality that is now drawing people to explore this northern wonderland in ever increasing numbers. Of course the south of the country is both the most developed and the most visited.

The Capital Helsinki is considered an international city, but has retained a renaissance elegance that puts it on a par with some of the better parts of St Petersburg without the tourist hordes. But head for the Finnish lake district to find possibly the most scenic area in Europe.

Lapland, in the north of the country and home to the Sámi people, is Europe’s last true wilderness, a pristine expanse of rolling hills, forests and tundra. In winter, with thick snow on the ground and the mercury plummeting you can feel every inch when you venture further into the Arctic circle.

But Lapland can catch you unawares as well, when among the frost you are suddenly bathed in sunlight, or when the Northern Lights flicker through the dark winter the cold seems to melt away. And of course this is the home of Father Christmas, just an extra piece of magic.

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