Hello Helsinki

helsinki

WINTER IN FINLAND’S COMPACT LITTLE CAPITAL NEED NOT BE A FRIGID AFFAIR – FILLED WITH CHARMING ARCHITECTURE, RICH LOCAL PRODUCE. AND TITILLATING DESIGN, EVEN A QUICK TRIP TO THIS HARBOURSIDE CITY THAT CUPS THE BALTIC SEA CAN PROVE TO BE A TRULY SATISFYING JOURNEY OF FOOD, FUN AND FASHION

HELSINKI. THE STYLISH VNDHH NC. (IN NOltDIC STWDAIIDS) CAPITAL OK FINLAND, is a hot new design hub that churns out some of the most electrifying fashion and art in the world – it was designated World Design Capital in 2012, and has not lost momentum since. A hipster heaven of craft-beer bars, boutique coffee roasteries, artist workshops and galleries, and glorious art-nouveau buildings, the city (once ruled by the Swedish, then the Russians) is an intriguing microcosm of centenarian architecture and conservative Finnish heritage, juxtaposed by cutting-edge art and innovative gastronomy. Food in Finland has a strong emphasis on local sourcing, with cream-based dishes making a stronger presence during the winter months. Other interesting eats including smoked reindeer, bear meat, pickled herring, and a variety of nutrition-rich ‘superfoods’ including cloudberries, sea buckthorns, and birch sap.

Sauna (correctly pronounced sao-nah. not saw-nah) is the way of life in Finland. That and liquorice; even chocolates here come with liquorice centres. For the daring of heart, be sure to sample some salmiakki while you’re here, a salty version of the candy that has been flavoured with ammonium chloride.

With the recent launch of Finnair’s direct route from Singapore to Helsinki, and the StopOver Finland program – jointly organised by Finnair and Visit Finland – that allows passengers travelling via Helsinki to transit for up to five days before continuing on to their destination country, Finland has never been more accessible than it is now, whether it’s a quick sampling of Helsinki, a visit to Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, or an extended trip up to Lapland for a glimpse of the Northern Lights. 2017 will also be a great year to visit Helsinki because of its centenary, which means a plethora of celebrations, exhibitions, and special events for you to play away under the midnight sun.

Day One

Refresh after a long flight with a jaunt into the countryside, where you can inhale some fresh forest air and even cop a cup of culture. Porvoo is only slightly over 30 minutes from Helsinki’s airport but worlds apart from its cosmopolitan city centre. The streets of Porvoo are lined with architectural evidence of its imperial past – many of its newer buildings were designed by the Russians after its original structures were deemed “too Swedish “. A centuries-old time capsule of entire wooden towns and narrow cobbled lanes, Porvoo is a joy to venture filled with a myriad stores and cafes selling fashion, food and adorable Moomin merchandise. Be sure to stop by Brunberg (Teollisuustie 19. 06150 Porvoo; brunberg. fi/en). Finland’s oldest chocolate factory that has been churning out delectable confectionaries since 1871. and pick up some of their famous truffles.

Immerse yourself in the grand beauty of Finnish nature by embarking on a brief trek on the island of Emasalo, where the guides of Seikkailulaakso (en.seikkailulaakso. com) will lake you on their Mind & Nature path, a short program that is supposed to aid concentration, creativity and stress tolerance. A quick tour of the surrounding forests allows you to pick wild blueberries and lingonberries. spot some reindeer moss, and enjoy a warm fire and tea in the brisk, cold mountain air. In the summer, the waters surrounding Seikkailulaakso are also a favourite for fishing, swimming, and boating.

Day Two

After a leisurely breakfast and another quick trip to the sauna to stave off the winter cold, transfer to the beautiful seaside city of Helsinki. Perched on the southern tip of Finland, the country’s harbourside capital is a great place to sample the city’s best and brightest in art. design, and gastronomy. If your schedule allows for an addition two to three days, we recommend a cruise aboard the MS Silja Serenade (tallinksilja.com/en)

- the ship travels on the Helsinki-Stockholm route, which means you can spend a day (or two) in Sweden before returning to Helsinki; a bonus if you’d like to cover two countries in one trip.

The hottest new place in town (no pun intended) is Loyly (Hernesaarenranta 4,001 SO Helsinki; loylyhelsinki.fi/en), a magnificent public sauna built to be environmentally sustainable and eco-friendly, and a self-dubbed “urban oasis on Helsinki’s waterfront”, Loyly’s saunas are a thing of beauty offering a traditional smoke sauna as well as a wood-fired sauna. The purpose of the sauna’s outdoor seating area is to allow guests direct access to the sea, where they can dip to cool off in between steam sessions. The Finns do this even in winter, when water temperatures can sometimes drop below 2 degrees Celsius, a recipe for heart attack if I ever saw one but probably the reason for their sterling coronary health and outstanding life expectancy. Even if you’re not looking to participate in sauna, Loyly is also a great place to catch up over drinks, with the outdoor decks overlooking the water being exceeding popular during summer. Loyly translates loosely to mean ‘the steam that comes when you throw water on hot stones in a sauna”, because yes, the Finns do have a word for that.

Day Three

Helsinki’s Design District encapsulates all that is chic in the city – and there’s even a touring map (designdistrict.fi/en) to help you navigate the highlights. The Design District collective is a cluster of creative businesses brimming with the very best of local design, including jewellers, antique shops, art galleries, and apparel boutiques. Membership to the collective is strictly quality controlled, and member pay a nominal annual fee that funds promotional efforts.

Pop in to the Old Market Hall (Htelaranta. 00130 Helsinki; vanhakauppahalli.fi/en) for some local produce; this landmark has served customers since 1888 and was reopened in 2014 after a complete renovation. Stall keepers who have been in business for decades have returned and are joined by attractive new restaurants and cafes. Look out for stalls hawking handcrafted teas (we brought home a loose leaf infusion of strawberry, nettle, birch leaf and liquorice root), exotic cured meats and smoked seafood (expect fresh organic pork sausages, deshelled prawns larger than your fist, and more varieties of gravlax that you can shake a stick at), and even a vegetarian store that specialises in raw and sprouted food.

Just a short walk from the Old Market Hall, past the grand Helsinki Senate Square, you’ll find the petite Helsinki Design Museum (Aleksanterinkatu 16; helsinginkaupunginmuseo.fi/en). This unique little showcase of modern Helsinki history even includes a smell room, where visitors are invited to identify a mystery smell – related to life in Finland – that changes monthly. Just an alleyway away, the speakeasy of Trillby & Chadwick (trillbychadwick.fi) is so secretive that you need to call ahead for directions. With no signage and no available images (photo¬taking is prohibited within the premises), finding this place is an adventure all in itself. but once you do, the dimly lit interiors, Sherlock Holmes-esque vibe, and witty cocktails are guaranteed to seduce.