Finland

Midsummer in Finland

July 12, 2019

Photography/EditingHelen Janneson Bense | Thanks to my sisters for their assistance helping me capture the beauty of Finland

LocationHelsinki | Järvisydän | Tampere (Villa Linda + Periscope) – Finland

The midnight sun shining it’s sparkling light through the window of my Mummo’s house is one of the earliest memories of my childhood. I said to my Mummo I’m not going to sleep until it gets dark. She was always the one to be most patient with me and she joked “Ok then it will be a long, long night” This was the last time I ever saw my grandmother and as a 4 year old child I remember screaming and crying as I left Finland knowing somewhere inside I would never see her again.

Growing up in Australia was beautiful, but being separated from my family and culture has always been challenging. Every time I go back to Finland a little piece of me is retrieved. When I hear the language it feels like home. My mother said to me before my trip “Walk into the forest, be still, and listen to the trees. It’s here you will understand” It’s here that every cell of my being feels alive, my energy centres align, and I’m filled with a level of contentment that I can not describe.

This trip was a journey through my lineage, through the stories of my grandparents and my parents. And my own story; all stories connected, shaping who I am. I traveled to Finland with my 3 older sisters on this trip. We visited where our grandparents lived, loved and where their souls now rest. We connected with aunties, uncles, cousins and their families. There is so much love that exists within our family no matter the distance or time apart.

Our journey began in Helsinki. One of my favourite cities; full of beauty, history, incredible architecture. The highlight this trip was visiting the new Oodi library known as ‘book heaven.’ I was so impressed with the design and space created to encourage reading, creativity and expression. I know my kids would be in book heaven for sure!

From here we journeyed to Järvisydän to celebrate Juhannus – the midsummer festival. A joyous time of light when the sun never sets. We had a beautiful time at the Lake Spa and a little dance party into the early hours of the morning. It was one of the most fun nights of my entire trip, and it never got dark! You’ll get to enjoy long sunset pastel skies for hours.

Järvisydän is situated by Lake Saimaa, the largest lake in South eastern Finland. I love visiting this part of Finland, particularly as it draws me closer to our ancestral roots of Karelia. This resort and spa is one of a kind in Finland. It has all the history with a lot of modern touches. The lake spa is always a favourite for the sauna loving folks. You can choose between multiple sauna types and cool down in the pool or lake. The pool water actually comes from the lake and is heated by geothermal and solar energy. There’s also a salt room, Angel’s Hammam, and a storm shower. It’s the ultimate Finnish Wellness experience.

We stayed on a beautiful houseboat during our time here. We were even lucky enough to have a driver for the day to take us out on the lake. At one point my daughter called me to ask what I’d been up to. I was surprised when I realised I had literally been staring at the lake all morning drinking a million cups of tea haha! It’s absolutely mesmerising how the water changes through the day with the reflections, clouds and colour shifts. It’s honestly something I spend way too much time staring at because it’s so hypnotic.

Other than staring at lake reflections, there is so much to do here at Järvisydän. They have many excursions on the lake to see the endangered ringed seals. There are stand up paddles boards, boats, canoes, bikes and hiking trips to the national park. Everything you could need for a wonderful holiday time is here.

Our next stop was Tampere – the sauna capital of Finland. We had the most beautiful mökki (cottage) by the lake. It was here we really had our traditional Finnish midsummer experience. It was the perfect spot for slow mode. We enjoyed lots of stand up paddle boarding exploring the lake and cups of tea on the verandah watching swans and sunsets. My favourite moment was definitely having a ridiculously hot sauna, running naked into the freezing cold lake, and drying by the warm fire I had made. It reminded me of when I was young and my parents took me camping in Australia. Even living here, they still brought their portable sauna (that my Dad made) and set it up by the lake. We would sauna, swim in the lake and warm by the fire each night as we cooked our dinner over the fire.

We spent a week in Tampere and honestly I feel like it wasn’t quite enough time to fully experience all this city has to offer. We had a visit to the Frantsila Herb Farm which was an absolute dream for me. As a Naturopath, I’ve always loved connecting with plant medicine and to be able to see the herb fields in Finland was incredible. What was so fascinating is how resilient the plants are due to the extreme weather conditions. It means they are packed full of nutrients and antioxidants and are the ultimate superfood. If you want to try any out head here.

We had many culinary delights on this trip from Helsinki, to Järvisydän to Tampere. The standout experience was dining at Periscope. The sweeping views of Lake Pyhäjärvi, next level service, and the most exquisite food, made this an all round 5 star experience. They had numerous vegan options which were all delicious. I would highly recommend a night out here. After dinner head to their rooftop terrace and enjoy some of their amazing cocktails.

A road trip through Finland is one the most beautiful ways to explore this country. During the summer wildflowers and colourful lupins line the roads, with breathtaking forest and lake scenery along the way. You’ll want to stop every 5 minutes to take photos! The route from Helsinki to Järvisydän to Tampere is a very easy first trip to Finland. Each drive is under 4 hours and you’ll feel like you are a million miles away from the city.

I’ll really miss Finland and my family, though I’m already envisioning the next trip. If you aim for late July/August the prices may be a little lower, the nights will be a little darker, and the berries will be ready for picking :)

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

All text and images copyright © Helen Janneson Bense 2020

Land of the Midnight Sun

February 16, 2018


PhotographyHelen Janneson Bense | Reija Janneson Bolwell

Model/Styling/EditingHelen Janneson Bense

Location – Finland – check out Visit Finland | Visit Helsinki and Visit Tampere for more information.

StayHotel F6 – Helsinki | Järvisydän Hotel and Spa Resort – Rantasalmi | Villa Hilja – Tampere

Eat – Breakfast at Hotel F6 | Lunch at Löyly | Dinner at The Cock |  Coffee stop Mattolaituri | Sunset cocktails at Ateljee Rooftop bar | Definitely try karjalanpirakka and mustikkapiirakka whenever you can!

Do – Sauna at Löyly | Catch some live music at Allas Sea Pool | Sky Sauna | Pick up some fresh berries and homemade cloud berry jam at Hakaniemi Market Square | Helsinki Cathedral | Supping with Suppaa Tampere | Boat adventure to Kaarnetsaari Island | Aerial yoga at Järvisydän | Make your own herbal concoctions at Frantsila Organic Herb Farm | Soak up the sunshine and happy vibes at Esplanade park | Pick wildflowers and wild berries (almost everywhere)

Outfit Details

Dresses – SKY ParthenopWeisy High Low | Kannan |  Sayulita | Mini Skirt

SwimwearGypset one piece | Hush Hush one piece 

AccessoriesRiviera cap | Sunglasses | Chisel Boots | Morgan Belt

My trip to Finland last year was a coming home experience for me. It had been 36 years since I had visited my home and reconnected with my roots. My earliest memories are of Finland, the smell of the forest, the taste of the wild berries, the quiet, stillness of the land, the centred, strong people, who stand tall like the birch. I remember the midsummer bonfire burning so bright and swimming in the lakes after a sauna. I remember running around my grandmother’s house waiting for it to get dark, yelling out I would never sleep until the sun went down. In this magical land of the midnight sun, I eventually tired from all my time spent exploring nature. I would help my grandfather with the garden, collecting apples, potatoes and we’d pick wild berries from the forest land that was their backyard. We would bake all kinds of deliciousness. My favourite was and always will be Karjalanpirakka. A must try when you visit Finland. And a little tip, we had some of the best ever for breakfast at Hotel F6 – still not as good as yours mum, but close ;) haha!

It amazed me how at home I felt when I arrived. The immigration officer asked me about the origins of my name and then welcomed me home. This feeling of home brought me to tears many times on this trip. All that familiarity came flooding back to me. I started dreaming in Finnish again. I think if I spent just a few more months there I would be speaking fluently once again. Reconnecting with my family was above all the best part; my 50 or so cousins, my aunties, uncles and all of their families. My beautiful sister, Reija, flew in from her home in Santa Cruz, so we could journey through Finland together. We began in Helsinki, staying at the well appointed and beautifully designed Hotel F6. The location was beyond perfect, close to everything we wanted to explore. Helsinki is one of the most beautiful seaside cities, filled with culture, history and inspirational design and architecture. We walked for miles along cobblestone streets, exploring the waterfront, the markets, the parks, and cafe terrace lined streets. We soaked up the sun at Esplanade park, watched the longest sunset over Allas Sea Pool at 10pm whilst listening to live music, and enjoyed the amazing rooftop views of Helsinki at Ateljee bar.

From Helsinki we drove north to Jarvisydan with a couple of stops to pick wildflowers and visit our precious family along the way. This area of Finland is very close to where our family roots began. Our father is from Karelia and mother from Hankasalmi. It was so special to spend time here and experience the beautiful Jarvisydan lake spa. Järvisydän, which translates to Lake Heart, is built into the natural terrain around Lake Saimaa. This is Finland’s largest lake and home to the cutest Saimaa Ringed Seal, an endangered species found only in this lake. You can take a boat trip through Linnansaari national park and hope to catch a glimpse of these beautiful animals. We spent our days exploring the forest for wild blueberries, supping on Lake Saimaa, relaxing in the lake spa with some aerial yoga and a multitude of sauna experiences. With so many types of Finnish Saunas you are totally spoilt for choice. My favourite is the kivi sauna, also known as stone sauna. Refresh in the indoor pool or head into the infinity pool overlooking the lake! And if you’re game, there’s nothing better than running straight into the refreshing lake after a hot sauna.

Next we journeyed to beautiful Tampere to attend a family wedding and connect with all our relatives. Here we found a traditional mokki (cottage) deep in the forest by the most beautiful, glistening lake. Cottage life in Finland is very popular in summer and how most people spend their holidays. It’s a wonderful time to connect with family and nature no matter what you are doing. And still there is so much to do! I built my first wood sauna (with the guidance of my family) and enjoyed a traditional sauna experience. It was the perfect evening of burning hot sauna, naked lake swims, delicious food, wonderful company and a sunset over the lake in the quiet magic of the forest. And when you feel like emerging from this divine forest cocoon, Tampere is full of adventures. Check out the Frantsila Organic herb farm and make your own herbal concoctions, and then get yourself out onto the lakes for some water sports – supping, wake boarding, river floating, kayaking or try flying on a flyboard! Head into the national park for some amazing hiking and views. There were so many highlights of this journey though Finland. The very best part for me was attending a family wedding and witnessing so much love. We had such a fun night, dancing and laughing until all hours, our bellies full of delicious food, our hearts full with connections and memories that will last a lifetime.

I journeyed deep into the heart of Finland and myself on this trip. I’ve always believed that our landscape helps to shape our collective psyche. As I sat amongst the trees, I felt the stillness and calm of the forest. I felt the sacred gift of silence, of listening, of observing. I felt the strength of the trees, collectively centred and standing tall. It was in this moment I realised I was home. This is who I am. I have always longed for quiet, for stillness, this space to observe and listen. I feel so very grateful for the magical gifts the forest and lake have shared with me. I retrieved a piece of myself that was long forgotten. I found myself in the landscape, in the culture, and in my family. I was reminded of who I truly am and I’ve come back to my home in Australia understanding myself so much more.

I’m so grateful to Visit Helsinki , Visit Tampere and Visit Finland for assisting me in organising this trip. They have valuable resources to help you plan your own adventures to this incredible part of our world. And as always please feel free to ask me anything. I’m always here to help :)

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

All text and images copyright © Helen Janneson Bense 2020

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