Advertisement with Visit Espoo. Within easy reach of the Finnish capital lies Nuuksio National Park, an area of crystal clear lakes, forests and rugged crags.
Getting there by public transport from Helsinki city centre takes just over an hour with a car journey taking around 40 minutes. We bought Helsinki Day Cards €12 (£10.45) allowing unlimited travel in zones A-C for our visit and headed to Helsinki Central Railway station to start our journey.
The station itself is an architectural masterpiece, designed by Eliel Saarinen. Passengers are greeted outside the art-deco station by two pairs of giant statues holding lanterns on each side of the entrance doors.
Local trains frequently depart to Espoo Centre (journey time 25 minutes) and from there a connecting bus, 245K departs from Platform 32 outside the station taking a further 25 minutes to Nuuksio. It’s a very pleasant bus journey and I recommend sitting on the left hand side if possible as from the bus windows there are some lovely lake and forest views.
Although the bus continues further, I suggest getting off at the Haltia Finnish Nature Centre as this is the gateway to the National Park and the starting point for numerous walking trails. Opened in summer 2013, the nature centre provides a window into wild Finland with its wooden exhibition centre blending beautifully into the natural surroundings. Its free to go inside to pick up leaflets, discuss possibilities for nature walks with the centre staff and to visit the gift shop and excellent restaurant.
If time allows, I would also recommend viewing the three exhibitions in the centre which focus on wildlife, landscapes and natural phenomena. These are not only about Nuuksio but also Finland’s other 40 National parks as the idea is for Haltia to act as an introduction to the rest of the country’s natural beauty. Entrance to the exhibition area is €13 (£11.32).
Reading the information boards we discovered that Nuuksio National Park forms the western part of the so called Nuuksio lake uplands, the most extensive and ecologically important continuous wilderness area in southern Finland. As this part of the country is affected by broken bedrock, the park consists of an intricate mosaic of habitats, where dozens of threatened and near threatened species live.
The centre’s main attraction is a huge panoramic screen, 18m in length which takes visitors on a seasonal journey from the Finnish archipelago in southern Finland up to the fells of Lapland in the north. This multi sensory experience uses the kinds of sights, sounds and feelings that can be enjoyed in the outdoors and is very enjoyable.
Standing in another part of the building is a huge, wooden latticed structure shaped like an egg. This giant egg houses a unique artwork, ‘The Game of Life’ in which two swans play chess surrounded by ever changing images. The role of the centre definitely inspires visitors to go outside and enjoy the countryside by using art, myths, legend and artefacts to promote these wild places. All the exhibits have been very well planned to provide a memorable introduction to the country as a whole.
We then popped our coats on for a look outside. Located between the centre and the Pitkäjärvi lake stands the Haltia event field complete with Finnish tepees (Kota). Children on a school trip were enjoying lunch in one of them during our visit but we managed to take a look in another one which was very atmospheric with its candle lanterns and long wooden benches covered in sheepskin rugs beside a large campfire.
Popular activities are to cook sausages and make pancakes over the open fire and then enjoy them sitting round. The event field is also home to an open-air gallery of art work inspired by the natural surroundings of the National Park.
We were then feeling a little peckish so headed back inside the Nature Centre where we had reserved a table for 12.30 p.m. for lunch in Ravintola Haltia. Located on the upper floor and boasting a covered terrace with beautiful views over Lake Pitkäjärvi this 200 seat restaurant is a delight.
The daily lunch buffet is priced at €19.50 (£16.95) and it was just as well that we were hungry as it was a feast for our senses. The ethos of the restaurant is “nature on a plate” serving locally sourced, seasonal Finnish flavours. The buffet comprised a starter of a delicious thick tomato soup with home baked rye bread, butter and beetroot hummus. We then enjoyed mains of creamy salmon and potato casserole and roast chicken breasts accompanied with vegetables and a selection from the appetising salad buffet.
Dessert of the day was strawberry panacotta which neither of us could resist and after relaxing with cups of coffee it was just as well that we would be spending the afternoon hiking in the surrounding area. It is worth noting that exhibition centre tickets are not required for dining in the restaurant. As it’s such a popular lunch spot for both visitors to the area and those living in the greater Helsinki area, I would suggest booking a table in advance to avoid disappointment.
Returning downstairs, we met Karolina, one of the centre’s guides who had arranged to spend the afternoon with us exploring Nuuksio. From the visitor centre, a choice of five circular routes and many more longer trails can be taken. These are all clearly signposted and would be easy to follow on your own. Just remember to come prepared with walking shoes, waterproofs and drinking water.
Before starting our hike Karolina took us across the road to view the recently opened Haltia Lake Lodge, which overlooks the lake. The building was previously used by the nearby Sports Institute and has been completely renovated to comprise 23 stylish guest rooms and a cosy lounge bar serving snacks.
Located slightly further up the hillside and each with uninterrupted lakeside balcony views are several wood and canvas glamping cabins also operated by the lodge. Unlike a teepee or yurt glamping experience, these cabins are more substantial and as they have heaters can be used year round. We weren’t able to go inside one of them but from their idyllic forest location alone, I knew instantly that I’d like to stay in one on a return visit to the Helsinki/ Espoo area.
Back on track, we hiked through several kilometres of Nuuksio, our guide pointing out special features along the way. We paused several times to pick blueberries and Karolina pointed out low growing clumps of juniper so we sampled one of these berries too. Being a gin lover I’m well acquainted with juniper flavourings but it was the first time I’d tried a berry which tasted of pine and was slightly sour.
The paths through the rugged scenery were quite easy with just a couple of steep sections to navigate. We stopped at a delightful lookout terrace with seating which overlooked the 8 km fjord like long lake of Pitkäjärvi. We rested awhile there taking in the stunning views and relaxed by sharing a bar of chocolate and sipping our water bottles. Karolina explained to us that with its numerous marked trails, cooking shelters, hotel and camping sites Nuuksio is ideal for short hiking trips lasting for one or two days.
On our return to Haltia we passed the Swinghill Ski Area which offers downhill skiing during the winter months. The resort has three slopes with a lift serving each so if you find yourself in Helsinki in mid-winter and fancy some downhill skiing then you can be transformed from the urban city centre to a winter wonderland in less than an hour.
Our day out at Nuuksio had been lovely and we’d enjoyed the fresh air and natural beauty of its crystal clear lakes and pine forests. Being easily accessible from the centre of Helsinki, I’d definitely recommend adding a visit to your itinerary.
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We were guests of Visit Espoo and as always, all views and opinions are entirely my own.