In this multi day trip, we will be deep diving into Finland’s unique culture through its turbulent history and inspiring architecture. Join to explore locations relating to 3 centuries of foreign intervention in Finland, discover the very best in Nordic Modernist architecture and design, and have your breath taken away by the natural beauty of the Arctic Circle !
Next Departures :
31 July – 09 August 2023 / 15 – 24 August 2023
29 July – 07 August 2024 / 13 – 22 August 2024
In this narrative of epic proportions, it’s all about Finland : a country synonymous with peace, but whose unfortunate location at the northern border between East and West has seen it turn it into a battlefront of empires for the last 3 centuries.Swedish, Russians, Germans, and Soviets have trodden this land, sometimes as allies, often as enemies. And yet through blood and toil, through civil war and conflict, Finland emerged independent and free. This is an explosive, poignant and less known story that deserves to be told. It is a legendary tale of terrible odds and improbable hardships, of folkish innovation and unwavering spirit. Its result has defined modern Finland, the country we will get to know up, close and personal during this trip.
But it’s not just about war and history. During our expedition, we will get the chance to experience the aesthetics of Functionalism, the Nordic branch of Modernist architecture and design, and become familiar with its Finnish masters. We will see and experience a great deal of astonishing art, architecture and inspiring urban planning throughout our journey from Helsinki to the Arctic circle, and discover the ways these connect us with the culture of Finland.
What we will see
The narrative will take us through 3 centuries of history and conflict. I will recount the origins of Finland’s existence as a sovereign state, and explain the conflicts and hardships the Finns endured to secure it. Here is a sample itinerary of the interesting locations we will visit to relate the story :
Day 1 : Arrivals
You are welcome to arrive at any time throughout the day and check-in to the designated hotel in Helsinki. We will catch up in the evening and get acquainted over dinner and drinks to warm up for the trip ahead !
Day 2 : Nordic Modernism
The first morning is dedicated to Finnish architecture and design, and its deep connections with Finland’s culture, independence and statehood. In this deep dive of Helsinki’s most notable delights, we will see the work of international architecture and design giants like Alvar Aalto, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, and Viljo Revell, among others. We will experience the capital’s impressive range of 20th century styles : the National Romantic Helsinki Central Station, the Modernist Finlandia Hall and Temppeliaukio Church, the Functionalist Helsinki Olympic Stadium, and many other 20c buildings.
We will also get the chance to admire some of Helsinki’s most notable post-war public art, such as the humming Sibelius Monument or the Brutalist Module, among others.
In the afternoon, we will move to the western suburb of Espoo, where we will immerse ourselves in the Corbusian urban planning experimentation of Tapiola. We will see more of Alvar Alto’s work, such as his Otaniemi Auditorium and Water Tower. We will also visit two spectacular Brutalist landmarks, the Espoonlahti Church, and the Haukilahti Water Tower, where we will have a memorable group lunch at the top of one of the most iconic Brutalist structures in Finland.
Day 3 : The Importance of being Neighbourly
On this day we will experience more Modern architecture and public art at Merihaka, an impressive model Brutalist estate at Helsinki’s waterfront. We will also see Socialist Realist Soviet Peace & Friendship Monument, and start our first forays into Finland’s complex recent history.
In the afternoon, will muster at the Kauppatori market by the port, where we’ll have strong coffee and tea and select our lunch for the day from the stalls : dried fish and meat, smoked salmon, boiled potatoes will be wrapped in paper parcel for us to take away. Hopping on a boat, we’ll spend the next several hours exploring Suomenlinna, the sprawling Swedish-era sea fortress that has guarded Helsinki harbour for centuries.
We will discuss Finland’s national emergence in a backdrop of war and conflict, and its important role in 18th century geo-politics, while exploring fortifications and tunnels, see bastions and naval batteries, and even enter an old coastal submarine. Then we will have drinks at the battlements, with amazing sea views of the archipelago.
Day 4 : From Civil War to Cold War
We will be back to Helsinki in the morning, to continue our exploration of hidden history in its suburbs. We will see abandoned trenches, a lonely civil war grave, and other traces of war as we establish a timeline spanning from Russian Imperial times to the Cold War. In the outskirts of Helsinki, we’ll visit the abandoned flak towers in Rajamaki, the birthplace of the Molotov cocktail, and an important relic from Finland’s 1939 Winter War epic. Depending on seasonality, we might be able to visit the town’s obscure Industrial and Alcohol Museum.
We will then spend the afternoon the area formerly known as the Porkkala Parenthesis : the territory ceded by Finland to the Soviets as a prerequisite for peace in the aftermath of World War 2. We will explore the hidden remains of the Soviet Cold War presence : Buildings, airbases, bunkers, cemeteries, and other places of interest. Here, we unfold the final chapter related to Finland’s Cold War history, the ultimate sacrifice in the country’s long road to independence. In the evening, we will retire at Hanko, Finland’s popular coastal resort .
Day 5 : Hanko
We will have a late morning, giving us some time to catch our breath and enjoy Hanko’s spectacular beachfront.
We will then take in the city’s architecture and industrial heritage, before remembering episodes from the city’s wartime history : such as the creations of the Soviet enclave that briefly existed at Hanko during World War 2, and the long siege of Hanko in 1941. We will be at the abandoned Internment Camp, where Russian and German prisoners of war were kept, and a nearly forgotten, surprising Soviet monument. We will hear the complex story of the Continuation War, the conflict that defined Finland’s post-war fate, and the beginnings of Cold War Soviet presence in Finland. We will explore the Harparskog Line, the fortified system of defenses that once surrounded the outskirts of Hanko : we’ll see abandoned tanks and equipment, trenches and bunkers, and even dragon’s teeth tank traps.
A visit at the Four Winds Cafe is a must, as it was once owned by the legendary Finnish military leader and statesman Marshall Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, one of the most important figures in the history of Finland.
In the evening, we will be back in Helsinki on time to board the night train to Lapland for the second leg of our journey. We will overnight in our comfortable train cabins, and wake up at Rovaniemi early next morning.
Day 6 : Ruka
Upon arrival to Rovaniemi, we will set off for Eastern Lapland and start becoming acquainted with its rugged natural beauty. On our way to the popular ski resort at Ruka, we will stop over at a well preserved bunker system near Kemijärvi to see less known battlefield artifacts from the Continuation War.
In the afternoon, we will be free to explore the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Ruka and its surroundings before retiring to our cabin for a hot sauna and relaxation around a fire pit.
Day 7 : Riisitunturi National Park and Kuusamo
This day, we will become become acquainted with the region’s arctic wilderness at Riisitunturi National Park. We will trek to one of its summits where we will admire Finland’s rugged beauty from above and enjoy a picnic in an astonishing natural setting.
In the afternoon, we will visit Kuusamo, and engage in an immersive explore of its Salpa Line fortifications, an extensive system of trenches and bunkers that saw action during WW2.
Throughout the day, we are guaranteed to spot reindeer, pick berries in the wild, and be mesmerized by the beauty and tranquility of the arctic nature.
Day 8 : Rovaniemi
In the morning, will be returning to Rovaniemi for the day. Despite being well known to be home to Santa Claus and his elves, the city has a less known dark past. It was the epicenter of Lapland War, the bitter conflict fought between former co-belligerents Finland and Germany in the closing stages of World War 2. The conflict led to Rovaniemi’s total destruction, followed by its regeneration via a thoroughly Modernist designed conceived by Alvar Aalto in 1945, a plan which materialized in the post-war years. We will admire Alvar Aalto’s exceptional Nordic Functionalism at Rovaniemi, and visit the imposing German War Cemetery at Norvajärvi, one of the world’s northernmost military cemeteries.
There will be time to explore the lovely town, even to say hello to Santa Claus – should you absolutely have to have to… in the evening, we will board the train back to Helsinki.
Day 9 : Isosaari
We will once more head to Helsinki harbour to board the boat for Isosaari, a mysterious island in the Gulf of Finland. The former military island has been inaccessible to the general public until recently. Its dense vegetation holds many secrets : a hidden network of bunkers and fortifications, huge naval gun casemates, abandoned barracks and houses, a Civil War era prison memorial, a top secret torpedo test station, and the haunted grave of a mysterious Englishman… sounds like an ideal place for our last overnight – where we can relax, explore, swim and have a massive farewell beach party and barbecue by the sea !
Day 10 : Helsinki
We will wake up late, and set to be back to Hesinki around noon. Depending on whether you need to catch a flight to your next destination, I will be available to direct you to more of the city’s best kept secrets. I could join you in visiting one of Helsinki’s main sights or museums, or we can go for a memorable swim in one of the Finnish capital’s heated open air-pools. Anything goes on that last day really, depending on your mood and how much time you got !
Where will we stay ?
We will be residing in traditional style accommodations, maintaining an authentic and historic feel. There will be homestays, log cabins, and beachfront huts. The tour includes accommodation for all nights, which can vary depending on seasonality and availability. It may or may not be required to share accommodation among us, ie in case we stay at a farmhouse comprising several rooms and shared facilities. However, I will always take into account your individual preferences, and check with you prior to booking accommodation.
I can also help with arranging for any additional nights you may require.
Where will we dine ?
We will sometimes take lunch on the go – the Finnish staple of dried Silka fish, Karelian pies, smoked salmon and rye bread. We will also stop at traditional or historic locations, such as the Four Winds Cafe, once owned by Marshall Mannerheim – the legendary Finnish military leader and statesman. There will be a choice of local restaurants we will use for dining. The tour includes a memorable buffet meal on the top of Haukilahti Water Tower.
If you’re looking to extend your trip to Russia, please check our friends Soviet Tours. In this highly recommended, nostalgic trip from Leningrad to the Arctic, Soviet Tours will take you from Karelia and Lake Onega to Petsamo in the Arctic. Click on the photo for more info
The price of the tour is £2399 per person sharing a twin room. The single person supplement is £400
The price includes :
- 10 days / 9 nights accommodation (including breakfast & taxes)
- 5 days transport in new, fully licensed and insured vehicles
- Return Train tickets to Lapland
- Return Boat tickets to Suomenlinna & Isosaari
- Scheduled enty fees and public transport tickets
- Two group meals
- An experienced, passionate, knowledgeable, tireless, and fun guide (that’s ME !!)
The price does not include
- Flights to Helsinki
- Airport Transfers including Airport public transport (can be arranged for a fee)
- Any meals and drinks (except as mentioned above)
- Personal expenses such as additional services, shopping, gifts or souvenirs
We will travel as a small group of 7 persons max. The aim is to keep it small, and personalised.
Expedition to Finland will be available to book up to one week prior to departure. To declare your interest and book, I will require a 10% deposit. This will remain fully refundable until the closing date above, or in case the trip doesn’t eventually go ahead.
The remaining balance has to clear by two months prior to departure, so I can be able to guarantee the accommodation, transportation and dining for the group. I will regrettably not be able to refund your deposit within two months of departure.
Sometimes there are unexpected situations. It can happen to any of us, an emergency, or an unavoidable event. Instead of forfeiting your deposit entirely, and provided that there is a genuine reason for you to cancel at any point after a deadline, I would be happy to discuss with my suppliers about transferring the balance and reservations towards the next available tour date : I’ll be more than happy to host you at another, more convenient time !