Embarking on a journey to a luxury eco spa in Finland’s enchanting Saimaa region, merely a boat ride, drive, or helicopter hop away from Helsinki’s bustling airport, immediately envelops me in the allure of this nation’s offerings. As I step onto a Finnair flight departing from Gatwick, the air is filled with the celebratory aura of their century-long service, lending an elevated dimension to the entire experience, and the Airbus A350 aircraft I find myself on generously bestows a comfort-laden expanse that effortlessly accommodates both work obligations and moments of entertainment during the course of the journey. In a pleasantly unexpected twist, they serve up refreshing sips of Blueberry Juice, a quintessentially Finnish morning tradition, thereby infusing an air of health-consciousness into the travel narrative.
Set amidst the backdrop of more than 188,000 lakes that dot the Finnish landscape, this water-rich realm is cocooned within verdant forests that lend a feeling of profound seclusion. The boat voyage across the tranquil expanse of Lake Saimaa, aboard the meticulously refurbished s/s Paul Wahl ship, eloquently puts on display the inherent beauty of this natural realm. The lush panorama of green envelopment and the varied tapestry of trees offer a palpable respite from the fast-paced urban life, while leisurely walks through the forested expanses afford the luxury of inhaling the invigorating scents wafting from pine, birch, and hazel trees.
My place of respite is none other than The Pihlas Resort, an opulent 5-star eco-luxury haven nestled gracefully within the Lakeland region of Eastern Finland. Seamlessly amalgamating the time-honoured traditions of Finnish culture with the trappings of contemporary luxury, the resort rests harmoniously amid nature’s embrace, rendering it a veritable haven where one can indulge in the wondrous offerings of the region.
It’s worth noting that Anna Grotenfelt-Paunonen, one of the co-owners of the resort, offers a living embodiment of the Finnish way of life as she involves her children in the delicate task of handpicking fresh lilac flowers from the resort’s gardens each morning, which are then deftly pressed to create the delectable Lilac Juice that graces our breakfast tables. The history of the resort, along with anecdotes about the other co-owners, all contribute to painting a rich tapestry of experiences that form an integral part of the sojourn.
The mindful moments of the trip take shape through Marianna’s unique practice of blank mind meditation, a challenge that exposes the ever-present tendrils of technology in our lives. Embracing the mindful presence becomes imperative, prompting the inclusion of breaks from the digital realm and walks devoid of the usual auditory accompaniment. These moments of grounding, reflecting, and reconnecting offer a profound sense of well-being that resonates deeply.
Delving into the world of flavours, the TeaHouse of Wehmais beckons with its tantalizing combination of tea and chocolate. It’s a delightful exploration that broadens my horizons, as I come to realize the exquisite harmony between the herbaceous notes of tea leaves and the nuanced richness of various chocolate flavours. Unexpectedly, I find myself savouring the Jasmine Matcha Tea paired with White Chocolate, an unexpected yet remarkably harmonious pairing that has since found its place in my gastronomic repertoire.
When it comes to culinary exploration, my penchant for tasting the authentic flavours of a country finds its fulfilment in Finland. The breakfast experience at Pihlas Resort, characterized by fresh Lilac Juice that cleanses and rejuvenates, is far from ordinary; rather, it’s a journey through four distinct courses that evoke delicate yet substantial sensations. The culinary prowess displayed here, evident through each carefully crafted dish served on repurposed porcelain crockery, is a testament to the passion and care put into every meal.
Tertti Manor, a haven of rustic charm, extends the farm-to-table philosophy, presenting guests with a spread of organically grown produce that’s both tantalizing and soul-satisfying. Similarly, Sahanlahti Resort opens its doors to a family-run restaurant that’s deeply rooted in the passion of local producers. Amid this picturesque setting, I encounter the intriguing Blueberry Pie, a traditional Finnish dish that captures the essence of the region’s bounty, harvested during summer and transformed into a rye-capped dessert that leaves taste buds craving for more.
Among the Finnish traditions that leave a lasting impression, the daily ritual of sauna is an embodiment of wellness, a practice woven into the fabric of everyday life akin to brushing one’s teeth. My private sauna sessions at Pihlas Resort, followed by invigorating lake swims, unfold as a rejuvenating dance between the warmth of the sauna and the invigorating embrace of the lake’s cold waters. This therapeutic experience, a cascade of dopamine that engenders a visceral “feel good” sensation, becomes an integral part of my Finnish sojourn.
An evening at the Savolinna Opera Festival introduced me to the world of theatre in a novel context. A fervent lover of the arts, I am drawn into the enchanting world of the classic opera, with Romeo and Juliette rendering an exquisite experience that conjures memories of my own performing days. The exclusive backstage tour, replete with the bustling energy of cast and crew navigating the labyrinthine spiral staircases, brings a sense of familiarity even amidst the opulent grandeur of the medieval Savolinna Castle.
The mosaic of moments woven throughout my Finnish escapade culminates in a profound appreciation for the country’s unique offerings. The sweeping expanse of daylight hours, accentuated by a mere three hours of darkness during the summertime, stands as a testament to the country’s distinctive character. With each experience, I am reminded of the essential human need for connection with nature, the art of slowing down, and the nourishment of the mind and body. The charm of Finland continues to beckon, beckoning me to embrace this enriching journey without a sense of finality.
words by Eleanor Hoath