I decided to try an active winter holiday (with some telecommuting) with my family in the rural North Savo and also include a trip to the Koli national park in our vacation.
We chose the Mikkala farm house in Kaavi, a popular tourism destination all year round. There were many reasons for this choice: we knew that there was a lot of nature and things to do and experience in North Savo and the coronavirus situation was under control in the region. It would also only take around 4 hours to drive there from southern Finland, and the price level was lower than in Lapland: with only € 110/day, you could have full access to a country house big enough to accommodate 10 people (14 in the summer).
Three adults and five children aged between 4 and 14 headed for an adventure in Savo.
Dreaming of countryside
A trend of a calm, quiet and natural lifestyle in the countryside has been a hot topic in recent discussions. According to a study, young adults no longer dream of living in a city centre: instead, up to 30 per cent would rather choose to live in a rural area close to a city and as many as 9 per cent would be willing to move to a sparsely populated rural area. To be honest, I have often thought about buying an old farm - after all, these days you can get one at the price of a two bedroom apartment in a city centre. You can now do many forms of paid employment remotely, and if you lived in a rural region, there would be plenty of space for recreational activities, having pets, gardening your own plot of land, and enjoying a freer lifestyle...Would that really be as blissful as it sounds? Thankfully, Mikkala farm house provides a safe opportunity for tring what it is like to live in the countryside with your whole family.
We followed a traditional wooden fence to a typical eastern Finnish farm built in the early 1900s. While it was already raining and sleeting in southern Finland, winter was still in full effect in the rural area. We were greeted by Jouko Mikkanen, our host, who gave us a brief tour around the farm. There was a special bonus: the cowshed of the farm was inhabited by 10 cows and a bull named Erkki. The children’s first reaction was funny: “What is this smell?” But it took no time for them to start making friends with the curious residents of the cowshed. All the children reported for cow-feeding duty starting the next day.
We settled in and found ourselves immediately enamoured with the farm house that radiated the atmosphere of days gone and positive energy. A big living room was the heart of the house with its old time baking oven, which we did not have to heat up this time.
As the evening grew darker, we heated up a lakeside sauna, constructed on the foundation of an old smoke sauna, and grilled sausages on fire in the barbeque hut in the farm premises. The atmospheric lakeside sauna provided us with amazing, gentle steam, and ice swimming was the cherry on top of the experience. What a treat it is to go to bed when your mind and body feels refreshed!
Game arcade and all kinds of activities
One of the absolute advantages of the farm is the fact that children will not get bored there. Both the children and adults were thrilled by the exciting game arcade constructed in one of the buildings in the premises. You could play various games such as pool, table tennis, table curling, table football and table hockey there. “Let’s go to the arcade!”, the children would scream, and you would hear the patter of their small feet as off they went to play the games. In no time, the adults could enjoy the peacefulness of the farm house by themselves. It is particularly good for today’s children to trade their online games for physical ones.
The children also loved spending time in the snow, building a snow castle and sledding down a slope. As the farm is conveniently located at the end of a road, it was safe for the children to ride their sleds down the slope - which they must have done hundreds of times.
Our host mentioned that if we ran out of things to do - despite the arcade and a karaoke machine in the main house - he could also lend us badminton, tennis and volleyball equipment and we could use his booked slot at the Kaavi sports hall located around 7 km from the farm house. In the summer, you could also enjoy a 18-hole disc golf track on the farm premises.
Cross-country ski tracks start right in front of the house
The Mikkala farm house is an excellent holiday destination for those of us who are into cross-country skiing. You can access traditional and freestyle ski tracks with an impressive total length of 24 kilometres straight from the front door. The tracks are kept in great shape. Traditional and freestyle skiing equipment is available to rent. The tracks make it enjoyable to ski along the forests and fields as there is a nice amount of differences in elevation and you will not have to worry about anyone trailing you. The only person you can blame for possible skiing-induced rage is you. By the way, the ski tracks in Mikkala are open for everyone, so just grab your skis and go!
In late winter, skiers can also encounter an additional bonus known as “hankiainen” in eastern Finland. On the final night of our trip, the thaw of the previous days turned into freezing temperatures, and as a result, the children could run across the hard surface of the snow on the following day. We just had to put on our skis and go skiing across the local fields, forests and lakes! This is something you just have to experience at least once per year.
To celebrate this day of lovely weather, we decided to have a small barbeque party in the hut. We bought some burgers from the local Voutila organic farm and cooked gourmet hamburgers. I must say that it must have been one of the most delicious burgers I’ve ever had! I can hardly wait for summertime barbeque season now!
Fishing in southern Tuusniemi
While you can go ice-fishing for perches from a hole drilled on the ice on the pond in front of the farm, we were more interested in trying the services by local wilderness guides. We headed for a winter fishing course on lake Suvasvesi - clickhere to read more about our experience.
Downhill skiing in Heinävesi
One of the main assets of travel in eastern Finland is the fact that, unlike southern Finland, the region is not solely focused on summer tourism. The area often has as much snow as in Lapland, if not more. The Tahkovuori slope is perhaps the best known ski resort in eastern Finland with the most versatile services, although this is also reflected in prices. Times being what they are, we were looking for somewhere a bit more peaceful and spacious, so we decided to go and see Pääskyvuori, a ski centre located in Heinävesi. This is a resort opened already in the 1970s, renovated in recent years and reopened to serve as a ski centre for the whole family.
We had an all-around positive experience of Pääskyvuori. There were versatile slopes for skiers of various skill levels, including beginners. You could buy tasty pizza and other delicacies at a reasonable price at a slopeside café, and the service everywhere was straightforward and laid-back, as is characteristic to the Savo region.
Breathtaking views of the Finnish national landscape
Koli is the most well-known example of the Finnish landscape and a gorgeous place to visit all year round - and it is only an hour’s drive away from Kaavi. When we reached the top of the Ukko-Koli hill, the children thought they had entered a fairytale realm. Anywhere you looked, you could find trails, each more exciting than the one before, and there were plenty of fun places to hide under the snow-covered trees. And the views when the sun sets on Lake Pielinen....we must come back next autumn and witness it all in autumn colours! In Koli, we had to also go and try Finland’s longest ice road from Koli to Vuonislahti. In Vuonislahti, we spent the night in the cozy Herrasniemi inn where a three-bedroom apartment cost € 110 per night.
Visiting a monastery on our way back home
On our way back home south, we decided to drive though Varkaus and also spend a moment of quietness in the Valamo Monastery in Heinävesi. The Trapesa buffet lunch is worth a try - it is on a completely different level than what is offered at petrol stations. This time, funnel chanterelle barley risotto and pike fillets were served as the main course and pancake as the dessert. While having lunch, we spotted monks in the monastery restaurant - and also a Finnish rapper, Redrama. In a normal situation we would have at least asked him for a selfie, but not now, what with all these safe distances....
After lunch, we went to try and see if we had caught any fish on the ice-fishing hooks we left in ice holes on Lake Suvasvesi near the Eräpaimen premises. And lo and behold, we took a 1.5 kg pike home with us.
A perfect holiday
We had been made many experiences richer when heading back home. We could do so many things in a week that it felt as if we had spent a lot more time at the farm house. I am sure that the children found the time we spent at the Mikkala farm just as exotic as a trip abroad. For us adults, it was a nostalgic trip back in time to the country landscape of our childhood, giving us a taste of the relaxing feel, independence, creativity and freedom of countryside living.
The oldest of the boys (14 years old) was so impressed by the North Savo region that he declared that he is going to move to Kuopio from the Uusimaa region and attend upper secondary school there. Meanwhile, the second oldest of the boys was so excited about the experience that he was planning to buy a farm when he grows up. Browsing through Jouko’s guest book, we noticed that hundreds of guests that came before us agreed. We must come back here!